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Local treasure: Bernalillo’s Range Café offers superb New Mexican, diner food

The Range Café’s breaded green chile strips are served with a creamy jalapeño dipping sauce. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

My parents, occasional visitors to New Mexico, say the state has the friendliest restaurant servers in the country.

I think of this every time I eat at the Range Café in Bernalillo. The service there is so consistently excellent, from the person who seats you to the one who refills your water, you have to remind yourself not to take it for granted.

The Range Café’s welcoming atmosphere has helped fuel its growth from one restaurant in Bernalillo to seven locations, including four in Albuquerque, over the past three decades.

The adovada huevos rancheros dish pairs red chile-marinated pork with eggs, red chile sauce, beans and potatoes. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The newer spots may offer convenience, but they can’t match the charm of the Bernalillo location on Camino del Sol, a road that traces its roots back to the historic Camino Real, which connected Santa Fe with Mexico City. The stretch where Range Café sits appears unbothered by time. The facades of the buildings, including a saloon and a mom and pop hardware store, stand close to the road, and drivers stop to let you cross, an act of hospitality so rare it leaves you momentarily confused.

The Range Café’s lobby divides the restaurant from a kitschy gift shop that pays homage to Camino del Sol’s days as part of old Route 66. The restaurant itself, stretched across several rooms, is bright and busy with local artwork and painted wooden chairs and tables.

The Range Café’s menu of New Mexican and diner favorites has undergone a few changes recently, but most of the popular dishes remain. Breakfast and lunch feature huevos rancheros, green chile stew, enchiladas and other New Mexican specialties. Later in the day, diner favorites like hot turkey plate, meatloaf and country fried steak take center stage.

The best dishes at the Range showcase New Mexico chile, including an appetizer of three green chile strips ($5.99), breaded, fried and served with sour cream-based dipping sauce and slaw. The crisp breading is a perfect foil for the tender strips of chile, and the jalapeño in the dipping sauce adds to the fire that lingers after every bite. It’s an outstanding starter.

Red chile – as hot as its green cousin but slightly sweeter – shines in the Range’s adovada huevos rancheros ($12.99). The dish presents itself as a rather unappealing-looking mound of carne adovada, beans and fried potato wedges under a couple of fried eggs, but magic happens when you work your way into it. The runny yolks from the eggs enrich the red chile sauce, the marinated, slow-cooked pork falls apart under your fork, and the starchy accompaniments disperse the heat. There’s easily a day’s worth of sustenance on the plate.

After the red riot of the huevos rancheros, the New Mexico benny ($11.99), a variation on eggs benedict, looks positively ashen. A peppery, smoky chorizo hollandaise sauce with green chile turkey sausage smothers two poached eggs served over English muffins. The dish has an electric flavor that belies its bland color.

Meals at the Range tend to proceed at a leisurely pace, the conversation fueled by great coffee from Villa Myriam, a local purveyor run by brothers Juan and David Certain. The brothers get their coffee beans from a family farm in Colombia and roast them lightly, producing a cup with faint notes of chocolate and a real charge of caffeine. Exercise your right to free refills judiciously.

The Range Café in Bernalillo is a local treasure: a casual, unpretentious space where you can catch up with friends and introduce visitors from out of town to the wonders of New Mexico chile.