Out in Corrales, Perea’s Tijuana Bar & Restaurant (4590 Corrales Rd., 505/898-2442, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $7) serves food at lunch only, but it’s worth scheduling around if you know you’ll be out this way. Everything’s home cooked, from Frito pie to carne adovada which has an earthy kick. You can eat inside the old adobe, with the regulars at the bar, or outside on a small patio.
Just two blocks north of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, popular Barelas Coffee House (1502 4th St. SW, 505/843-7577, 7:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Sat., $6) can be confusing to the first-timer: The attraction is chile, not coffee—especially the red, which infuses hearty, timeless New Mexican standards such as posole, chicharrones, and menudo. The restaurant occupies several storefronts, and even then there’s often a line out the door at lunch. But it’s worth the wait—this is timeless food.
Experts agree: Mary & Tito’s Café (2711 4th St. NW, 505/344-6266, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Fri. and Sat., $7) is the place to go for carne adovada, the dish of tender pork braised in red chile. The only thing better is the “Mexican turnover,” an uncooked flour tortilla filled with carne adovada and then deep-fried. But in fact, everything with red chile is delicious at this simple, home-style place north of downtown. You’ll see locals cashing in their frequent-diner cards—even if you’re in town for a short stay, you might want to get one.
Don’t confuse the old location of Los Cuates (5016 Lomas Blvd. NE, 505/268-0974, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $8) with the newer place across the street. You want the 1979 original, which is an archetypal New Mexican restaurant. Its red vinyl booths have saggy springs; pebbled plastic water cups scrape on the glass tabletops; and you can hear the clink of ceramic and silverware from the dishwasher. The vinyl-encased menus offer combination plates and smaller choices para los niños. Everything’s tasty, and make sure you get a basket of hot, puffy sopaipillas to mop it all up.
Cruise down by the rail yards south of downtown to find El Modelo (1715 2nd St. SW, 505/242-1843, 7 a.m.–6:45 p.m. daily, $5), a local go-to for a hangover-curing chicharrón burrito, chile-smothered spare ribs, or tamales for the whole family. Because it’s really a front for a tortilla factory, the flour tortillas are particularly tender, and you can order either a taco or a whole platter of food. If the weather’s nice, grab a seat at a picnic table outside and watch the freight trains go by.
Finally, K & I Diner (2500 Broadway SE, 505/243-1881, 6 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun., $6) serves perhaps the most massive meal you will eat anywhere in New Mexico. It’s a single dish, the Travis, an enormous burrito, bigger even than the heads of the high-school football players who come here to bulk up, is slathered in chile and topped with French fries. You can order a half-Travis, or even a quarter-Travis, but you’d better have a damn good excuse, such as a stapled stomach, if you opt for the eighth-Travis.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition