Chef Fernando Olea, New Mexico’s Most Recent James Beard Award-WInning Chef

Standing behind the rostrum Chef Fernando Olea could have passed for a Hollywood actor celebrating an Oscar win for his performance in a western.  In essence, the soft-spoken chef was accepting his vocation’s equivalent of an Academy Award.   Earning “Best Chef – Southwest” recognition from the James Beard Foundation was the culmination of a stellar career that has seen the Mexico City-born chef enthrall City Different diners with spectacular culinary fare since 1991.  With a repertoire of traditional new world and contemporary cuisine executed to absolute perfection every time, Chef Olea has made Sazon, his newest endeavor, a destination restaurant.  Getting a seat at his magnus opus just got tougher (serves me right for having put it off for so long).   

New Mexico Magazine has long recognized that the Land of Enchantment’s culinary culture is an essential element of the state’s enchanting charm.  Increasingly the magazine has showcased that culinary culture in gripping features, several of which were recognized by the The International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA).  IRMA recently heralded New Mexico Magazine for excellence in writing, photography, art direction, and digital presence.  Among the sixteen awards the magazine earned was “Best Food Feature” for a piece titled “What We’re Eating Now,” a compendium of ways that the pandemic changed our restaurant and home-cooking options.

Blue Corn Pancakes and Fried Chicken From The Range (Photo Courtesy of Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver)

When dining with my Kim, should she ask me which seat I’d like, my response is always “the best seat in the house is where I can look at you.”  It keeps me out of the doghouse for a few hours.  Travel Awaits, an online presence dedicated to the 50+ (I’ve got eleven years to go) traveler who’s ready to cross a few items off their bucket list, polled its readers about the top restaurants with a view.  “Voted the most breathtaking dining experience by readers, at 10,300 feet above sea level, TEN 3 is truly a magical setting. Sitting at the top of Sandia peak, visitors enjoy the epic scenery of the Sandia Mountains and the valley below. To get to TEN 3, visitors can take the Sandia Peak Tramway, or if you’d rather hike, take Ellis Trailhead and enjoy a 1.5-mile hike up to the restaurant.”  

If reading Gil’s Thrilling… lengthy missives doesn’t remedy your insomnia, maybe you should start eating pistachios before bedtime.  Pistachios have proven to be one of the best aids to help people sleep.  Among nuts (no, not the ones in Washington, D.C.), pistachios have the highest melatonin content.  Pistachios are also rich in tryptophan which also helps with mood, well-being and happiness.  Tryptophan helps decrease the time to fall asleep.  The third reason pistachios before bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily is their magnesium content.  Magnesium has been shown to decrease symptoms of insomnia, improve sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset.  If all this science is making you sleepy, after your nap make sure to read about the world’s largest pistachio.  Hint: It’s in New Mexico.  

Jini Dosa From Naan & Dosa on Wyoming

If pistachios don’t do the trick, try tuning in to KKOB radio (770AM or 96.3FM) at 8:45 on Saturday, July 2nd, 2022 when the enthralling Terry Travis interviews your favorite restaurant review blogger.  Terry’s The Weekend program is well worth getting up early to listen to.  It’s a wonderful escape from politics. Settle down with a cup of coffee for good conversation and a few laughs.  She’ll do her best to make even me sound interesting.

May, 2022

Raspberry Flan and Carrot Cake from Yumminess by G

Clergyman Henry Ward Beecher believed “We only see in a lifetime a dozen faces marked with the peace of a contented spirit.” Maybe he should have attended the Albuquerque Journal’s 2022 Spirit of New Mexico awards luncheon where a dozen New Mexicans who make a difference in the community were honored. Among the dutiful dozen was restaurateur Marie Yniguez, a first-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef – Southwest” Award in 2022. In an interview with the Journal, Marie urged everyone “when you see a need, offer a hand.” It’s that generosity that makes New Mexico special,” she said.

America is home to some of the strangest food ever known to man. And even though it might not be the most exotic of flavors or outrageous textures, it is simply shocking for many other reasons. Somehow the American people have taken every food and done something crazy with it.” That’s the contention of parentinfluence.com who published an article with maps that portray the U.S. more accurately than anything we learned in school. New Mexico’s weirdest food according to one map was a green chile sundae (undoubtedly from Caliche’s in Las Cruces and Alamagordo). Among the other interesting (and hilarious) maps is one depicting the state-related Halloween costume for each state. Would you believe “sexy meth cook” for New Mexico?

Greek Pizza from Hopper in Rio Rancho

Writing for the June, 2022 edition of New Mexico Magazine, Chef Johnny Vee celebrate two “adventurous chefs” who have “combined cuisines to create new delights,” specifically “Asian and Southwestern flavors.” One of the restaurants featured is Albuquerque’s Cafe Nom Nom, a Gil’s Thrilling…favorite. Chef Nam Thai Tran “has fun combining Vietnamese flavors with New Mexican favorites. Among those listed on the article is the Saigon Street Quesadilla, housemade green chile kimchi, bean sprouts, hoisin and sriracha sauces, and cilantro, mint, and black sesame seed garnishes. It, too, is a Gil’s Thrilling favorite.

TABLE Magazine New Mexico, a new food- and drink-oriented publication, has started circulating around Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Here’s how The Santa Fe New Mexican article describes the magazine: “The first issue is a primer on Santa Fe, spotlighting businesses, museums and road trips that define literary Santa Fe, folk art Santa Fe, Hispanic Santa Fe and Native American Santa Fe. A calendar of events is featured, abundant recipes are shared, and photo pages of dishes from high-profile Santa Fe restaurants are offered. The opening pages have a grab bag of “fresh finds, places to go, get in the know.”

April, 2022

New Mexico Magazine, April 2022

If you don’t already have a copy of the May, 2022 edition of New Mexico Magazine, you might still be able to pick one up at your favorite purveyor of quality reading material.  The cover showcases the Pajarito Brewpub & Grill’s green chile pub burger, “one of 20 green chile cheeseburgers burgers you need to try right now!” That list doesn’t include all the usual suspects nor is it exclusively Albuquerque- and Santa Fe-centric.  The cover article describes how New Mexico became the undisputed champion of the sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger.  Several culinary luminaries (including scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison) weighing in on what makes a great green chile cheeseburger. 

There are several reasons Chef Fernando Olea is my favorite Santa Fe chef.   New Mexico Magazine gave me yet another reason.  In discussing the green chile cheeseburger at his much-missed Bert’s Burger Bowl, Chef Olea lambasted a spice I’ve long maintained has no business near chile.  “We used Hatch chile, roasted and diced.  We cooked it on the stove with onions, garlic, some oregano.  No cumin.  Cumin is in Texas cuisine, and they think that’s the only spice that exists.”   

Cannoli From Joe’s Pasta House

Saul Goodman, Albuquerque’s favorite lawyer (with apologies to Ron Bell) and his associates returned to AMC’s airwaves for the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul. The season’s premier episode included a visit by Saul and his fetching wife Kim Wexler to El Camino, a popular New Mexican restaurant on North 4th. It probably wasn’t lost on fans of the Breaking Bad franchise that El Camino was also the name of the 2019 Breaking Bad movie featuring Aaron Paul.  The sopaipillas the enigmatic Ms. Wexler was enjoying looked fabulous.

The erudite and entertaining Albuquerque Journal staff writer Elaine Briseño’s bi-monthly column “What’s In a Name” took a different fork in the road–a fork that led to one of the state’s most delicious and sacred foods.  In addition to providing a short history on how Hatch got its name, Elaine  explains why it’s considered the capital capital of chile.  Elaine concedes that “delicious chile hails from many parts of the state, but more than anything, people associate New Mexico chile with Hatch. One might even argue it’s the only reason most of us can find Hatch on a map.”  She goes on to explain that Hatch is “named for Gen. Edward Hatch, a Civil War veteran who later led a regiment of African American troops known as Buffalo Soldiers.”  Very interesting, to be sure, but who among us doesn’t want to read (and eat) more chile.

Sweet Teriyaki Chicken Wings From Wing It Up–One of Albuquerque’s Very Best Food Trucks Opening Soon as a  Brick and Mortar Restaurant in the Downtown Area

How far would you go for New Mexican food?  Scintillating four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison and her friends drove all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  That’s a 650 mile drive from her Tesuque home, a grueling nine and a half hours.  If you’re wondering why anyone would go all the way to Tulsa for New Mexican food, it might help to understand that the destination restaurant Cheryl and friends visited has its roots in Santa Fe.  For 27 years–from 1972 to 2000, La Tertulia fed City Different diners with authentic, made-from-scratch New Mexican food.  Two decades after Chef Kevin Nashan’s grandparents shuttered their Santa Fe restaurant, he took the recipes his grandparents and parents popularized and introduced them to his Oklahoma home.  Cheryl raved about La Tertulia reborn.  Now, if only I could convince my Kim we need to visit Tulsa.

March, 2022

Grilled Pork Banh Mi from Saigon City

I knew I should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque.” Bugs Bunny may have uttered that statement in a number of Warner Brothers cartoons, but Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives decided instead to visit for a while.  In an episode titled “Meaty, Cheesy and Sweet” which first aired March 4, 2022, the Mayor of Flavortown dined at Guava Tree Cafe where he enjoyed “lights out Latin.”  The “lovechild of Colombian born Diego Barbosa” and co-owner Anna Cuyo is “putting out big flavor from a kitchen the size of a postage stamp.”  Barbosa explained that the Guava Tree Cafe serves Latino Miami-style food and blew Fieri away with a pernil sandwich and a vegetarian arepa, two of the 22 items on the menu.  

Vegan and vegetarian restaurants have been exploding across the Duke City.  One of them, The Acre, was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  It may surprise you to learn that Triple D host Guy Fieri is a huge fan of vegan and vegetarian cooking, having been introduced to it by his late sister Morgan.  Chef Sean Weed surprised Fieri by admitting “no, not at all” when asked if he was vegetarian or vegan.  Chef Weed indicated he wanted to do something innovative, but comfortable and familiar.  He’s an advocate for doing a couple meals a week without meat.  Chef Weed’s take on vegetarian meatloaf, a melange of ingredients, blew Fieri away with its umami and flavor.  “It’s really good,” Fieri declared.  The buffalo cauliflower wings with vegan ranch dressing “eats like a really good chicken tender” according to Fieri who called the dish “indulgent.”  He summed up his experience: “If you can’t find something to eat at Acre, you’re just not hungry.”

Pepperoni Pizza Pin Wheels from Davido’s in Rio Rancho

The recent announcement from the James Beard Foundation heralded finalists for the 2022 Restaurant and Chef Awards.  Among the five honorees for Best Chef-Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma) are three of New Mexico’s very finest. With the Beard Foundation having created a Best Chef-Texas category, our chefs no longer have to compete with chefs from the Lone Star State.  That means  Santa Fe Chefs Fernando Olea of Sazon and Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin along with Albuquerque’s Salazar Brothers of La Guelaguetza have a very good shot at Best Chef glory.  

My friends Mike and Ken used to tell me I was too grounded in reality.  In their eyes that was the only explanation for me not liking Star  Wars or any of the superhero movie genre.  Don’t tell them that my favorite show over the past two years has been Resident Alien, a SciFi channel original about a crash-landed alien who takes on the identity of a doctor in the small Colorado town of Patience.  In a recent episode, the mayor’s wife brought him tacos for lunch.  The mayor (sort of) took a dig at Albuquerque in expressing his gratitude for the tacos: “Thank you.  Oh, my God.  No, this isn’t even Albuquerque. We’re in Mexico.  I’m literally eating from a taco truck parked at a Mayan temple.”  Hmm, maybe the mayor of Patience, Colorado needs to visit Albuquerque which can boast of tacos so good, you, too, might swear they come from a food truck parked at a Mayan temple.

Meatball Sub From Dion’s

Chicago transplant Maggie Hennessy, now a resident of Southern New Mexico, may have discovered the “most delicious chiles you’ll find anywhere” but homesickness continued to gnaw at her until she decided to incorporate Hatch’s finest into her “home base.” That “home base” is the “simplest foundational pasta sauce” to which Maggie incorporated chiles: “The chiles are bright and a little tangy; let’s add more lemon juice. There’s savory depth from the roasting, too; let’s up the umami with a Parmesan rind. They’re earthy, grassy even. What makes me think of grass? Sheep! Sheep live around here, too. Let’s finish with salty, funky Pecorino.”  She shared the recipe for her pasta dish on a Salon article titled “My pasta myself:  Forging a home in New Mexico through Hatch green chile pasta.”  Maggie summed up the versatility of chile and her newfound comfort in using it: “The point is, I’m safe here; I know my way. So I let the chiles lead.” 

Atlas Obscura, whose mission is to “inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share” invites readers to Eat Across Route 66, the “Mother Road”  which spans 2,400 miles, crosses eight states and three time zones.  Though literally hundreds of eateries dot the fabled highway, Atlas Obscura singled out only one from each state.  New Mexico’s honoree was the Indian Pueblo Kitchen in Albuquerque.  Here’s what the piece has to say: “While other items on this list might claim to be classic Americana, this is the only spot making this land’s original food. At the Indian Pueblo Kitchen, chefs serve dishes that celebrate the culinary heritage of New Mexico’s Pueblo people prior to Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas in 1492. The “Pre-Contact” portion of the menu is a sumptuous feast of indigenous ingredients, including pan-seared trout with yam puree, prickly pear syrup, and fried sweet-potato strings; sumac-seared bison with pickled squash and pumpkin oil; and slow-stewed berries baked under a maple pepita-and-pecan-crumble crust.”

February, 2022

James Beard Best Chef – Southwest Nominee Marie Yniguez of Albuquerque’s Bocadillos and My Moms

The James Beard Awards are often referred to as the Academy Awards of the culinary world.  Not only do they recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, in 2020 the James Beard Foundation began placing a greater emphasis on “a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”  The Land of Enchantment has been well-represented in James Beard award nominations with 2022 being no exception. 

Among the five semi-finalists for the Best Chef: Southwest award are the Salazar Brothers from La Guelaguetza and Marie Yniguez from Bocadillos both from Albuquerque. Santa Fe has three semi-finalists: Ahmed Obo from Jambo Cafe, Fernando Olea from Sazón and Martín Rios from Restaurant Martín. New Mexico’s semi-finalists will be competing with chefs from Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada.  In the Outstanding Baker category, Nobutoshi “Nobu” Mizushima and Yuko Kawashiwo from Ihatov Bread and Coffee in Albuquerque are nominated.  Zacatlán Restaurant in Santa Fe is the lone New Mexico representative in the Best New Restaurant category.

Artichoke Dip with Crostinis From Chef Chacon’s Pancake House in Bernalillo

If you tuned in to the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on Friday, February 25th, 2022, and hadn’t already been familiar with the Albuquerque Asian inspired fusion restaurant named Kitsune, you probably got the impression from Guy Fieri’s lavish praise that Kitsune is a long-time resident of Flavortown.   In truth, Kitsune went from food truck to brick and mortar restaurant to an appearance on Triple D in a span of less than three years.  In the restaurant world that’s warp speed.  Fieri fell in love with Kitsune’s inventive pork belly bowl and jackfruit burrito, rating the latter 9.5 out of 10.  He recommended Kitsune bottle its absolutely delightful Kitsune sauce and just couldn’t get enough of the inventive cuisine that titillated his taste buds.

The dynamic, hyper-energetic husband-and-wife duo Keith Allen and Felicia Masias are back with their over the top second season of “Enchanted Restaurants of Albuquerque.”  Season two features some of the Duke City’s most enchanting restaurants: the legendary Grandma’s K&I Diner, Soo Bak Seoul Food, Kamikaze Kitchen, Vernon’s Speakeasy, The Ivy Tea Room, Low Rider Beef Jerky, and The Rancher’s Club of New Mexico.  Take a virtual tour and get to know the personalities who bring you some of the best food the city has to offer.

A “Six Pack” of Donuts From Two Brothers Donuts

When Food & Wine asked “Is this the best burger on the Internet?”, they were asking specifically about Hatch Chile Smash Burgers.  Food & Wine’s answer was a resoundingly indecisive “We think so.”  The Hatch Chile Smash Burger was the first burger featured in an article titled “20 Next-Level Cheeseburgers to Master.”  The full recipe–calling for two tablespoons roasted, peeled, and chopped Hatch chiles (from fresh or thawed frozen chiles) as well as six tablespoons Hatch Chile Salsa–may have you reaching for your spatula and maybe a drool cloth.

New Mexico has two official state vegetables–chile and frijoles so why is it most of us don’t associate the Land of Enchantment with being vegan-friendly.  Maybe it’s because we enjoy chile and frijoles with tortillas and sopaipillas (made with lard?  In compiling a list of “The Most Vegan Cities for Your Midwest to Southwest Travels,” Thrillist discovered New Mexicans may be missing out, noting that Albuquerque has “a quickly growing list of veg-friendly and fully-vegan establishments.  Thrillist advises “Start your chile-infused culinary adventure at Vegos ABQ, where you can choose from the red chile jackfruit burrito; the potato, pinto bean, and green chile-stuffed bosque burrito; or the generous enchilada plate, topped with your choice of chile sauce.”

January, 2022

Birria Burger From Don Choche Tacos & Cerveza

At a time when mendacious media and prevaricating politicians have made skepticism so pervasive, the notion of attempts to predict the future (even the weather) is often met with derision, conjuring images of fortune tellers and charlatans. In truth some people are so au courant as well as attuned to emerging trends that we should all take heed.  Forbes compiled a list of 34 such culinary Nostradamuses and asked them to make food predictions for 2022.  Among the sage soothsayers was David Ruiz, executive chef of Vara Winery & Distillery in Albuquerque.  Chef Ruiz believes two food trends will be seen in 2022: “With the supply chains in shambles, we will see lab-grown chicken in grocery stores and adopted into casual and fine dining restaurants by the end of the year. We will also see the rise of specialty mushrooms on menus across the country as mushroom farming has become more popular especially here in the southwest region.”  Stay tuned.  (Courtesy of photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes)

In 2021 researchers at the University of Michigan made the audacious proclamation that eating a single hot dog can take 36 minutes off of a human’s life.  If eating two hot dogs means missing a single episode of The View, I’m in.  Besides what’s life without hot dogs, one of the things that best defines both summer and America.  Matt Bernabe’s outstanding Albuquerque restaurant Urban Hotdog Company has made the comfort food exemplar a unique mash-up.  Urban Hotdog Company was recently showcased on the Cooking Channel series “Food Paradise.”  In an episode titled “Retro Remix,” comfort food classics such as the hotdog were spotlighted.  If you missed it because your cable channel doesn’t carry the Food Channel, I’ll invite you to join me at the Urban Hotdog Company where we can celebrate hot dog heaven for ourselves.

Prosciutto and Manchego From M’Tucci’s Italian

Spiked blonde coiffeur and red Camaro in tow, Guy Fieri, the Mayor of Flavortown made a triumphant return to the Duke City where an episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives showcased the Red Rock Deli, an authentic Polish deli and true hole-in-the-wall.  Fieri praised the Eastern European menu as well as the attached grocery section which allow for you to take home the goodness for later.  Owner Mark Toczek and his Ukraine-born bride Alisa prepared stuffed cabbage and Weiner schnitzel for Fieri who called the “ten times tender” schnitzel among the best he’s had.  Though Eastern European cuisine isn’t what you might think of when mentioning Albuquerque, Fieri assured viewers that the Red Rock Deli is the real deal.

January 22nd may be “National Hot Sauce Day, but it’s just another day for salsa swilling New Mexicans who consume salsa picante every single day.  Online grocery delivery and pickup giant, Instacart, set out to find how Americans feel about the condiment. “With more than 1,000 hot sauce products to choose from on the Instacart marketplace, customers last year purchased a whopping 444,854 gallons of their favorite fiery sauce, which goes a long way considering a typical serving size is only one teaspoonUsing Instacart purchase data from December 2020 through November 2021 and Harris Poll survey data of 2,025 adult Americans in December 2021, the ecommerce platform has revealed the most popular hot sauce in each state in America, along with the top 10 hot sauces in the nation.” According to the hot sauce “heat” map, New Mexicans ranked behind North Dakota in the number of ounces per customer at 4.4 ounces.  In truth, so many of us make our own salsa that we don’t need to purchase it from Instacart or any other purveyor.  (Courtesy of my publicist BOTVOLR)

Quarter Chicken From Roti NM Rotisserie Chicken at the Sawmill Market (Review Pending)

For years, readers of Gil’s Thrilling…have shared anecdotal evidence about the origin of “Christmas” as the answer to New Mexico’s “official state question: red or green.”  Since youth, seasoned citizens recall having heard “Christmas” all year round at their favorite New Mexican restaurants, but no source has claimed outright to have originated that response.  That is, no one but Nick Maryol, owner of Tia Sophia’s in Santa Fe.  According to the veteran restaurateur, the term “Christmas” was coined in the 1980s by long-time waitress Martha Rotuno.  Apparently when customers couldn’t make their mind which to have, she urged them to “have them both–it’s Christmas.”    There’s a plaque at the restaurant commemorating the event.  Can anyone beat the 1980s?

By Gil Garduno

Since 2008, the tagline on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog has invited you to “Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite.” To date, nearly six million visitors have trusted (or at least visited) my recommendations on more than 1,200 restaurant reviews. Please take a few minutes to tell me what you think. Whether you agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear about it.

21 thoughts on “Red or Green–New Mexico’s Food Scene Is on Fire: June, 2022”
    1. Forgive me, Lynn. Gloria gave me her business card which had a hashtag (address?) which I’m assuming would transport me to some social media platform with which I’m not familiar. I’ll ask around to see if I can find more information. Her pastries were (fittingly) yummy.

      1. Gorgeous and Erudite Jimmy

        I’ve missed your self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s become increasingly rare to find people with a sense of humor, much less people who can laugh at themselves. In the event your comment targeted Ruben, I’m pretty sure daily visits to his mirror probably confirm your observation.

    1. Perhaps you would enjoy cuminista East Indian, Pakistani, or Middle Eastern food more than Real New Mexican food without cumin. Or perhaps you are confusing New Mexican food with Tex-Mex?
      A B.O.-smelly guy once sat next to me on a bus. I was able to fall asleep, but when I woke up, I thought I was swimming in a bowl of cumin-laded Tex-Mex chili.
      You may take your cumin out of NM – it’s stinkin’ up the place. But hey, no offense.

      1. You should definitely not eat cumin. But, yes, I do love Indian, especially South Indian food and, yes, I do love a dusting of freshly toasted cumin on my hummus. I don’t have to have it with my New Mexican food, however, so maybe we can live in peace.

        1. Hey Mark,
          Just for giggles, I looked up articles about how people perceive the smell and taste of Cumin. It is definitely a divided mix of opinions that can be boiled down to “You either love it or hate it.” However, whether one loves or hates it seems to ultimately be based on genetics that dictate the way we perceive the aldehydes and terpenes in cumin. I perceive it as an offensive distinct unwashed human body odor. Others think it is pleasantly earthy and smoky. Some even call it sweet. Incidentally, the same goes for how our genetic makeup causes us to perceive the taste of Cilantro. I happen to like it, but I know of people who think cilantro tastes like soap and hate it. Julia Child and my mother are two of those people. I even know a few people who cannot stand onion and others who hate garlic. Because of my 1/4 Italian lineage, those are two of my favorite things!
          I found this thread humorous – I laughed out loud a couple of times reading it and I thought you might enjoy it too. https://boards.straightdope.com/t/now-i-know-what-cumin-smells-like/215522 People are very passionate!
          Cheers,
          Your friendly neighborhood Foodie Star.

  1. The picture on the main page for this post is a smoothered Christmas burrito with hashbrowns, where is that from?

  2. With all due respect, my youthful memory and intro to New Mexican food, was per just having legally immigrated here in Dec. ’69 and dining in the far reaches of La Placita. Indeed, the place was decorated for Christmas and the waitresses were festive in their white peasant blouses and full skirts trimmed with traditional colorings/ribbons/embroidery(?). Several had their rich, black hair swept up kinda akin to the style of some flamenco dancers and they gave off an aura of enjoying their “ministerings”. And so, with that out-of-the-ordinary ambiance and faced with the mystere(sic/Humpty) of the menu, it was concluded we were no longer in Kansas and succumbed to the mothering of our youthful waitress. As such, I swear, with due consideration to Los Anos, she used the term “Christmas” along with explaining/providing the visual of “a pillow” regarding Sopapillas…LOL 
    Lest it was a lack of acclimatizing or watering down of the chile “for the tourists” over the years, that was my first experiencing of the feeling of sweating…er perspiring…on the top of my head and nape! Viva el Calor!

    1. Let’s hope the genesis of the term “Christmas” in response to the official New Mexico state question isn’t destined to go down in history as being attributed to Tia Sophia’s because several of us recall much earlier mentions of that term. I challenge my readers to find an early and definitive source for the origin of that term.

      1. Tia Sophia’s was started on May 5th, 1975 (their web page). I don’t know the origin, but I used that term way before that as a kid. I’m an old fart.

      2. IDK if it’s because I grew up in northern NM or what the reason is, but I never heard the term “Christmas” when referring to red and green. When asked the question, most restaurants I went to would ask, “Red or green”? And you’d answer with red or green whatever you preferred. Occasionally someone would say both, but I never heard the term Christmas until I moved to ABQ for school, and the server would ask, “Red, green, or Christmas”? The first time I heard it, it took me about 5 seconds to push the equals sign.
        For the record, I abhor Christmas style. I either want red, or I want green. I will say, when ordering a combo plate, I will say, red on the enchilada/tamale, etc., and green on the relleno, but that is the only time I tolerate red and green on the same plate. I won’t smother a burrito in Christmas…ever…

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