When: Over Labor Day Weekend. 2009.
Where: Las Cruces-Hatch-Alamogordo-Deming, NM
What: In search of good New Mexican cuisine, i.e., chile rellenos, green chile enchiladas, green corn tamales.
Pros: Everybody uses Hatch chiles
Cons: Not a single blue corn tortilla on a menu, such as you'll find in the north.
Went to chile mecca, Hatch Fest. On the way, had some fair, good, excellent meals.
In Las Cruces, at at El Sombrero on Espina Venue. They have indoor/outdoor seating at this pleasant looking adobe in an older, established neighborhood. Are known for the green chile enchiladas. We sat outside, where the music was invasive modern pop, and blared through small speakers, spoiling a bit of its worn, casual charm. Table salsa was outstanding, best part of the meal, the kind you'd like to drink, with hints of tomatilloes, red and green chiles, garlic, and beef broth. Chips were warmed, thick, red and white corn, lightly salted. Ordered green chile chicken enchiladas. Chicken was poached, tender, tortillas were earthy, and the green sauce was unfortunately overwhelmed by too much cheese, some of it suspiciously tasted like a cheddar abomination. But the sauce gave off that unmistakable prolonged New Mexico 6 heat and the fresh diced onion was a good complement. Rice was standard Spanish, and beans were standard refried. $$
Pancake Alley Diner. West Picacho. Retro, and surprisingly overpriced. Great neon signage out front. 50s and Elvis themes among chrome and Formica inside. Huevos Rancheros. Eggs were fishy and dried out; beans were salty, and unremarkable. Tortillas warmed but white flour and tasted store-bought. Best part was the salsa, made of chopped fire roasted green chile and little else. $$$
Hatch, NM. The Pepper Pot. Airy older space on the main drag, decorated with New Mexico rustic tchotchkes. Boasts a funny, exuberant, and warm hostess, frequented by locals, and an easy-going, relaxed touristy crowd. Green chile cheese enchiladas. Disappointing. Again, overhwlemed by cheese, but green sauce was powerfully good. Beans and refrieds tasty. Chips were on the stale side. Salsa was red, Casera style, finely minced tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, onion, and decent. $$
Alamogordo. Pancake and Waffle Shoppe. Apparently, this breakfast palace, other than Blake's Lottaburger, is one of the only half-way decent food joints in town. Locals and tourists. Busy, popular, superb, fast service, and clean as a whistle. Had the chile verde
breakfast. Basically, a pork green chile stew served over eggs with a tortilla. The pork stew was minimally seasoned, meat was tender, and sauce was mild with only a suggestion of green chile heat. Eggs were overcooked. Corn tortilla got lost and soggy under the eggs and stew and cheese. Still, hearty and filling. Husband had the huevos rancheros, said the sauce was like "gravy," not enough chile involved, too much of a "glutinous mass" and "worst meal of the trip." $$
Las Cruces, NM. Pepe's. West Picacho. Spacious interior, red vinyl topped tables, was almost empty of clientele on a weekend night, and surfaces and floors were dirty. Indifferent wait staff. Felt more like a ginmill than a restaurant. A cranky couple at the next table over ordered huge oval dishes piled high with 'mess on a plate'. We didn't stick around to have the food. Instead we ventured on over to...
Las Cruces. The Cattle Baron. Steaks. And an extensive salad bar. Took a vacation from chiles, or so I thought, and opted for the salad bar. Many offerings of cold salads, such as a wonderful Waldorf, cole slaws, potato, egg, and green salad with all the imaginable additional toppings (mushrooms, cucumber, carrot, hard boiled eggs, fresh spinach, pepperoncinis, olives, Bacos, sunflower seeds, four or five different types of ranch dressing along with every other popular vinaigrette and creamy dressings), plus some dessert offerings, such as puddings and Jell-o,and also soup. Everything was fresh and pleasing. Husband had a bloody rib-eye steak and it was grilled perfectly. Found to my delight one of the soup offerings was a New Mexico posole. With beef, instead of the traditional pork. It was outstanding, spicy, with flavors of peppery beef, roasted tomato, and slow cooked hominy. Waitress was harried, surprisingly resentful, and having been in the service, I am aware it's hard, but I also overtip, and no amount of kindnesses and trying to make her job easier melted her. Too bad. $$$
Deming. El Mirador. Get off the highway for this one. A run-down exterior belies the clean, cozy, welcoming interior. Spanish and Anglo families and ranchers and the puzzled but happy tourist is the scene here. I ordered enchiladas and a $2 chile relleno off the a la carte menu, a sheet of paper with limited but all-excellent choices. Enchiladas were the perfect ratio of warm corn tortilla, green sauce, and just a smattering of a white Monty jack cheese. Chile relleno was mostly chile, light on egg batter, and delectable. Refritos were hot and smoky and not lardy. The tamale plate that my husband ordered was the hit of the trip. He ordered one red shredded pork and one green chile cheese tamale. the red sauce was worth walking a plank for: complex, earthy, tangy over steamy perfect masa. The green chile cheese tamale, one of the best, with brawny, ass-in-tub green heat over masa. We also had pumpkin pie and it was deliciously spicy and savory with big notes of clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, and the custard was not the frothy whipped variety but well-set and substantial. The other best part was the price. A third less than anywhere else and just as good if not better. $