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Smooth move: La Salita sticks to excellent New Mexican tradition in new location

La Salita has found its mojo.

Not that there aren’t issues to iron out, but the new location for the eatery is entering the new year on solid ground.

La Salita opened its current location on Juan Tabo in late 2017. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

La Salita is traditional New Mexican, serving locally grown red and green chile on top of tamales, burritos and enchiladas, alongside the state’s unofficial side items, beans and rice. The nearly 40-year-old restaurant opened in its new location late last year, still run by the original owners.

Though it’s slightly hidden inside a strip mall along Juan Tabo, the interior is expansive, almost grand. I was promptly seated during a weekday lunch hour, but I ended up in the middle of a large room, so I felt like an exhibit. Wait staff couldn’t avoid passing my table, though, so the service was excellent. (My waiter, Santiago, was friendly and fantastic.)

Aside from the nondescript entrance and the cavernous dining floor, the restaurant is pretty, modern-ish and very clean. Recessed seating bathed in red light is the focal point of the place, but those seats were filled, so I was stuck in the middle with Santiago.

I ordered the “Grand Tomas” combination plate ($17.99), because I wanted to get a sense of the range of flavors. Fair warning, though: This plate of food – with a cheese and onion enchilada, a red chile pork tamale, a ground beef burrito, a chile relleno and a ground beef taco – is too much for even the healthiest of appetites, so make sure you have a companion to share with or a penchant for leftovers.

The salsa is slightly problematic, but flavorful. It’s served warm with fresh tortilla chips, but it has the consistency of soup. It’s got bite, but it lacks grip.

The main dish was filling, to say the least, and delivered on all major points: spice, price, authenticity, variety and quantity. The red chile is fantastic, though maybe a little mild for hard-core heat aficionados, and it smothered every inch of the dish.

The chile relleno was the best part of the meal. It was breaded by hand and filled with cheese, deep-fried and then smothered in chile, and the flavor was out of this world.

The taco was good – the meat filling was seasoned really well – but the shell was pre-made and not fresh.

With so much authenticity on offer, it seems worth the time to fry fresh taco shells.

Still, it was a good taco. The burrito was also good, filled with the same seasoned ground beef and smothered in red. The pork tamale, though really small, had big flavor and was undoubtedly made fresh. It was delicious, almost as good as the relleno.

The cheese and onion enchilada was also good but wasn’t stellar or particularly notable. If you’re a fan of enchiladas, you’ll enjoy this one.

The rice and beans were also good. The beans were probably the better of the two, but they don’t pack the delicious levels of manteca that your abuela’s beans do. Still, they’re very good.

Fluffy, fresh sopaipillas finish the meal, but only if you order them. The tabletop bottle of honey probably won’t let you forget to order them.

In total, La Salita’s new location on Juan Tabo is a big little room with some big flavors and even bigger servings. It’s perfect for a business lunch or a family dinner; ask for Santiago, but don’t let them seat you in the middle of the floor.

3 stars