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Good food, well priced and served with a smile

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JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados Restaurant has attracted a loyal following in Española. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados Restaurant has attracted a loyal following in Española. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

At the entrance to JoAnn’s Ranch O Casados, just inside the front door and across from the glass case with the coconut cake, is a framed poem.

The title is “Something like Marriage” and it’s the work of Joan Logghe, a long-time resident of La Puebla (just outside of Española), Santa Fe’s former poet laureate, and a beloved teacher at Ghost Ranch and elsewhere. The poem makes a reference to the restaurant. Logghe signed the page with a mention of her affection for the place.

JoAnn’s is the only restaurant I know of that puts a poem on the wall along with paintings, crosses and other art of northern New Mexico. Founded in 1981, this diner-style eatery has long been a favorite of locals and visitors. It’s a mom and pop place with traditional New Mexican choices, as well as traditional American favorites.

Friends and I stopped in for breakfast, served all day, and had chicken fried steak, the breakfast special, biscuits and gravy, and Huevos Rancheros with a sopaipilla and a giant combination plate. All good, well priced and served with a smile. The menu for breakfast includes New Mexican specials such as a burrito and carne adovada, as well as pork chops, chicken fried steak, oatmeal and waffles. Kids get their own menu.

The breakfast special provided enough food to satisfy a starving teenager and leave the rest of us wishing we’d worn our fat pants. It included two full-sized, freshly made buttermilk pancakes, two large strips of lean, smoky bacon and a pair of eggs prepared to order – over easy for us. Nicely done!

The biscuits and gravy was less appealing. The creamy gravy had a pleasant flavor with a bit of pepper but had no sausage I could find. The biscuits were thin and tough, needing the gravy to soften them up.

The Huevos Rancheros were tasty but lost points for presentation. They arrived on a plate too small for the amount of green chile sauce. It was a challenge to keep breakfast from splashing onto the table. I guess smaller plates makes small portions look larger, but it’s a bad idea with something as juicy as these Rancheros. I’d recommend using a larger plate and adding another spoonful of pinto beans to round things out. I liked both chile sauces, the mild but solidly flavorful red and the green, simple chopped chile peppers without much tampering. The eggs were cooked as ordered, the beans fresh and the hash browns standard breakfast issue.

Like the Rancheros, all egg-based breakfasts come with choice of tortilla, toast or sopaipilla. I had the sopaipilla, which was hot but heavy and barely crisp. On a return visit, the sopaipillas were crisper, lighter and delicious.

For an overview of the New Mexican food here, I tried a combination plate. The carne adovada was beef, not the traditional pork, and while the red chile sauce had great flavor, the meat itself was juiceless, as though it had been overcooked. The rest of the offerings on the plate, however, were very good: the tamale tender, and the enchilada filled with moist chicken and smothered beneath a picante green chile sauce. The pinto beans and the taco were standard fare but I liked the posole and the Spanish rice was good, too.

Another winner was the breakfast version of chicken fried steak. JoAnn’s treats this diner delight just right, pairing it with eggs any style and hash browns that combined crisp and soft potato shreds. The steak was tender with the right amount of chew beneath the crisp batter and the gravy compensated for any faults.

We ended with a shared piece of carrot cake from the glass pastry case. The cake was pretty with a pair of carrots crafted from orange frosting to remind us of what we were eating. It had plenty of ground nuts but too few raisins for my taste.

Service was good, with a crew of waitresses in red tops and black pants refilling our coffee, bringing water and removing used dishes.

Booths and tables are available or you can sit at the bar and watch TV. The windows look out onto U.S. 84/285; piped in music and sports on television add to the ambiance. People-watching is fun here. The day of our visit, the staff seemed to know more than half of the customers by first names.

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