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Can’t beat a recipe that began with love

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Once upon a time, a talented cook and husband named Ignacio made mouthwatering Mexican burritos for his wife, BeBe’s, lunch. Unfortunately for BeBe, those burritos were so tempting to co-workers that she sometimes found herself without lunch. Rather than take revenge on the lunch-nibblers, she offered a generous deal: pay for ingredients and I’ll bring burritos for you, too.

That led to a small ice-chest business, which brings us to the proper sit-down restaurant on Louisiana you’ll not want to miss: Papa Nacho’s.

Uncovering the tried-and-true yet hidden spots is a mission I take seriously – these hardworking restaurant owners deserve it. This particular stretch of Louisiana is rarely traveled by anyone save for nearby residents – for Papa Nacho’s, it means that the dining clientele wants to be there. And for those who haven’t yet tasted Ignacio’s food, your excuses are now gone.

Papa Nacho’s
LOCATION: 7648 Louisiana NE, south of Paseo del Norte, 821-4900,
HOURS: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closed Sundays and Mondays

My favorite taste at Papa Nacho’s has to be the chunky, onion-studded guacamole ($6.99), which lasted all of about 13 seconds after it landed on the table. Even if you’ve run out of the excellent house-made chips, this is no impediment when silverware is at the ready. The feisty house salsa had but one problem – a tiny serving bowl. Without guacamole we’d have ordered at least one more dish of that spicy elixir.

When this restaurant was but a glimmer in BeBe’s co-workers’ eyes, it was burritos they couldn’t leave untouched; the menu proudly features eight variations on the tortilla-bundled meals, all starting with beans, cheese and chile ($6.99), then climbing the carnivorous ladder from chicken or shredded beef to chicharrĂ³n or machaca ($9.49).

The latter bursts with flavor from the shredded beef, no surprise to those who know machaca is usually made from dried meat, stewed until tender and then shredded. Watch for similar preparations in other restaurants, such as the drier carne seca or stewed ropa vieja.

If burritos are not considered a strictly Mexican food, take refuge in the gorditas ($10.99) and enjoy two hamburger bun-sized pockets of masa, split open like a pita to take on fillings from beans to green-chile-spiced beef, topped with cheese, onions and lettuce. Mexican restaurants south of the border have been featuring American hamburgers for many years, but if we in the States received the gordita in trade, I think we all got a sweet deal.

Sampling from the coastal Mexican offerings, the special shrimp ceviche ($9.49) hit all the right notes, from thin slices of avocado to the ample portion of lime-laced shrimp. This dish, like a large portion of the menu, is gluten-free friendly, a trend I endorse.

We were not prepared to tackle the full-blown namesake specialty: Papa Nachos ($8.99 half, $11.99 full), but nearly all of its components, from guacamole to seasoned beef, showed up throughout an extensive meal, leading us to happily conclude there are no weak links in the nacho assemblage.