Restaurants & Bars


New Yorker goes Southwest (very long)


Restaurants & Bars 3

New Yorker goes Southwest (very long)

Don | May 30, 2005 04:48 PM

I'm a dislocated Angeleno living in Plattsburgh, NY, way upstate by the Canadian border. My daughter and son-in-law live in Tucson, both recently relocated from New York. My wife flew out in early February to visit the kids and do some serious shopping at the big Tucson gem show. When she got back, I took off on a solo road trip in my Dodge pickup. My plan was to be a road warrior, stopping at a cheap motel wherever the evening found me, eating at undiscovered local diners where the good food is. No eating in fast-food franchises. Once I got into the southwest, I wanted to eat as much Mexican food as I could find and visit Indian ruins.

Monday I headed due south, turned right in Nashville and went west on I-40. Late Wednesday night I crossed into the Texas Panhandle and made my stop in Shamrock. I booked into the Lucky Leprechaun motel, the cheapest yet at $25 a night, paint peeling but clean sheets. I went looking for a place to eat. The only place open was a Dairy Queen. I looked at the board and saw they offered bean-cheese burritos. I asked the pretty little waitress how they were and she said "Oh, they're my favorites, I love them." I ordered three and they were okay in a Taco Belle kind of way. My first Tex-Mex dining experience.
I was up at 6 a.m. and drove around Shamrock looking for breakfast. I saw then that this was a derelict cowtown, lots of abandoned buildings.

I pressed on to McLean where I found a gas station/C-store that catered to real working cowboys in baseball caps. The lady behind the counter had a portable grill and cooked me up some pretty good eggs over easy and sausage and toast.

I stopped for lunch in Tucumcari, which looked to be a colorful old town on Rt. 66. I went to Del's, which seems to cater to tourists and local gentry. I had a chicken enchilada, refried beans heated in a microwave, rice, and multicolored chips and salsa, sopapilla and honey, which wasn't bad for dessert but I had been hoping for something more interesting.

I landed in Gallup that night, found a more decent motel, figured I'd drive downtown, park and walk around looking for a restaurant. I found Gallup has a commercial strip ten miles long (I clocked it). No casual evening walking. I picked out one of several Mexican restaurants with a name something like Barcadillo, ordered a beef and a chicken enchilada. Good, but the refried beans were better. They had actually been fried in some kind of lard. I find that most restaurants take refried beans right out of the can, run them through a micro and serve them up hot, sloppy and tasteless. Refried beans have to be fried, preferably in bacon grease. "Refritos", as I understand it, does not mean they are refried in the can but have to be "fried well". That's what they have to do to them. I complimented the Mexican-American waiter on the beans, he said his uncle owns the place and does the cooking.

In Flagstaff the next day, I gassed up and hot-dogged it for lunch, wanting to get straight south to Tucson. I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic landscapes along Rt. 17, through Camp Verde and Black Canyon City, dropping down into Phoenix.

Saturday night, my daughter and son-in-law in Tucson took me to Guadalajara, their favorite Mexican restaurant (they haven't been there long enough to do much exploring). They had their favorites, chimichangas, I had another enchilada plate that was good. The best feature of this restaurant is that they have a salsa lady with a cart who comes around to your table and personally prepares salsa to your taste. She has a whole array of peppers, onions, tomatoes, spices, and she chops it all up and mixes it for you on the spot.

Sunday morning we had homemade breakfast burritos at their house and then I headed off into southwestern New Mexico. Around 2 p.m. I was in Deming, getting gas and wondering what do do next. I saw the Mirador restaurant with a sign out advertising Menudo, and made a mental note to come back and try it. My map showed the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument just north of Silver City so I decided to make a run for that. Going through Silver City, I didn't notice anyplace interesting to eat (after scanning the postings here, I know now there were a couple of restaurants I could have investigated). I headed north from Silver City on what was the Spirit of the Sky highway, a switch-back road barely two lanes wide at 9000 feet, 1-1/2 foot shoulders with a murderous sheer 4000 foot drop on either side. After 40 miles of this white-knuckle driving, I came to a sign that told me the bridge was washed out going into the cliff dwelling site. So I rolled back in the dark through Silver City and back to Deming, found a motel and looked for food. The Mirador was closed and I drove up and down the main drag at 9 p.m. Sunday night looking for something else. I passed Mirasol Taco a couple of times but was hesitant, it looked like a badly converted old gas station. Why I was hesitant after sleeping in the Lucky Leprechaun motel, I don't know. I finally stopped and went in.

The owner did a doubletake when I walked in, I was the only gringo in the place and he probably wasn't used to it. You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table. I looked at the board and saw a lot of things I didn't recognize, despite three years of high school and college Spanish, so I ordered what I did recognize: a chile relleno burrito. I asked the pretty bilingual waitress for beans and rice on the side. She brought me coffee and then my order. I took one bite of the chile relleno burrito and had an 'omygodthisisgood' experience. The wheat tortilla had been lightly fried on a griddle. The chile relleno stuffing was perfect, juicy, tender, delicious with a light smoked pepper flavor. The refried beans were perfect, fried well. The yellow rice was fluffy and moist. The owner, who was also the chef, knew how to cook. I had it all down in five minutes and vowed to come back for breakfast. This was obviously a popular family place for the local Mexicans on a Sunday evening, several well-dressed groups came and left while I was there. I sat in a corner trying to be invisible, feeling underdressed in levis and polo shirt. Coffee, burrito, refritos, rice: $3.00. Experience: priceless.

I went back Monday morning but the Mirasol Taco was not yet open. Nor the Mirador. I was bummed. I drove around and then spotted the El Camino Real (is that a chain in the southwest or just a popular name?)open for breakfast. Several pickup trucks out front gave me a good feeling. Inside was very clean and bright and well kept. All of the kitchen and waitstaff were Mexican and/or Indian. The clientele was a mix of gringos and Hispanics. Another pretty little bilingual waitress served me (a very refreshing aspect of southwest restaurants). I ordered huevos con chorizo with homefries and refried beans and a plate of warm corn tortillas. Huevos con chorizo are a personal favorite. My Mexican grandmother in Los Angeles used to make them for me when I was a little kid: hot red sausage scrambled up with eggs. Again, it was all excellent. I was seeing a pattern: If you want good Mexican food, you have to go to a place owned by Mexicans and patronized by Mexicans. I heard one of the customers say something about menudo so I asked the waitress if they were serving menudo. She said yes and I ordered a medium sized bowl as a side dish for my breakfast. She brought me a whole 'nother breakfast, a large bowl of menudo with a plate of buttered Texas toast. My sainted grandmother, who grew up in Chihuahua, used to make menudo, but she cut up the tripe into little 1/4-inch chunks so I wouldn't notice it. My waitress put down a bowl of menudo with pieces of tripe the size of silver dollars sticking right up out of the broth, they actually quivered in front of me when the bowl hit the table. I don't know how they can call this a hangover cure, the sight of that quivering tripe would send a suffering drunk out the door. I was not hungover but I ordered it, wanted it, and was determined to eat it. It was very good, the tripe was soft and tender, not rubbery, not greasy. The broth was chili based, the rest was large kernels of hominy. I now had two breakfasts under my belt, price $9.00. My stomach was happy, I was happy, the sky was blue, I was good for the day. Before I left, I asked the waitress if there was anyplace in Deming where I could buy chorizo. One of the Hispanic gentlemen there directed me to a place called Amigos, on Poplar Street, on the south side of the main drag in Deming. This is a wholesale food outlet, but they will sell to anybody who walks in. You can buy one frozen chile relleno, or a case of frozen chile rellenos. I bought half a dozen of those plus a half dozen packages of chorizo links from the very nice Mexican lady behind the counter and then wondered how to keep them frozen for the next five days while driving back to New York. I had a five-gallon plastic bucket in the back of the truck, wrapped everything up in multiple plastic bags and bought some bags of ice at the next gas station. They all got back to Plattsburgh fine. However, frozen rellenos don't thaw and cook up as well as freshly made.

So there's three or four good reasons to stop in Deming, besides gassing up the truck. This has gone way too long, thanks for listening.


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