The best of the best in New Mexico dining were recently recognized by the New Mexico Restaurant Association.
Awards were given in many categories, including Restaurateur of the Year, Restaurant Neighbor, Chef, and Manager during the The 2018 Hospitality Industry Awards on Sept. 10 at Embassy Suites.
“Restaurateur of the Year, which is our biggest award, always has been – this is either a singular restaurant owner or a manager or a couple if they own and manage a restaurant together – and it is someone who has contributed to their community, helped the industry and exemplified excellence in employee relations innovation,” said Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.
Rowena and Adolph Baca, owners of the Owl Bar & Cafe in San Antonio, N.M., took the highest honor this year. The cafe, known for its green chile cheeseburger, has been in operation since 1945. It has received many accolades and national attention on the Travel Channel, the Food Network, and print publications.
“If you have visited the Owl Cafe, you’ve noticed dollar bills attached to the wall,” according to a New Mexico Restaurant Association news release. “The story behind these bills says a lot about the Baca family. They don’t keep that money. Every year a few weeks before Christmas, they take down the money and donate to charities, such as Make-A-Wish New Mexico, Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital, and New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranches. To date, they have donated over $30,000 to the various charities.”
The Restaurant Neighbor Award was presented to Domino’s Team Bailey. Its charitable events have helped groups and individuals in New Mexico, including a Clovis-area veteran diagnosed with cancer, a Las Cruces mom in need of a transplant and a Shiprock-area child born with brain complications, according to the news release.
Chef Michael White of The Point Grill in Rio Rancho won Chef of the Year. White created “The Kitchen Kids Inc.,” a charity that provides cooking classes and guided recipe instructions to children of all abilities, according to the news release. Manager of the Year went to Steve Silva of Anaheim Jacks in Ruidoso, who was also recognized for giving back to children in Ruidoso and New Mexico.
“Chef of the Year is really about the dining experience,” Wight said. “Are their creations creative, delicious, remarkable food? And those are things that we look for, plus, are they known in the state and well-respected? For Manager, that’s just looking for those people that are up and coming in our industry and looking after our restaurants serving as team leaders.”
For the first time, People’s Choice awards were given for favorite New Mexico distillery, winery and brewery. The public was able to vote through social media.
Three Rivers Brewery and Distillery in Farmington won Most Wanted Distillery, St. Clair Winery was awarded Most Wanted Winery, and Red River Brewing Co. in Red River was named Brewery of the Year.