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Breakfast Burrito Byway celebrates a tradition

They take their breakfast burritos seriously over at Katrinah’s East Mountain Grill in Edgewood.

The burritos – served hand-held or smothered – are the top seller at the small eatery north of Route 66.

Katrinah’s received the most votes last summer when New Mexicans declared their favorite restaurants to be included on the state’s new Breakfast Burrito Byway.

The attention has brought business to Katrinah’s – and the 93 other locations on the culinary tourism trail. Restaurant manager Jay Clanton even has the byway symbol tattooed on his ankle.

“It’s been great for us,” says owner Kathy Schuit. “I know there are people traveling the byway and seeing the state as they do that. It’s fun to hear their stories.”

Schuit says breakfast burritos are an obligatory menu item for any New Mexico restaurant that serves breakfast. She credits the green chile sauce, which is made simply from a 30-year-old recipe, for the success of Katrinah’s burritos.

Big and small

The Breakfast Burrito Byway was cooked up last summer by the state Tourism Department, which proclaims, “Mornings can be chile.” For a restaurant to qualify, its burritos must be made with egg, tortilla and New Mexico chile. Beans, cheese and other ingredients can be added.

The restaurants on the trail were chosen by popular vote from among 400 nominees and span all four corners of the state. Among them are chains such as Blake’s Lotaburger in towns from Alamogordo to Tucumcari, Twisters and Garcia’s. Also included are plenty of individual restaurants such as the Frontier Restaurant, an institution in Albuquerque’s university neighborhood; Burrito Tyme in Socorro; Annette’s Café in Roy; and Michael’s Kitchen in Taos.

The trail aims to attract visitors to the state, says Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham.

“We see a big draw for New Mexico’s food because our food is so rich and so unique and so spectacular,” she says. “The overall New Mexico experience is not the same if you take the food out of the equation.”

And breakfast burritos are definitely part of the New Mexico food equation. Latham says she feels confident claiming breakfast burritos were created in New Mexico. They are thought to have originated in the early ’70s, perhaps at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta food stands or at Tia Sophia’s restaurant in Santa Fe, according to the Tourism Department.

Culinary trails

“There are foodies who go out of their way to plan a vacation around what they eat,” Latham says.

Perhaps that’s why culinary trails have grown in popularity across the country. New Hampshire has an Ice Cream Trail. Upstate New York boasts the Finger Lakes Beer Trail. Tourists also can travel the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the Connecticut Burgers & Brews Trail or Indiana’s “Here Fishy Fishy” Trail.

In New Mexico, though, home-grown chile reigns. The burrito byway joined the state’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and the New Mexico Tourism Department’s list of “Culinary Treasures,” family-owned and operated restaurants that have been around at least 40 years and are cornerstones of their communities.

Up north in Red River, everything about the breakfast burritos served up at Shotgun Willie’s is made in house, including the brisket that is smoked for 20 hours before hitting the tortillas.

“That’s our latest famous burrito,” says owner Steve Cherry.

The 44-seat restaurant, which has been an institution in the northern New Mexico town for three decades, serves more than 100 breakfast burritos on a busy morning.

“We get some people in town that have heard we’re on (the byway) and want to try it,” Cherry says. “They always seem satisfied.”

Served with a hug

Diners at Tim’s Place in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights also seem to leave satisfied. The restaurant earned a spot among the top 5 vote getters last summer.

The breakfast burritos “are made with love, and everything we use is homemade,” says managing partner Zac Perez.

Ingredients include fresh Yukon gold potatoes and a choice of ham, bacon, sausage, carne adovada or vegetables.

The breakfast burritos are “an all-day event” and the second best-selling item after green chile cheeseburgers, Perez says.

Owner Tim Harris, who has Down syndrome, opened Tim’s Place in 2010 as the “World’s Friendliest Restaurant.” Harris himself has become a draw to the restaurant.

When he’s in the building, “every burrito comes with a complimentary hug,” Perez says.

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