BIBO BAR & GRILLE
Tucked inside an adobe facade off historic Route 66, Bibo Bar & Grille is no stranger to shifting with the times. The original building was a trading post in 1913 and went through a series of twists and turns. In the 1950s, the restaurant sold Spanish cuisine. But since 2007, Bibo has been an epicenter of green chile cheeseburgers and New Mexican biker legions. “Everyone comes for the green chile cheeseburgers,” says Maria Kanesta, the bar and restaurant manager. The secret? Bibo uses the hottest Hatch chiles available, attracting bikers from across the state for weekly roundups from early March into the close of summer. The insider’s scoop is to try the fried chicken sandwiches. A chicken breast is filleted by hand, breaded, and fried. To Kanesta, the love that goes into the sandwiches exemplifies Bibo’s values: The entire dish is handmade, start to finish.
Try this: To eat like a local, go straight for the hot wings. “They’re fried crispy with Buffalo sauce,” says Kanesta. “They speak for themselves.” Founded: 2007. Region: Northwest. Price: $. facebook.com/bibobar —Karen Fischer
BUCKHORN SALOON AND OPERA HOUSE
“People ask why we don’t have an Open sign,” says Amy Wright, sous chef at the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House, in Pinos Altos. Then again, neon doesn’t fit the aesthetic of the 1865 adobe in the historic mining village north of Silver City. Once one of eight bars in the boom town, the Buckhorn also functioned as a brothel until about 1970. The surest way to know whether the Buckhorn is open is to pop your head in. “From the outside, you’d not expect what’s inside,” says Katie Alecksen, bartender and manager. In winter, a whiff of the mountain air tinged with smoke from a wood-burning fireplace gives away its location. Many nights, another sign of life wafts through that entryway: live music from local acts and open-mic performers. “Once people find this place, they come back again and again,” she says.
Try this: The green chile stew ($15). “You can’t go wrong with that,” says Wright. Founded: 1865. Region: Southwest. Price: $$$$. buckhornsaloonandoperahouse.com —Jennifer C. Olson
CHARLIE’S BAKERY & CAFE
If it’s an election year in San Miguel County, you’re likely to meet a politician at Charlie’s. “They love this place,” says owner Charlie Sandoval. “That’s the only time I get to see the governor.” He attributes “a lot of action” at the restaurant to its slogan as “the meeting, eating, greeting place of Las Vegas,” where ranchers, tourists, New Mexico Highlands University students, and abuelos mingle and catch up while enjoying a large menu of New Mexican and American classics. There’s a lot to see at Charlie’s, from the enormous cream puff emerging from the café’s storefront to the large-scale, fanciful paintings of burgers, pancakes, and sundaes done by Sandoval’s son Isaac (owner of the Skillet, a restaurant nearby that caters to a younger crowd). At the center of the spectacle is the tortilla-making operation, which begins at 5 a.m. and produces 100 dozen a day.
Try this: “The secret to everything is the tortillas,” says Sandoval, who based the thick, fluffy flour disks on his mother’s recipe. Try a hot buttered one with whatever you order, then take a dozen ($6.99) home for later. Founded: 1950. Region: Northeast. Price: $$. charliesbakeryandcafe.com —Molly Boyle
To longtime server Renee Gutierrez, Del’s Restaurant feels like the “little heart of Route 66.” Founded in 1956 by Del Akin, it serves as a beacon—its blue-and-red neon sign topped with a Hereford bull calling out to hungry travelers. “Tucumcari is one of the biggest stops on Route 66,” says Gutierrez, who has worked at the restaurant for more than 30 years. “To see repeat customers and people outside taking pictures of Del’s is so warming.” People line up outside just to sample the chicken-fried steak, fajitas, chilaquiles, and blackberry cobbler. “It takes longer to get a seat than it does your food,” Gutierrez says. Since taking over as owner in 2021, Chase Waters, a Tucumcari native who started working at Del’s as a teen, has added a few small touches, including a Saturday-morning breakfast bar. But the soul of Del’s remains unchanged. “I’m the luckiest person in the world,” Gutierrez says. “I get to eat there every day.”
Try this: Gutierrez’s favorite: beef chimichangas ($15.99). Founded: 1956. Region: Northeast. Price: $$. facebook.com/delsrestaurant —Gregory R.C. Hasman
The Double Eagle restaurant drips with old-world charm—a 30-foot, hand-carved oak-and-walnut bar; Baccarat chandeliers; and pressed-tin ceilings accented in 18-karat gold. Every room of the former Mesilla hacienda is adorned with magnificent antiques, art, and furnishings. The sumptuous food fits the lavish setting—house-aged steaks, red chile escargot, lobster, and a margarita served the same way for more than 30 years. There’s even a ghost story that dares diners to linger. The building dates to the town’s establishment, circa 1850, and became a restaurant when oil magnate Robert O. Anderson opened the Double Eagle in 1973. C.W. “Buddy” Ritter, a fifth-generation Mesilla descendant and hotelier, bought and restored the Double Eagle in 1983. “The building just reeks of New Mexico history,” says Ritter.
Try this: Center-cut grande filet mignon ($46). “People rave over our filet mignon,” he says. Founded: 1973. Region: Southwest. Price: $$$$. doubleeagleonline.com —Lynn Cline
DURAN CENTRAL PHARMACY
To reach one of Albuquerque’s most iconic restaurants, customers must wind their way past shelves of vitamins, aspirin, and other remedies to a family-run diner centered around an old-fashioned lunch counter. In 1965, owner Pete Duran sold Duran Central Pharmacy to his staff pharmacist Robert Ghattas. The deal included the soda fountain: a source of sandwiches, fizzy drinks, and shakes. As the traditional fountain’s popularity waned, Ghattas started experimenting with other offerings. “My father is a foodie and didn’t want the soda fountain to die off,” says Mona Ghattas, Robert’s daughter and a pharmacist who now owns the business. “The New Mexican food became a big hit with all the clientele who came into the pharmacy.” The home-cooked fare includes sublime carne adovada with a rich red chile sauce made from ground chile pods, not powder, and the down-home green chile stew, a restorative bowl of earthy, spicy goodness. Ten years after buying Duran’s, Ghattas moved it to a larger location a few blocks away, in West Downtown Albuquerque. “I see generations of customers who’ve come here throughout the years,” Mona says.
Try this: Duran’s famous flour tortillas are made behind the lunch counter while you watch. “We’ve always made the tortillas to order, by hand,” Mona says. Founded: 1942. Region: Central. Price: $$. duransrx.com —Lynn Cline
EARL’S FAMILY RESTAURANT
The looming turquoise outline of Earl’s Restaurant on Route 66 has a mystical way of drawing in diners. Perhaps part of the enticement is the “Since 1947” label on the sign, which points to a slice of old-school Americana. But beyond that, one fact about Earl’s is known from every corner of the state: If you’re looking to buy jewelry or crafts directly from Native artists without any middleman in Gallup, Earl’s is the place to go. General manager Herman Livingston, who started out as a server 22 years ago, remembers dining at Earl’s in the 1960s as a child. Even then, artists went table to table selling jewelry, scarves, hats, and other wares. “It naturally happened,” notes Livingston. Over time, customers return to Earl’s not just for the Navajo tacos—puffy fry bread topped with pinto beans, ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes—but to stock up on gifts or splurge on purchases while dining. To Livingston, though, Earl’s has stood the test of time, thanks to its family environment. “I think we have four generations of employees who work here,” he says. “You don’t see owners at [other restaurants] working alongside their help.”
Try this: Fried zucchini. The serving is so generous, you may not even need an entree. Founded: 1947. Region: Northwest. Price: $$. nmmag.us/earls —Karen Fischer
EL BRUNO’S RESTAURANT Y CANTINA
High school sweethearts Hazel and Bruno Herrera opened El Bruno’s Restaurant y Cantina in 1975 in the small town of Cuba, with recipes from Hazel and her grandmother. It wasn’t long before locals and travelers on US 550, between Albuquerque and Farmington, discovered this spot, known for carnitas with papitas, pollo con piñon, and carne adovada that’s slowly simmered for hours in bittersweet sun-dried red chile. Bruno oversees the grill for dishes such as carne asada and the aptly named Bruno’s Special, a hand-cut rib eye smothered with chile. “Bruno’s great on the grill,” says Hazel. Thirteen years ago, the family brought their acclaimed food and award-winning margaritas to Albuquerque, where daughter Melanie Dunn manages El Bruno’s in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Back in Cuba, daughter Wendel Cebada serves as executive chef. “I’ve always said that I cook from my heart,” says Hazel, “and so do my daughters.” During the pandemic, two granddaughters pitched in at El Bruno’s. The family connection counts for Hazel. “It gives me a good feeling,” she says. “Somebody from the family is always there.”
Try this: The Combination Picante ($16.99), with an enchilada, tamale, taco, beans, and rice, lets you try a variety of El Bruno’s delicious fare. Founded: 1975. Region: Central. Price: $$. elbrunonm.com —Lynn Cline
Velvety, piquant, sumptuous—these are the hallmark adjectives of El Farolito’s signature green chile, a low-and-slow-cooked stew of pork, sweet tomato, and fiery flavor that won the top prize at the New Mexico State Fair for three years in a row during the late 1980s. The rustic 40-year-old diner, located at a crossroads in tiny downtown El Rito, was opened by Carmen and Dennis Trujillo; today, their kids, Dominic Trujillo and Christina Sanchez, follow the same recipes, bolstering El Rito’s reputation as a destination for sublime New Mexican food. Chef Dominic says his father picked up some kitchen wisdom as a mess sergeant in the Army, stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana; his maternal grandmother was from Jalisco, Mexico, and passed her skills down to Carmen. Glowing old reviews from Gourmet and Roadfood line the walls along with the place’s namesake vintage kerosene lanterns, gifted to the family by customers over the years. “If you’re going to come all this way,” says Dominic, “I want you to have a good meal. I hear a lot, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.’ ”
Try this: “Our Farolito Burger [$5.50, with chile, cheese, and bacon] is part of the local lexicon,” Dominic says. Founded: 1983. Region: North Central. Price: $. facebook.com/MarisolTrujilloPerry —Molly Boyle
Park the car beside the silver-rimmed menu boards that line the 19 parking spots outside Foxy Drive-In and order the Ranchburger (“a basketful of good eating”), a peanut-butter-banana shake, or the famous taquitas. “It’s a place that people come, not only to enjoy a meal and the atmosphere, but to go back in time,” says owner Chris Bryant, whose father, A.C., founded the Clovis spot in the 1950s. Foxy bucks modern drive-through culture with a malt-shop vibe that invites you to pump the brakes on the go-go-go pace of life with a banana split enjoyed in the front seat of your Chevy, on the fountain-side stools, or cozied up in a booth. “We have items for the whole family,” says Bryant of the menu that blends New Mexican dishes with drive-through classics and Southern fare like catfish and biscuits and gravy. “People have developed friendships and relationships here and gone on to get married and have families,” he says.
Try this: Taquitas (99 cents) are made by hand daily and served with in-house red sauce. “We’ve shipped them to Arkansas, Dallas—just all over the place,” Bryant says. Founded: 1956. Region: Southeast. Price: $$. facebook.com/foxydriveinclovis
On any day of the week at the Frontier Restaurant, you’ll find college students devouring chile-topped burritos, families gathered for a celebration, and longtime friends sipping coffee, eating sweet rolls, and reminiscing as they look out the big picture windows on Central Avenue. “We’ve been known for great people-watching,” says Dorothy Rainosek, who owns the Frontier with her husband, Larry. That includes cooks sporting classic paper hats in the open kitchen while whipping up fresh tortillas, cheeseburgers, and cups of green chile stew. “In New Mexico, we quickly learned you better have green chile,” says Larry, a Texas transplant. The expanse of Frontier’s five adjoining dining rooms is decked out with a range of unique Western artworks, including a wall piece of John Wayne made entirely from metal nails and colorful paintings of New Mexican life by Fred Cleveland. “You just come in, and you’ll see somebody you know,” Larry says. “It’s a comfortable gathering place.”
Try this: Based on the Texas-favorite Manske rolls, the Frontier sweet rolls ($2.75) are baked fresh daily. “It’s still one of our signature items,” Dorothy says. Founded: 1971. Region: Central. Price: $. frontierrestaurant.com —Julian Dossett
“My face is burning off,” the late Anthony Bourdain remarked in 2013, dripping sweat on TV. While filming an episode of Parts Unknown in Santa Fe, Bourdain made the decision—or perhaps the mistake—to sample the Level 3 green chile at Horseman’s Haven, an old-school dive named for a long-since-shuttered racetrack and tucked beside the Giant gas station on Cerrillos Road. The original restaurant, opened in 1960, was situated in a truck stop; 21 years later, Louis and Rose Romero bought the place, kept the name, and introduced the masses to their top-secret strain of the hottest green chile around. “My dad had an old joke he’d tell us: ‘If you’re sick—or if you get stuck in the snow—you gotta eat your Level 2,’ ” says their daughter, owner Kim Gonzales. Sweating it out in a cozy wooden booth at Horseman’s is a local rite of passage—and one of the best ways we know to bond over a meal.
Try this: Huevos rancheros ($12.95) are served smothered in chile atop a blue corn tortilla with a warm flour tortilla. Founded: 1960. Region: North Central. Price: $$. facebook.com/horsemans.haven —Molly Boyle
Archie Baca grew up in Jerry’s Cafe. His father, Archie Sr., purchased the West Coal Avenue restaurant from the place’s namesake, Jerry Gonzalez, and Baca bought it from his dad in 1986. With recipes that have become a remix of the original Jerry, Baca’s father, and his own curiosities, Jerry’s food is beyond any one of them, and something all its own. The wood-paneled walls hint at the generations that have entered the café since 1976 for steaming plates of enchiladas and early-morning cups of coffee, along with the ones to come. The Gallup institution is famed for New Mexican classics such as chile rellenos, but the red chile—made with Hatch chiles and a recipe informed by Baca’s mother, Hazel—is the undisputed star. “The red chile comes from that year, from that crop,” says Baca. “That’s the consistency you’re going to get.” In fact, a single employee is designated to make the red chile, which is best sampled when ladled generously over a massive stuffed sopaipilla. “I have a great staff,” Baca says. “They’re what makes Jerry’s continue to be Jerry’s.”
Try this: Jerry’s Burger ($7.75). “It’s been made the same since my dad,” says Baca. “The only thing I did was go to a bigger patty.” Founded: 1976. Region: Northwest. Price: $$. nmmag.us/jerryscafe —Karen Fischer
JOSEPH’S BAR & GRILL
Joseph’s Bar & Grill doesn’t open until 4 p.m., but it’s worth the wait for the Rio Pecos Burger smothered with green chile and cheese, the Blue Hole Margarita, or the red-chile-marinated carne adovada. “It’s spicy,” says general manager Sandie Martinez, “but it’s really good and tender.” Founded in 1956, when Jose and Carmen Campos opened a Route 66 drive-in called La Fiesta, it expanded a few years later to a full sit-down spot. After the couple passed down La Fiesta to their son Joseph in the 1980s, it was renamed Joseph’s Bar & Grill and expanded to include a full-service bar, nightclub, and Route 66 gift shop. From specialty pizzas (try the Supremo Grande with Canadian bacon, bell pepper, pepperoni, sausage, olives, mushrooms, and onions) to New Mexican favorites such as stuffed sopaipillas, the menu serves up a little something for the whole family. “It’s a homey place,” says Martinez, who recommends finishing your meal with a slice of coconut cream pie. “People come in and enjoy themselves.”
Try this: The calzone ($9.99) comes with stuffings ranging from pepperoni and sausage to green chile and jalapeño. Founded: 1956. Region: Northeast. Price: $$. josephsbarandgrill.com —Gregory R.C. Hasman
It all started when Phillip Maestas’s Grandma Jessie, a former nanny to J. Robert Oppenheimer’s children, opened a restaurant in the center of Española. Two generations and two locations later, Maestas and his co-owner, former Española Mayor Javier Sanchez, are proud to call the bustling La Cocina “singularly a northern New Mexican restaurant” that carries on the culinary legacy of Jessie Martinez. “When I hire people,” Sanchez says, “I tell them about the number-one item people order, the Jessie’s Combination plate, named after our founder. We have to make sure that’s one of the best things we can provide to people because it ties us to our past and our traditions.” Newer menu items such as the ground lamb burrito have risen in popularity, and Sanchez says the restaurant tries to source local ingredients, including lamb, cheese, milk, Bueno chile, and tortillas, as much as possible. “All of that stuff is made by New Mexicans in New Mexico.”
Try this: Jessie’s Combination ($15) showcases a beef enchilada, cheese enchilada, pork tamale, beans, and posole, smothered in red and/or green chile and cheese. Founded: 1970. Region: North Central. Price: $$. lacocinanewmexico.com —Molly Boyle
LA POSTA DE MESILLA
“There’s lots of places to eat Mexican food, but few have the ambience and character La Posta de Mesilla has,” says Thomas Hutchinson, who co-owns La Posta with his wife, Jerean. “It’s a dining experience rather than just a meal.” Walk into the 1840s adobe building and you might be greeted by the same pair of macaws and the toothless piranha that have welcomed others for decades. Jerean’s great-aunt, Katy Griggs Camuñez, was the visionary who brought tropical birds and fish into the “little chile shop” she opened in 1939 that now accommodates up to 450 people. “Each dining room has a story of its own dating back to the 1800s,” Thomas says. The restaurant is on the site of the former Corn Exchange Hotel—on the Mesilla Plaza, west of Las Cruces—which served stagecoach travelers along the Butterfield Trail. La Posta’s menu centers around family recipes like Tostada Compuesta—a tortilla cup filled with beans and topped with green chile and chicken or red chile con carne. “These recipes, we stay true to,” he says. “We were farm to table before farm to table was cool.”
Try this: The cucumber-jalapeño margarita ($10.95), made with New Mexico honey and rimmed with crushed local pecans. “We have one of the largest tequila selections in the Southwest,” he says. Founded: 1939. Region: Southwest. Price: $$. lapostademesilla.com —Jennifer C. Olson
MARY & TITO’S
Not much has changed since Tito and Mary Ann Gonzales opened their Albuquerque restaurant in 1963. Often considered the best place in the state for authentic New Mexican food, Mary & Tito’s is celebrated for its red chile, carne adovada, and enchiladas. “My father said he learned how to cook from his mom,” says the couple’s daughter, Antoinette, who continues the restaurant’s legacy. “He was the only one who cooked. My mom didn’t go into the kitchen at all.” Instead, Mary Ann ran the front of the house with grace and charm. “The ambience is still the same,” Antoinette says. “We greet every single customer that comes in.” One thing you wouldn’t have found on that 1963 menu that you can get today? “After my dad passed away, my mom and I put chicken and sour cream on the menu,” she says. “He didn’t like chicken and he didn’t believe in sour cream.”
Try this: The Carne Adovada Turnover with green chile ($8.50) draws from Tito’s love of Italian food. “It’s like a stuffed sopaipilla but on steroids,” Antoinette says. Founded: 1963. Region: Central. Price: $. maryandtitoscafeabq.com —Lynn Cline
You never know who might wander into Michael’s Kitchen in Taos. Regulars, tourists, movie stars, and moguls line up at this restaurant and bakery for the friendly service, fresh-baked treats, and plates piled high with breakfast enchiladas, German pancakes, and more. Michael Ninneman came across Spivey’s Cafe in a 1940s building in Taos while on vacation with his wife. Smitten, they bought the place, moved their family from California, and opened the restaurant in 1974. Today, the Taos landmark is famous for home-cooked food, warm ambience, and devoted employees. “We’ve got generations that have worked for us,” says Derek Apodaca, who took over the restaurant with his wife, Gina, Ninneman’s stepdaughter, in 2005. Now, Ninneman stops by regularly for coffee and conversation. “It’s the same place everyone’s accustomed to.”
Try this: Any dish with chile. “It’s northern New Mexico chile,” he says. Founded: 1974. Region: North Central. Price: $$. michaelskitchen.com —Lynn Cline
PAPPAS’ SWEET SHOP
In 1923, Jim Pappas and his partner, Gus Petritsis, opened a candy and ice cream store in Ratón. A century later, Pappas’ Sweet Shop remains in the family and continues to serve many of its original items. First located near the movie theater, Pappas’ was a pre-film must, says Ann Marie Pappas Rigdon, Jim’s granddaughter, who now owns and operates the restaurant. “Grandpa would often give the kids a free piece of candy.” In 1973, after Jim’s oldest son, Mike, had taken the reins, Pappas’ relocated to south Ratón and became a fine dining spot. Today, Anne Marie’s son, Matthew, cooks most of the authentic American and New Mexican fare. “I love hearing the stories about customers that have been eating with us for years,” she says. “They feel like part of the family.”
Try this: The chicken salad sandwich. On the menu since the beginning, it is still made with the same bread recipe. Founded: 1923. Region: Northeast. Price: $. nmmag.us/pappas —Lynn Cline
In 1949, Pete and Eligia Torres opened Pete’s Cafe, in Belén, across from the railroad town’s former Harvey House. The one-room diner with two counters and cherry-red vinyl booths offered only breakfast, chile bowls, and burgers and fries. Over time, the couple added the traditional foods they had grown up eating: chile (using Eligia’s mother’s recipe), pinto beans, enchiladas. The authentic New Mexican fare helped make Pete’s a community gathering spot, where workers spent lunch hours and families celebrated milestones. Although the restaurant has expanded and Eligia passed away in 2008, her granddaughters Camille Padilla and Marie Torres continue Pete’s tradition using those same time-honored techniques and family recipes. “You would be surprised how many customers actually remember and talk about our grandmother,” says Padilla.
Try this: “Our customers always mention how much they love our chile rellenos ($11.50),” Torres says. Made with a bread-crumb batter instead of the traditional egg batter, they’re a crispy delight with every bite. Founded: 1949. Region: Central. Price: $. petescafenewmexico.com —Lynn Cline
PIONEER STEAK HOUSE
The Pioneer Steak House sign—with its prominent longhorn, oil derrick, and pumpjack—might as well be a promise. You’ll get a hearty meal here, and it’s been that way since 1968. Step inside the Lovington mainstay and order a juicy rib eye seasoned with a spicy Southwest blend or dig into the buffet for plates filled with Cajun shrimp, barbecue brisket, or Tuesday’s popular chicken livers and gizzards. “We make everything from scratch,” says co-owner Terrie Blackwood, who bought the place with her husband, Johnny, in 1996. As salad bars and buffets have declined from the restaurant landscape, the Pioneer’s has thrived, satisfying hungry locals, especially oil field workers and ranchers after a long day’s work. As for what keeps them coming back, the answer is simple. “It’s just the down-home cooking, I guess,” Terrie says.
Try this: Terrie’s favorite is the perfectly cooked sirloin ($9.45 for six ounces and $10.75 for eight ounces) with a baked potato. Founded: 1968. Region: Southeast. Price: $$. nmmag.us/pioneersteakhouse —Gregory R.C. Hasman
RANCHO DE CHIMAYÓ
“We’ve never given up the quality,” says Florence Jaramillo of Rancho de Chimayó’s nearly six-decade reputation as the sweet spot for northern New Mexico cuisine. After the 92-year-old proprietor, known as “Mrs. J” to her customers, married Chimayó native Arturo Jaramillo, the couple opened a restaurant in his restored ancestral hacienda, a warren of bright rooms lined with art and family photos. Mrs. J cooked the family’s traditional dishes from recipes handed down over generations, and the crowds never stopped rolling in. It’s a place where time stands still. “I’m so happy when people come and tell me, ‘I was running around on the grass outside when I was two years old,’ ” she reflects. A tienda in the restaurant sells its salsa, red chile, and carne adovada sauce, along with a cookbook that’s an excellent entry-level introduction to the hallowed culinary secrets of Chimayó.
Try this: A plate of chile rellenos ($17.95), with plump calabacitas and savory Spanish rice. Founded: 1965. Region: North Central. Price: $$. ranchodechimayo.com —Molly Boyle
The bright red mansard roof towers over bold letters proclaiming “Taco Box” on the side of the building that’s served Clovis as a quick burrito stopover and gathering place for generations. “We know people’s names,” says Thomas Martin, who runs Taco Box alongside his father, Tom. “We’ve got a community.” El Paso, Texas-based Taco Box International owned about 15 franchises in Texas, California, and New Mexico in the late 1960s. “But one by one, they just closed,” Tom says. Since 1971, the Taco Box in Clovis has been an independently owned family business. In 1987, they expanded to Portales. “We had six items on our original menu, and now there are 50,” Tom says. The Taco Box recipe for success? Staying accessible and consistent. “When we celebrated our 50th anniversary, I looked up, took a moment, and said, ‘Fifty years is a long time,’ ” Thomas says. “Then put my head back down and got back to work.”
Try this: Frijole Burrito ($6.79 meal). “We make our beans fresh every day, and we make our own spices,” Tom says. Founded: 1969. Region: Southeast. Price: $. tacobox.com —Julian Dossett
THE ORIGINAL OWL BAR & CAFÉ
Diners hungry for breakfast burritos, steaks, and a world-famous green chile cheeseburger have flocked to the Original Owl Bar & Café in tiny San Antonio for nearly 80 years. Founded as a mercantile, the Owl makes an all-beef claim to inventing New Mexico’s iconic burger. As owner Janice Baca Argabright tells it, her grandfather Frank Chavez opened a small bar inside the store in 1945, which drew hungry Manhattan Project scientists working at the nearby Trinity Site. Chavez added a grill behind the bar and served burgers with a side of picante. “One day, the dishwasher didn’t show up to work,” says Argabright. “So my grandfather said, ‘Goddarnit, there’s not enough dishes to serve the green chile as a side order, so I’m just going to put it on the burger.’ ” With its wood booths, red vinyl seats, and antique mahogany bar, the Owl holds tight to its tasty past. “I try to keep it the way it was,” Argabright says.
Try this: Duh! You’re here for the green chile cheeseburger ($6.50), made from hand-ground all-beef patties topped with melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and a “secret” green chile sauce. Founded: 1945. Region: Southwest. Price: $$. sanantonioowl.com —Lynn Cline
“My dad used to say that New Mexicans had been putting bacon, eggs, potatoes, and cheese in flour tortillas and eating them on the run forever. He was just the first one to call it a breakfast burrito and put it on the menu,” says Nick Maryol of his café’s claim to fame. The beloved institution located just off the Santa Fe Plaza has another boast, to boot: According to local lore, former server Martha Rotunno was the first to use the term “Christmas” to describe the frequent order of both red and green chile. Maryol’s parents, Ann and Jim, opened the place nearly a half-century ago. He says the secret to the second generation of success is rooted in hard work and traditional recipes. “We roll out the dough by hand every day for our sopaipi-llas,” he says.
Try this: Maryol likes the simplicity of Sophia’s Sandwich ($12), ham and melted cheddar served open face on a tortilla. Founded: 1975. Region: North Central. Price: $$. facebook.com/tiasophias —Molly Boyle