My friend and former Intel colleague Steve Caine will forever rue the day he asked me to help him with an expense report for a business trip he made to Portland, Oregon. His itemized expense report indicated he had dined twice at Chevy’s, a middling quality Americanized Mexican restaurant which wouldn’t survive in the tough Albuquerque market. I teased him mercilessly. Worse, when my boss saw what the commotion was all about, he immediately put Steve on double-secret probation. Steve has never lived down visiting a Chevy’s in Portland where he could have had some of the country’s freshest and best seafood.
When the din died down, Steve admitted somewhat sheepishly that after two days in Portland, he was missing New Mexican food so desperately that he visited the closed facsimile he could find. It was either Chevy’s or a restaurant named Machissimo Mouse (seriously). In truth, I’ve been there, too…well, not to Chevy’s and definitely not to Machissimo Mouse, but at a point in my business travels where the craving for New Mexico’s inimitable cuisine strikes like an addict’s need for a fix.
We New Mexicans are understandably proud, maybe even haughty about our cuisine. We don’t think anyone can prepare it the way we can. We scorn and deride what passes as chile (usually called chili sauce on many menu even though it often resembles gravy) in restaurants across the fruited plain. Some of us feel sorry for the states in which our chile can’t be found; others see that lack of chile as a reason not to visit those states.
The most frequent victims of our derision tend to be our immediate neighbors to our east and west. Both Texas and Arizona are proud of their Mexican food heritage, most of which self-respecting New Mexicans find inedible. Phoenix, Arizona, a frequent destination of my business travels during my eighteen years with Intel, has several restaurants claiming to serve New Mexican food. I’d known about them for years, but have never visited any of them. How, after all, can any restaurant in the culinary wasteland (I emphasize only in terms of New Mexican food) of Phoenix serve anything even vaguely resembling our great cuisine?
The most frequently mentioned New Mexican restaurant of note is Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico whose sobriquet has nothing to do with New Mexico’s former governor. Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico is named for Richardson Brown, a part-time resident of the Land of Enchantment. No doubt that, like anyone expatriated from New Mexico for only a few days, Brown had a powerful hankering for chile. He did something about it. He opened one of the highest regarded restaurants of any genre in Phoenix, a restaurant which will sate the cravings of any New Mexican.
Aside from my own personal cravings, what it took to get me to Richardson’s was Seth Chadwick’s eloquent review on Feasting in Phoenix, the wonderfully entertaining, informative and tragically, no longer published blog in which “Zagat meets Sex and the City.” Seth was not only a great writer, he was a tough critic. He’s honest and direct in his evaluations and I found him, by far, the most trustworthy source of information on the burgeoning Phoenix dining scene. Not prone to hyperbole, Seth’s review of Richardson’s was (chile) peppered with adjectives such as “fantastic,” “memorable,” “delicious” and “incredible.” Still, I had my reservations as to whether or not Seth really understood New Mexican food. I should not have doubted my esteemed colleague and after my inaugural visit to Richardson’s immediately uttered fifty “Hail Seth’s.”
Not long after my inaugural visit in 2008, the original Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico burned to the ground. Like the mythical phoenix of Phoenix, it was finally resurrected in early 2012 and now sits alongside sister restaurant Rokerij, one of three restaurants (the other is Dick’s Hideaway) under the Richardson’s banner. Menus at the three restaurants overlap significantly, giving Phoenicians (??) a quick trip to New Mexico without leaving Central Phoenix. Our server at the bar where we were seated told us many transplanted New Mexicans confess Richardson’s New Mexican cuisine is equal to or better than most in the Land of Enchantment.
The Richardson’s of 2020 is so much different than the Richardson’s I first visited in 2008. The entrance to the capacious adobe-hued edifice resplendent in blooming bougainvillea takes you directly into a covered (that’s an understatement) patio that’s more indoors than it is outdoors. The restaurant’s cynosure may well be the well equipped bar around which are situated two distinct dining areas. Because Richardson’s is so heavily trafficked, diners may be asked to sit on the bar stools surrounding the bar. Paper placemats serve as the menu. Two toothsome coyote caricatures flank a cartoon banner on the placemat which proclaims “Richardson’s, Home of the Original Green Chile Potato.”
A brunch menu is available until 4PM, but you might also be able to order items from the dinner menu provided they’ve been prepared. Both brunch and dinner menus are replete with items New Mexicans will find familiar: carne adovada, huevos rancheros, enchiladas, green chile stew, posole, burritos and even a green chile burger. You’ll also espy items with New Mexican names which don’t quite seem as familiar. Take the “New Mexico Sausage” described as “four grilled Schreiner’s jalapeno, cilantro, and pork sausages, served over wood oven roasted sweet onions and pinto beans.” It sounds darn good, but in all my peregrinations throughout New Mexico, I’ve never even seen anything like that.
Nor is the menu exclusively New Mexican. Would you believe osso bucco? How about gumbo? Or pappardelle (grilled roasted duck, spinach, bacon, cherry tomatoes, white wine sauce, Parmesan)? You’ll even find a chophouse worthy menu of steaks–New York, tenderloin, sirloin, pork chops–and a netful of seafood items such as scallops, seafood linguine and garlic shrimp. The menu’s diversity is equaled only by its price points. It’s probably been a while since you’ve visited a New Mexican restaurant in which you’ve seen items priced at thirty (top sirloin), forty (scallops) and even fifty (New York steak) dollars. Portion sizes are generous. Any entree at Richardson’s is good for at least two meals, rendering the aforementioned price points irrelevant.
26 June 2008: On the menu, two toothsome coyotes are holding up a banner which declares Richardson’s “Home of the Original Green Chile Potato.” It was something I had to try during my inaugural visit. The green chile potato is in essence a twice-baked and whipped potato stuffed into a roasted green chile. The chile is of the Anaheim variety which is also known in some circles as a New Mexico chile. It is a very mild chile of medium size. On the Scoville heat index for chiles, it barely registers above a bell pepper.
Lack of piquancy not withstanding, Anaheim chiles inherit a fabulous smoky flavor when roasted. The flavor combination of roasted green chile and fluffy whipped potatoes, while quite good, heightened my preconception that Richardson’s chile would be of the “gringo” variety with absolutely no heat. I should commit to memory that often used adage about assuming. Thankfully my preconceptions were absolutely without merit. Richardson’s chile (except for the Anaheim) is not only wonderfully tongue-tingling piquant, it is absolutely delicious and just pleasantly piquant.
26 June 2008: Consider this heresy if you will, but I believe Richardson’s red chile stacks up favorably to the chile served at La Choza in Santa Fe, one of the best purveyors of red chile in northern New Mexico. Much to my surprise, it is better chile than I’ve experienced in dozens of restaurants throughout New Mexico. Wow, I never thought I’d ever say that! Hopefully Governor Lujan-Grisham won’t make me renounce my citizenship. One of the best ways to experience that fabulous chile is with an order of blue, red and white enchiladas. The blue represents the blue corn tortilla base for the triumvirate of chicken, cheese and grilled shrimp enchiladas served with your choice of green or red chile (or both if you prefer though my waitress didn’t get the term “Christmas style”). Even without the worship-worthy chile, the enchiladas would have been very good. With the chile, they obtain a rarified status.
26 December 2020: After being told how transplanted New Mexicans consider Richardson’s cuisine equal to the foods prepared and served within the Land of Enchantment’s sacred borders, we asked where the chile is procured. Our server told us the chile comes from Ahwatukee. “Do you, by chance, mean “Albuquerque,” my Kim asked. “Oh yeah, that’s it. Albuquerque.” It would have been pointless to debate the chile’s true origin when we could instead be enjoying it. My Kim’s carne adovada and eggs proved very enjoyable even though the carne was in the form of chunks, large but tender and smoky chunks of porcine perfection bathed in a burgundy colored chile from Albuquerque. The carne adovada was served with roasted papas and a tortilla so thin, there’s no way it could be used to scoop up any carne adovada. Still, for my adovada adoring bride, Richardson’s carne adovada was worth the trip.
26 December 2020: Just as it was during my inaugural visit, my choice were the New Mexico enchiladas (choice of three: green chile pork, chicken, vegetable, grilled shrimp, beef, cheese and smoked turkey topped with red or green chile (or both) served with rice and beans). The triumvirate of grilled shrimp, green chile pork and smoked turkey is one not often found in New Mexican restaurants across the Land of Enchantment so I availed myself of the opportunity to enjoy them. As during my first visit, the chile had a respectable piquancy even a New Mexican born-and-bred native would salute (disclaimer: I ordered the “Level 2” which our server said was lethal.)
26 December 2020: But I digress. We started our meal with the New Mexico Queso (chorizo, spinach served with house tortilla chips). For the first time in memory, we still had a pile of chips and half the queso remaining when our entrees arrived. Usually we’ve wiped out the paltry amount of queso served us. Lesson learned for New Mexico’s New Mexican restaurants–be more generous with your queso. Also, be more inventive. The chorizo and onions were a wonderful addition, much like Mexico’s queso fundido, but maybe even better.
My friend Steve Caine would have been entirely forgiven had he dined at Richardson’s, as good a New Mexican restaurant as there is in New Mexico. That’s saying a lot!
Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico
6335 North 16th Street
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 December 2020
1st VISIT: 26 June 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Green Chile Potato; Blue, Red and White Enchiladas; Lemonade, New Mexico Enchiladas, New Mexican Queso, Carne Adovada
15 thoughts on “Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico – Phoenix, Arizona”
Wow! Thanks Gil for your insights into how to judge red chile. I find your analysis convincing and well thought out.
A double Wow! for Betty Mercuri’s insights on the term “Christmas”. I am indeed now a santafesino but unfortunately I have not had the privilege of being “born here my whole life.” When I wrote my question, I thought/hoped that some natives would report that as children in the 50’s, 60’s, or whatever decade that they remembered their parents using the term. It would be great if some natives could step forward and affirm the usage at some prior date to the 1989 New York Times Article. An obvious first step is Gil who is a native from Peñasco. Gil, when did you first hear the term?
Some very small personal observations:
(1) My oldest NM cookbook that I personally own is from 1984 by Huntley Dent, “The Feast of Santa Fe”. I’ve just spent a bit of time perusing it and can find no mention of the term.
(2) I found Sam Arnold’s book, “Eating Up the Santa Fe Trail” (1990 copyright) on a university library site and did a search for the term “Christmas” and found no use of the term meaning a mixture of red and green chile. He was the identified “food historian” in one of the articles Betty referenced.
(3) Very personal anecdote. I was having a conversation with a native New Mexican latino in his 60’s, from Santa Fe a year or so ago. I asked him if latinos used the term “Christmas” when they wanted a mixture of chiles. He looked at me as if I were a Martian. He replied, “No, you just say “ambos” or “both” if you want that. After that conversation, I personally have never used the term … it just seems like something a tourist would say. In Santa Fe nor in Albuquerque no one has ever batted an eye when I DIDN’T use the term.
(4) My personal guess is after reading your reports is that it started in Santa Fe as a thing for the tourists and was (at least at the beginning) not from the “pueblo”. I’m now beginning to suspect that it didn’t start any earlier than the late 70’s.
El Verdadero, I appreciate your comments but I’m disappointed that you don’t feel you’re qualified to explore the term “Christmas”. I honestly don’t think it requires lifelong residency in Santa Fe or even New Mexico . When I said “local”, I meant someone who could actually visit libraries, newspaper and magazine publications, and restaurants to review material and available ephemera and speak with people who might have some related recollection.
Anyway, thanks, too, for checking those cookbook resources. I have dozens of New Mexico cookbooks, some of which are still in storage along with thousands of others in my collection. I did look at several that are unpacked and, like you, came up with nothing. I’ve done some further exploration and have actually come up with a few good leads. I’m hopeful that other folks, as you noted, will come forth with recollections such as that provided by BOTVOLR.
By the way, my name is Becky, not Betty. Someone else recently confused my last name Mercuri with Mercury. I’ve thus decided that I may very well adopt the alias of Betty Mercury as my secret identity for glamorous food researcher by day and crime-solving sleuth by midnight.
Sounds like the place to check out on my next scheduled trip to Phoenix, which according to my calendar, is never.
Phoenix knows as much about New Mexican cuisine as I know about handling a flea circus. Albeit, the Carne Adovada does look enticing, and, like Kim, it’s one of my favorite dishes. So the next time I find myself in Phoenix (as likely as a cat singing opera) I will try Richardson’s.
By the way, visiting Portland and going to Chevy’s is like visiting the Vatican and never looking up at the ceiling.
Did you mean “But I DIGRESS (not regress)”?
You didn’t state WHY you thought the red chile was so good and equal to La Choza in Santa Fe. Why is that of La Choza so good? I think it’s very good but why?
Also, I wonder where and when the phrase “Christmas” or “Christmas Style” began? It’s not in any of the old New Mexico cookbooks available through the University or on line … so I’m thinking it must have been after WWII?
You don’t need to publish these musings …. I was a professor for a long time and tend to ask too many questions about people’s writings.
You seem to be enjoying your stay in the Phoenix area … buen provecho!
Ah, truth-teller, you have revealed me to be the master of the malapropism, purveyor of poor punctuation, vicar of vacuous vocabulary and master of misspelling.
To be honest, my bride would not have been happy with me had I spent more time writing while we were supposed to be relaxing in 70-degree Scottsdale. On further reflection, my high opinion of Richardson’s chile (comparable to La Choza’s) is based on the chile having the four qualities I look for in chile: that distinctive fruity sweetness that pairs oh-so-well with its vegetal qualities; a discernible “roastedness” in its flavor; a piquancy that New Mexicans appreciate and that chile is spelled correctly!
A number of sources confirm that “chile, along with frijoles, was adopted as one of New Mexico’s two state vegetables in 1965. Its significance is further evidenced by the adoption in 1999 of an official state question which asks “Red or Green.” The law designating “Red or green?” as the official New Mexico state question is found in the 2013 New Mexico Statutes, Article 3, Section 12-4-4 L. House Bill No. 294 on April 2, 2007 was signed by Governor Bill Richardson declaring “red or green” or “Christmas” as the “official state answer.”
There is anecdotal evidence that the term “Christmas” was in use in the 1960s, but I haven’t found authoritative evidence of its use prior to that. Like you, I suspect the term may have been used earlier than that.
I’m baffled that seemingly no one in New Mexico has yet been curious enough to further research the question “red or green” and the origin of “Christmas”. It’s an important part of New Mexico’s foodways and it would be a shame not to document its origin as closely as possible.
El Verdadero, I get the impression that you are from Santa Fe and with your experience as a professor, this project seems to be tailor made for you.
I checked with Dave DeWitt, New Mexico’s famous food historian and “Pope of Peppers” who advised me that to his knowledge, no one knows the origin of the term “Christmas” for sure. I started perusing my New Mexico cookbooks but found no information.
I suddenly remembered that I should consult my old friend Barry Popik’s website to see if he’d done any research on the topic, and sure enough, he had – back in 2007. For anyone unfamiliar with Barry, it was his research that confirmed the origin of the term “Big Apple” as well as “hot dog” – amongst tons of other things. Gil even has a link to Barry’s site on this blog. Barry’s success in tracking stuff down is due, in large part, to his dogged determination and prowess in accessing newspaper archives where all kinds of terminology can be traced and dated, often prior to its evolution into common use. Oral adoption of such terms often occurs years before written historical documentation such as cookbooks and the recording of foodways.
Anyway, Barry did not fail me – to a certain point – and his research can be found here: The Big Apple: “Red or Green (or Christmas)?” (red sauce, green sauce, or half-red and half-green chile sauce) (barrypopik.com)
Barry’s research shows that the term “Christmas” likely originated in Santa Fe. One of his earliest references cites this article in the New York Times by Nancy Harmon Jenkins FARE OF THE COUNTRY; Santa Fe’s Spicy Cultural Mix – The New York Times (nytimes.com) where she quotes the late Sam Arnold referencing “Christmas”. It’s notable that Barry references no New Mexico newspapers in his research. Perhaps that’s because they had no online archives at the time (I remember that it was around this time that enormous projects were launched to accomplish this). Today, there are several New Mexico newspapers with online archives – they’re not free (a typical cost of $5.00 per month applies) but libraries and educational institutions may possibly provide free access.
Another great resource is restaurant menus which may have listed “Christmas” as an option. Are there any New Mexico public or university libraries or museums that house old menu collections? Some of the older restaurants in Santa Fe may even have their own collection of menus. The difficulty with menus is that they are often hard to date if they haven’t already been identified. And then, of course, the bonus source would be those folks associated with the restaurants that could provide information on the origin of “Christmas”.
Santa Fe is also home to a number of authorities on New Mexican food and chiles, including Cheryl Alters Jamison (Cheryl Alters Jamison exciting foods expert (excitedaboutfood.com) and Kelly Urig (The Chile Chica | Home Page (kellyurig.com) who I’m sure would be pleased to serve as valuable resources.
Apparently Gil’s site doesn’t like my links. Here they are again in order of citation:
The Big Apple: “Red or Green (or Christmas)?” (red sauce, green sauce, or half-red and half-green chile sauce) (barrypopik.com)
FARE OF THE COUNTRY; Santa Fe’s Spicy Cultural Mix – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Cheryl Alters Jamison exciting foods expert (excitedaboutfood.com)
The Chile Chica | Home Page (kellyurig.com)
Alas, I hesitate to claim my first time of hearing about “Christmas” as it has been so long since I “think” I remember first hearing it…so, for what it’s worth: Dec. 1968. Been in ABQ barely a month and didn’t know a thing about “Mexican” altho I figured it is no different from my birth town where you could tell which part of the City you were in by smell being Irish/Greek/Polish/French/Portuguese. Anyway, t’was when my first wife and I “dressed” (as ala mode of the time!) to go to La Placita. Indeed, a tree trunk inside a room was impressive, but we more enjoyed being near a window looking onto the plaza/church in a cozier room with a Christmas tree. In terms of waitstaff, I wonder if the “fun” of orienting tourists…which our waitress initially took us for… has worn off. Indeed, while we had enjoyed dining ‘on the arm’ of my future Father-in-law in SoCal’s venues like Lawry’s, Trader Vic’s, Scandia, the Stuft Shirt, the original restaurant in the Theme Building of LAX https://tinyurl.com/nlmgkde etc. and even Chicken Dinner at Knott’s Berry Farm, La P’s ambiance was out of the ordinary per having just arrived from 5 years of the dining venues of Kansas where ya had to bring your own bottle. Then there was the cordiality of the colorfully costumed/coiffed gal in her maxi red skirt and white, peasant top with colorful ribbons we had who was eager to teach ‘the tourists’ about her unique, at the time, fare. I clearly remember her pointing out neither green nor red was always the hottest, but that each also had their distinct tastes which might cause them to be favored. She also took pains to explain how to “use” honey with one’s sopas and related how some tourists were fascinated by their resemblance to pillows. I don’t remember what we had exactly, but am sure it wasn’t “just” tacos. As such however, I do remember feeling something unique atop my head and nape of my neck that I don’t still experience today. Today, it is most simply an oral heat. Bottom line, I’m 75.6% sure our waitress noted as platica while serving, that some people “do” “Christmas” if, for example, they can’t decide Red or Green or cuz they simply want to see what a given place’s chiles are like at that moment or season in time. Eh! it was Christmas time to boot!
Gracias, Roberto. December, 1968 is a pretty precise recollection. Anecdotally that places the term “Christmas”to describe “red and green” in the decade of the 60s. Can anyone remember hearing “Christmas” any earlier?
Hi Bob and Happy New Year! Thanks so much for your recollection of “Christmas” – your memory is amazing and this is really helpful insofar as trying to date when the term came into use. I’m still on it but this is what we call “tough sledding” back here in the Tundra.
Indeed Betty: Backatcha with a Blessed New Year!
RE Tough sledding? Indeed, t’was a sad…let alone ‘tough’… sledding day when I kinda had to give up my 3ish foot, Official Micky Mouse sled https://tinyurl.com/y7ynxje4 for a less Flexible Flyer 5 footer, per my growth spurt.
Ha! I noted that, Mr. Bob. Thank you for paying proper obeisance to my new secret identity.
I am rebuilding, just started 2 wks ago, but not at the old location. I will be 2 blocks north at 16th st and Maryland next my restaurant the Rokerij, where I am currently serving Richardson’s menu. 602-287-8900. Thanks for the kind words.
Sadly, this place burned down last week. Hopefully they rebuild and rebuild soon! This is the only place I could get decent posole with red (and green) chile over the holidays, although I did discover two more places with decent NM food offerings: Si Senor in Chandler and Frank and Lupe’s in Scottsdale. Richardson’s was (is) still my favorite, though.
Looking forward to a Penasco fiesta burger next weekend, though!
Richardsons is one leg of the Gourmex Triad in Phoenix and the only one of the three that specializes in New Mexican style. The other two are Barrio Cafe and Los Sombreros. My mouth is watering thinking about these three as I sit here in the wet Gourmex wasteland of the Pacific Northwest. Woe is me!