New Mexico trip report (very long!)

Mr. travelmad478 and I spent two weeks in NM in September, driving a big figure 8 through the southern and northern parts of the state with Albuquerque as our start and end point. We focused on green chile cheeseburgers, tamales, and other local specialties throughout our trip, eating at mostly down-home kinds of places. Here’s the rundown:

Our first meal in New Mexico was absolutely delightful, not to mention way too big to eat at one sitting. We got takeout from El Modelo Mexican Foods in Albuquerque, which sits all alone in an industrial neighborhood next to a train yard, but draws a steady stream of takeout customers from all over town. Mr. travelmad478 kind of lost his mind here and ordered four things—pork ribs braised in red chile sauce, a carne adovada burrito, a red chile tamale (pork) and a green chile tamale (chicken). We made it through the ribs and the burrito and then saved the tamales for the next day. It was all ridiculously good, so much so that we came back to El Modelo on the day we flew out, to get more tamales to eat on the trip home!

Lunch the next day was at the Frontier Restaurant near UNM. This diner-style restaurant, which is quite sizeable and obviously used to large crowds, is supposedly the birthplace of the breakfast burrito, so we had one (eggs and chorizo) plus a bowl of pork chile verde. The breakfast burrito was OK, not great; the chile was very good. There was a modest line at around 2 PM, but it moved very fast with at least five registers taking orders (you get a number and then come to pick up your order when they call you). Atmospheric, but the food wasn’t superior.

The next day we headed south and ate a late breakfast at Alejandro’s Cafe in Belen. Because we are small people, we shared one plate of chorizo and eggs (very good) and a sopapilla (also very good). The food is pretty giant all over New Mexico, so almost everywhere, the two of us tended to split one entree and still be plenty full. We also noticed a panaderia right down the street (I don’t recall the name, but it’s on the main drag a few blocks north of Alejandro’s) and decided we needed to stop there afterwards for takeaway snacks. We ended up with a guava hand pie, some churros, and something resembling an elephant ear. Delicious, though very messy to eat in the car!

We stayed that night in Ruidoso, a town pretty much built around tourism, but weirdly difficult to find food in—there wasn’t much open on a Friday night, and absolutely every place in town closed at 8 PM. We stopped first at Rosa’s Roasted Corn, a kiosk where Mr. travelmad478 got a loaded elote (I’m not a huge corn-on-the-cob fan myself, but had a bite, and it was tasty). Our dinner plan had been to eat a green chile cheeseburger at Hall of Flame Burgers, but they were closed due to staffing issues, so we ended up, reluctantly, at Cafe Rio Pizza, which was the only place that was open and looked even halfway decent. Shockingly, even our Central NJ- and Philadelphia-raised pizza-snob selves were very happy with our pie and antipasto salad here. Hats off to the owners of this place, who were not only putting out very fine pies in a place where I would never expect to find good pizza, but also really nice people.

Our next day took us through Alamogordo, where we had our first, and as it turned out, best green chile cheeseburger of the trip at Rockin’ BZ Burgers. Stellar! The ordering system is slightly quirky and it took a long time for our food to show up (they do a huge takeout business), but wow, was that a great burger. The meat was excellent, the green chiles just what they should have been, and the fries were fine too. Five stars!

Dinner that night was in Mesilla, which is basically Las Cruces. We got a small carnitas taco at the Mexican Independence Day Fiesta there, but still needed to eat something else, so we ended up at Salud! de Mesilla eating what they called tapas, but we thought of as entrees. This restaurant did not inspire much confidence when we walked in, being full of non-Mexican people and having a strange fusion-y menu, but we were thoroughly won over by our dinner of green chile mac and cheese and red chile duck confit poutine. Both were wildly unhealthy and also wildly tasty. The mac and cheese was the simplest thing imaginable, just pasta with cheese sauce and some green chiles mixed in, but it was amazingly good, to the point where Mr. travelmad478 has decided to try to replicate it for Thanksgiving. He was also very much won over by their frozen pina colada…I had to drive home!

Our next restaurant meal, on our way out of Las Cruces two days later, was lunch at El Jacalito, another very down-home diner-style place where we inhaled another green chile cheeseburger and fries, plus an enchilada. It was very good (cheeseburger meat not as great as Rockin’ BZ Burgers though), and the service was very friendly.

We stayed that night in Truth or Consequences, a tiny town that had maybe three options for food on a Monday night. We chose to eat at El Faro, where we ordered a bowl of pork stew with red chile sauce and a plate of green chile cheese fries, thinking that it wouldn’t be too much food. It was. The enormous bowl of pork stew was very nice, but the fries were a major disappointment, being largely unfried (they seemed to have gone from the freezer bag into the microwave and just sort of heated to a white limpness) and drowning in a liquidy mess of melted cheese and green chile sauce. We ate them anyway, but we were sad about it. Service was very friendly and we had fun watching Monday Night Football on the TV.

A long drive the next day took us back north. We had another green chile cheeseburger for lunch at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio along I-25. This place is on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, but it wasn’t at the top of our list (and the food took a long time to show up on the table, possibly because we got there right as they were opening). We had planned to do a two-stop lunch and compare the green chile cheeseburger at the Owl Cafe down the street, which we’d also been recommended to do, but it was mysteriously closed that day. So instead we continued north through Albuquerque, where we had a second lunch at Barela’s Coffeehouse. This place is a local favorite that kind of reminded us of a local favorite in our town (Lil Dizzy’s in New Orleans—another place that Barack Obama ate at!) but sadly, was not as good. We got a tamale that was kind of meh and a bowl of chile verde that was OK, but not great.

We pushed on to our eventual destination of Jemez Springs, northwest of Albuquerque. Here, there appeared to be exactly one choice for a sit-down dinner, Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon. Despite our very low expectations for a bar in a tourist town, this place surprised us with the second-best green chile cheeseburger on our trip. Decent beer list, too!

The next meal that we bought (as opposed to cooked ourselves) was at El Chaco Grill in the small and fairly out-of-the-way town of Cuba. We stayed in a house that was owned by the manager of the Philips 66 gas station, which is also the location of El Chaco, and out of the two options for food in the town, we chose that one. We got a takeout order of a Navajo green chile cheeseburger, which is a green chile cheeseburger on fry bread vs. a bun, plus a bowl of pork and bean stew with (I think) red chiles. The cheeseburger was only OK (pretty sure it was a pre-made patty) and the stew was good, pretty spicy. We ended up having breakfast at El Chaco the next morning also, because it was included in our room rate (!). They did a fine breakfast burrito. As residents of Louisiana, where gas station dining is not only commonplace but often the best food, we were not at all fussed about getting both dinner and breakfast from a Philips 66, and you should not be either!

From there we drove around the north side of the Santa Fe National Forest, a gorgeous trip, to Taos. We had lunch at Leonel’s Tamales, where we had a tamale that was only OK, but also a lamb burrito that was stellar. What I like about NM burritos is that they’re just a tortilla, meat, and sauce—no rice or beans cluttering things up. This particular burrito appeared to have about a half-pound of lamb in it, really well cooked, and it was delicious.

The next day we did a great hike out of Taos Ski Valley, after which we were hungry enough to want lunch the minute we finished, so we ate at Bavarian House right at the trailhead parking lot. In addition to a great beer list, they served us a nice bratwurst sandwich. This was probably the most expensive entree we’d had on the trip so far, being in a fancy ski town, but as usual, one sandwich fed the two of us!

Dinner that night was at La Terraza, a casual restaurant well outside the touristy part of Taos. I think I must have been still hungry from the hike, because I ordered a rib-eye steak that they had on the specials board, which came with a carne adovada enchilada that Mr. travelmad478 was very enamored of, plus a salad. The food, though not gourmet or fancy, really hit the spot. Service was super friendly.

From there we continued south, stopping in Espanola for lunch #1 at El Parasol, a small local lunch-counter chain (just takeaway kiosks) that is very beloved there. We had a red tamale (good but nothing special) and a bowl of chile verde (excellent and super spicy).

Then we continued on to Santa Fe, where we did some museum-going before lunch #2 at the Burger Stand at Taos Ale House. This was our last opportunity for a green chile cheeseburger, so we had to get one. That burger was quite tasty, though still, nothing could beat Rockin’ BZ Burgers! We finally got hungry enough to eat dinner late that evening at Cowgirl BBQ, one of the few options available at that hour. Neither of us wanted BBQ, but we did want one more try at green chile cheese fries, so we got those plus a salad. We were extremely happy, surprisingly so, with the salad, which had a lot of cool stuff on it and wasn’t just iceberg lettuce and refrigerated tomatoes. Sadly, we were again disappointed with the green chile cheese fries—here, the actual fries were good, but the green chile part was just a can of roasted green chiles that had been heated up and dumped on top, with a lot of watery juice from the can making the fries all soggy. They were also really, really salty, to the point where I stopped eating them, and I never stop eating fries. We are still dreaming of the wildly delicious green chile cheese fries we had in Moab, UT back in 2015 at the Moab Diner. I think we’ll have to just make them ourselves.

The next day we drove well outside the tourist zone to Alicia’s Tortilleria, another modest place that does a thriving takeout business, though we ate in. We got a green tamale that was quite dry (though of course we ate it anyway) and another superb lamb burrito. For our last dinner of the trip, we finally stepped up for some fine dining at Zacatlan, a very creative restaurant that we absolutely loved. We had an appetizer of bone marrow with corn and green chiles plus brioche toast and truffle mustard, which was not only delicious (we are huge bone marrow fans) but also immense—three bones’ worth, plus a lot of other things on the plate. Our entree of duck legs confit with huitlacoche succotash, mole poblano, homemade tortillas, and fried plantain was also great, and also huge—usually when you get a duck leg confit, it’s one duck leg, but I think there were three on the plate. We were stuffed, but still managed to fit in a dessert of flan de elote, because why would you pass that up? It was really amazing. The two of us shared just one starter, one entree, and one dessert, and had one glass of wine each because we truly could not have fit in any more food, and we got out of there for about a hundred bucks. That was our priciest meal of the trip, and well worth it!

Finally it was time to fly out. En route to the airport in Albuquerque, we stopped for some more takeout tamales from El Modelo. We thought they might make it all the way home to New Orleans, but instead we ended up eating them during a four-hour flight delay at the Houston airport. They’re just fine to eat cold!

All in all, a splendid trip. We never really had a bad meal, though some were more delightful than others. In the last 8 years, Mr. travelmad478 and I have been to all of the Four Corners states for hiking trips, and we liked New Mexico the best. From a cultural, natural beauty, friendliness, and (most importantly) food perspective, it can’t be beat!


Tremendous report.
Did any of the Chile Verde bowls have potatoes?
No potatoes is what I’ve always considered the difference between Chile Verde and Green Chile Stew, but that’s always been my personal seat of the pants contention, not a dictionary definition.


Great to know about the burritos. I mostly avoid burritos, because I do not need rice AND beans AND a big flour tortilla. The lamb ones seem right up my alley!

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Only a couple had potatoes–those tended to be called green chile stew. I am sort of using the terms interchangeably because I don’t know any better :laughing:


Nice! We just returned from a jaunt through New Mexico…Amtrak from Kansas City to Albuquerque, Albuquerque to Carlsbad to look at the cavern, back up to Santa Fe and then back to Albuquerque to fly back to KC. Good eats included the Lucky Bull Grill in an old bank building in Carlsbad, The Ranch House in Santa Fe with delicious smoked brisket red sauce enchiladas, and The Range in Albuquerque, which is owned by a friend. NM is a fascinating place that I’d always wanted to visit.


What a fantastic report and trip! I am madly envious of all those meals!


We’ve never been to Arizona and have had only a few visits to Colorado; never made it to Mesa Verde, unfortunately . We have spent a lot of time in Utah around all the national parks (our favorite is actually Capitol Reef, which we just happened upon) and visiting old friends who lived there for decades. However, New Mexico is by far our favorite of the Four Corners for hiking, camping, culture (pueblos), (Chaco, Zuni), food, art. Utah is spectacular; the food is far less compelling except when our friends or we were cooking at their house in Salt Lake. They just moved to Seattle to be closer to their grandchild so that’s not happening again.

I am really jealous and thanks so much for your posts! I have 3 joint replacements including a 25 year old half-replaced knee and we adopted an older child from foster care years ago who doesn’t enjoy traveling. Not much traveling/hiking in my future! So I really vicariously enjoy these reports, especially this one!


Is your HO name Madrid (emphasis on the first syllable) like the town in New Mexico? It’s one of my favorite places!

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And don’t forget New Madrid!

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Nope. I lived in Madrid, Spain, in 1982-84, doing research on Goya’s Caprichos.

New Madrid home of earthquakes 1811-12 Missouri/Arkansas in is accented differently from Ma-drid Spain, MAD-rid. Most powerful earthquakes east of the Rockies in the contiguous US ever!

Is the town in New Mexico pronounced like the earthquake zone? Never made it to the Madrid in New Mexico. Sounds charming! Furthest south in NM we’ve been is Acoma pueblo, furthest west Zuni pueblo, furthest north, Taos pueblo. We camped 3 nights at Chaco, one of the highlights of our lives!


I agree

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It’s pronounced MAD-rid. It’s on the Turquoise Trail which is a wonderful backroads drive between ABQ and Santa Fe. I highly recommend it! Madrid used to be very low-key and sleepy but I’ve read that more restaurants and art galleries are opening there. It was also featured in the awful movie Wild Hogs which I forced myself to watch just so I could see Madrid!
If you’re a fan of the Longmire TV series, the Red Pony Bar interiors were filmed at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid. We’re major fans, so we went in to see it and took a picture of the Red Pony neon sign. The people in the bar just ignored us! :grinning:


The Librarian28 – Amen. We just went though when we took the back way from Albuquerque to Santa Fe about a month, as per my post on Tres Colores. Back when I was doing voting right cases in NM, it was nothing, but now it’s thriving – and chock full of funky and arty places. I wish we’d had time to stop for a look and a green chile cheeseburger
I really wish auto-incorrect would stop capitalizing Chile.


I looked it up…fascinating artsy town in such a beautiful area. I hope to visit one day! Thanks for the information. I might consider watching Wild Hogs to see Madrid…oops, I just read about it, probably not.

We loved the movie Milagro Beanfield War and years ago enjoyed staying two nights in Truchas, where it was filmed, at a B&B that seems to no longer be open. There was also a small bar/cafe in Truchas that also seems to have disappeared. It’s not that far from Rancho de Chimayo, of course, which is where we ate when the Truchas place was not open.


That is interesting, and I am a fan. Reading The Longmire Defense as we speak.


I enjoyed reading about your travels and eating adventures. I’ve lived in New Mexico for many years, currently in Albuquerque. Having traveled around New Mexico lots over the years, I had fun reading about the places you ate and found it interesting that I’ve only eaten in a few of them. More places to explore!


You have a lot of great places to try!

If you google Longmire Las Vegas New Mexico, you’ll learn that a lot of the series was filmed there. We visited and got a photo of the Sheriff’s Department entrance. We’re big fans and even have a postcard of Sheriff Longmire on our refrigerator!



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