The tastes of New Mexico have been even further refined in the state’s many restaurants, some of which have been in operation for more than a half century, with generations of family members proudly carrying on the recipes and traditions started by their parents or grandparents.
This winter, as part of New Mexico’s burgeoning Culinary Trails series being developed by the state’s Department of Tourism, homage is being paid to dozens of independent longtime family eateries that have been in business for 40 years or longer.
A complete list of the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail, including phone numbers, hours and specialties, is to be put on newmexico.org/ culinarytreasures.
“The focus is on New Mexico’s culinary heritage,” says cookbook author Cheryl Alters Jamison, who is working as a consultant with the tourism department to help develop a culinary trails program similar to one that has proven popular in other states. The program kicked off more than a year ago with a popular green chile cheeseburger route.
About 75 nominations have arrived for New Mexico family eateries that have been in business at least 40 years, about half of those from northern New Mexico.
The range of the cafes’ menus and service is broad, notes Jamison, running from popular biker bar eateries in Madrid (The Mine Shaft Tavern) or Jemez Springs (Los Ojos) to a deli restaurant operating out of a general store in Abiquiú (Bode’s General Store). There are restaurants that promote fine dining (St. Bernard in Taos Ski Valley) and casual dining in cafes (Estella’s Café in Las Vegas) that still look so retro 1950s that films have been made there.
‘Cuisine came early’
Northern New Mexico’s restaurants have built their reputations on everything from offering 100 margarita choices to the production of fresh tortillas that fly out the door by the hundreds every day.
“I learned all kinds of interesting things I never knew existed,” Jamison says. “New Mexico has rich culinary resources, partly I think, because it developed here in isolation. It’s a unique blend of Native American and Hispanic food coming together without much influence from elsewhere. Essentially, you have to come here to experience this kind of cooking. Our cuisine came early.”
The stories and the families have proved every bit as interesting as the food, Jamison adds.
Española’s El Paragua, one of the state’s big success stories, had its humble roots back in 1958 when the two oldest sons of Frances and Luis Attencio set up a roadside table to sell their mother’s tacos and tamales at the intersection of the Taos Highway and Santa Cruz.
A striped beach umbrella to provide shade for the boys, Larry and Pete, gave the restaurant its distinctive name even as it expanded into the family’s tack house and then garage.
The restaurant’s food has been recognized in The New York Times and Gourmet magazine. Family Circle deemed the sopaipillas as the “lightest and puffiest” in Santa Fe County.
In Raton, Mike Pappas continues to run Pappas Sweet Shop Restaurant along Main Street. The store, originally a candy and ice cream shop, was founded in 1923 by Mike’s father, Jim Pappas, who made his way from Greece to Raton via New York and Detroit.
Now a full-fledged cafe, the Sweet Shop menu selection varies, but a popular constant has been the chicken salad sandwich on homemade bread.
“We make our own bread every day,” says Mike Pappas.
Speaking of bread products, Charlie’s Spic and Span Bakery & Café in Las Vegas’ Historic District makes and sells fresh tortillas by the hundreds. Come in hungry
If it’s margaritas you like, try a popular Santa Fe eatery that serves up 100 varieties.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen boasts of “real” tequila, described as a liquor made only in Mexico that has been distilled from the sugary juices from the cooked heart of the Weber blue agave.
The margaritas were the idea of Laurie and Al Lucero, who bought Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen in 1985. Before that, the original Maria was Maria Lopez, and her tradition began in 1952 when she and her husband, Gilbert, started a small take-out kitchen in the area that now houses the bar and kitchen.
Bode’s General Store in Abiquiú — the community is the home of the late Georgia O’Keeffe — is a true general store for travelers, serving up cafe food, groceries, gasoline and a bathroom stop.
The original store known as Grants Mercantile started in 1890 as a general store, post office, stagecoach stop and jail, but the business has been owned by Constance and Dennis Liddy since 1994. They call it a restaurant deli, meaning they sell sliced Boar’s Head meats and cheese or create custom-ordered sandwiches. A favorite, according to Constance Liddy, is the BLTTA, containing bacon, lettuce, tomato, turkey and avocado.
“But we’re truly known for our breakfast burritos and Frito pies,” she says. “People come from all over to get those burritos. When we open the store in the morning, they’re in the hot oven and ready to go.”
Cafe choices in northern New Mexico are legendary.
The Elkhorn Lodge and Café near Chama satisfies those with a sweet tooth with apple pie and cinnamon rolls.
Rancho de Chimayó at Chimayó is a restored, century-old adobe home where red chile ristras grace the entrance and old Spanish recipes are still served.
Visit Laguna Vista Historic Restaurant & Saloon at Eagle Nest and it isn’t hard to imagine the hotel lobby as it once was in the 1890s.
And save room for dessert.
the next time you’re hungry while driving the roads of northern New Mexico, stop by some of the restaurants that have been recognized by the state tourism department as part of its Culinary Trails series.
the following restaurants are more than 40 years old, and most have been continuously operated as family-owned eateries.They are just some of the restaurants in the series.
Bode’s General store
Elkhorn Lodge and Café
Rancho de Chimayó
Laguna Vista Historic Restaurant & Saloon
Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon
Charlie’s Spic and Span Bakery & Café
The Mine Shaft Tavern
La Cosina Café
Pappas Sweet Shop Restaurant
Texas Reds Steakhouse & Saloon
Santa Fe Bite
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen
Minnie’s Dairy Delite
Taos and Arroyo Seco and Taos Ski Valley:
The Alley Cantina
Abe’s Cantina y Cocina
Doc Martin’s at Historic Taos Inn
Momentitos de la Vida
Truchas General Store