New Mexican Cuisine isn’t Tex-Mex
It isn’t Mexican. And it isn’t Tex-Mex. It is New Mexican. That’s what New Mexican friends shared with me on my first trip the American Southwest. And they are passionate about their food as well as proud of their state’s cuisine.
My time in Albuquerque was short. I flew in to speak at the New Mexico Public Relations Society of America Chapter. I arrived on a Wednesday night and left a Friday morning. On my American Airlines flight from Dallas to Albuquerque, my seat mate was an AA flight attendant who was from Albuquerque. Like my New Mexican friends, she was passionate about her state’s food. She listed the foods I need to eat and where.
I told my friends, Benson and Jennifer, that I wanted go where the locals eat. And I joked that it better not be Chili’s. Benson met me at the airport wearing a cowboy hat and boots and we jumped into his pick-up truck heading out to my first official New Mexican meal. My food adventure began!
Full disclosure here but I’ve never been a fan of “southwestern” or “Mex-Tex” because, it was either burn-your-taste-buds-off spicy or really greasy heavy. (I’ll be honest I really don’t like to eat Mexican food in the US; it doesn’t compare to the meals I had in Mexico.) That said I was excited to visit New Mexico and experience authentic cuisine.
Where and What I ate…
Los Cuates was a local place in Benson’s neighborhood. I let Benson chose my meal. And he had a tough time choosing the menu. He said it was all good, but selected tamales. I had tamales for the first time. It was really good. So moist, tender, and flavorful. I had it with red chiles.
The next night, Benson, his wife Mary, and Jennifer took me to the best local and kept secret in Albuquerque, an oasis in the dessert, Casa de Benavidez. A very cosy restaurant with outside seating. I couldn’t make up my mind so I selected to make my own platter. I chose Carne Adovada and Chile Relleno served with beans and papitas (fried potatoes). I went with both red and green chiles.
Let’s talk about chiles here. They play a huge part in New Mexican cuisine. There are two types: red and green. Both can be hot and both can be mild. It depends on the chile, where it is grown, and the weather. Confusing I know. And if you are a local you order your meals “Christmas” with is with both red and green chiles. Red chili sauce is smooth while the green chile sauce is chunky. There is much passion about chiles in New Mexico.
I can’t forget to talk about Sopiapilla. This fried pasty and type of quick bread was served with the main course served with honey. While it isn’t a dessert, it could be. It was for me. You eat it just after finishing your meal. I think it is to calm your taste buds from the chiles. It is so simple and amazing. Seriously, do not order Sopiapilla outside of New Mexico, you will be very disappointed. I was when I ordered it at a Mexican restaurant when I returned home.
After eating a wonderful meal at Casa de Benavidez, we went view hopping which did involve drinks. Yes, view hopping. The vistas in Albuquerque are breathtaking with Albuquerque being located in a valley between mountain ranges. We went to the top of the Sandia Resort & Casino to view the mountains at dusk (no those aren’t UFOs) then we ended the night at the rooftop bar, Apothecary Lounge, to take in the city skyline.
Of course, I’m a huge fan of Route 66 and of roadside architecture, so I had to get a shot of Route 66. There is still a lot of wonderful architecture left in Albuquerque from the heyday of Route 66.
Before I flew home, Benson took me to an Albuquerque institution, The Frontier Resturant, across from the University of New Mexico campus. Again, I let Benson select my meal. I got the small order of Huevos Lite (or better know as Huevos Rancheros) with is one egg, beans & sauce on corn tortillas and their Frontier Sweet Roll which is a very large cinnamon roll dipped in butter. And yes I ate it all. I’m surprised I fit on the plane. I will say though I didn’t eat the rest of the day.
I’m now hooked on New Mexican food. And spoilt. So glad for my friends Benson and Jennifer for sharing their passion for their state’s food and exposing me to New Mexican cuisine.
I’ll be back…
If you interested, I stayed at the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. A nicely appointed hotel within walking distance to many attractions such as the Old Town and museums.