My wife and I have been traveling to New Mexico even prior to our marriage. The motto of the state rings true for us, as it is the “Land of Enchantment”. New Mexico is about the beautiful landscape, storied culture, friendly people and, of course, the delicious food.
Albuquerqueans regularly argue about which is the best New Mexican restaurant in the city. All I can say is that it depends on what strikes your fancy. It could be the salsa, or possibly the enchiladas. The overall heat of their green chiles could also be a deal breaker. I don’t like to enter such debates because I don’t believe that there is a single restaurant that deserves to have the honor of “Best New Mexican Cuisine”.
Figuring that most restaurants would still have their holiday décor up, we decided upon El Pinto in Northwest Albuquerque. The parking lot is immense and was surprisingly full at 5:00pm. Luminarias (small paper lanterns) lined the walls and the building, which made the restaurant quite festive. Inside the restaurant a number of lighted Christmas trees adorned each room.
We were seated promptly and I wasted no time in ordering a couple of margaritas for us. I was appreciative of the fact that while I wanted Cointreau in my margarita, our server didn’t try to force me to order their Herradura or Patron premium offerings. Chips and both red and green salsa were placed on our table. The green salsa was made from freshly roasted green chiles, garlic and organic tomatoes.
What makes New Mexican cuisine different from Mexican cuisine? First, New Mexicans spell chile with an “e” not with an “i” because it’s all about the chile. Some favor red; others green, but it depends on the harvest which ends up to be hotter. Because the chiles are grown under distressed conditions and with unique soil, they end up having a unique flavor that can’t be duplicated elsewhere in the world. Finally, there is a Pueblo Indian influence on the cuisine as evidenced by the popularity of stuffed sopapillas (more about that later).
I ordered the cheese enchilada combination plate. Not very interesting, you may think, but the tortillas are stacked vs. rolled and I ordered mine with a fried egg on top Christmas style. Christmas style refers to the use of both red and green chiles. To an Angeleno, it’s rather humorous ordering enchiladas, but it’s part of the unique New Mexican culture. Fortunately, it’s not as complex as ordering a coffee drink at Starbucks.
My wife ordered the pork tamale combination plate. The masa was moist; the pork was flavorful and delicious, but the red chile sauce served on the side made the difference. Another New Mexican tradition, sopapillas, (crispy flatbread like fluffy pillows) was also served. I like to tear off a corner and liberally fill the insides with honey. While many New Mexicans eat sopapillas as a dessert, I’ve found that the sopapilla combined with honey nicely offsets the heat of the food.
Honestly, I can easily justify a trip to New Mexico solely based on food. If you can’t plan a trip around food alone, you can combine it with another event. Here are a few suggestions:
- The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
- New Mexico Wine Festival.
- The changing of colors of the Cottonwoods along the Rio Grande or possibly the chile roasting right after the harvest.
Or for a taste of New Mexico at home, look for El Pinto’s ready-made salsas at your local grocery store.
- El Pinto
10500 4th Street NW
Albuquerque New Mexico
- Website: http://www.elpinto.com/