SOUTHERN NEW MEXICO'S fertile Mesilla Valley enjoys global fame for its abundant green chile crop. But on a recent visit, I was surprised to discover that onions, cabbages, pecans, pinto beans, pumpkins, peanuts, and even watermelons also thrive here, all fed by the waters of the Río Grande.
That makes it a perfect setting for the farm store and café called FARMesilla, a half mile north of the historic Mesilla Plaza, near Las Cruces. The stylish business, which opened in August of 2018, comfortably fills its niches as gift shop; boutique beer, wine, and spirits store; coffee and pastry bar; sundries market; gourmet food emporium; local produce stand; tourist stop; and locals’ hangout.
This time of year, as the green chile crop comes in, it grows into a must-visit spot for scoring your season’s worth—roasted and peeled on-site for immediate enjoyment.
Every item sold in the shop comes from New Mexico merchants, makers, ranchers, or farmers. Chefs, home cooks, and visitors love it. (If you can’t buy all your Christmas presents here, you’re not trying.)
TJ Runyan created this gem. As the founder and owner of Mesilla Valley Produce, which ships throughout North America, he possesses a unique understanding of the wealth of local crops. “I grew up on our family’s ranch outside of Piñon,” he says. “As a kid, we always had a small truck-farm and apple stand. I spent a lot of time there in my younger days, helping out, and I always enjoyed meeting people. It felt that a niche shop like this would do well in Mesilla.”
In February 2020, chef Becky Windels joined the team and further developed the menu. Now, for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, foodies can enjoy green chile and cheddar polenta with a runny-yolk farm egg and fiery house-made serrano bacon; a baby-kale-and-cabbage Caesar salad with blue corn tortilla strips; or a chile-lime avocado and quinoa protein bowl with red Fresno chile, bourbon pepitas, dried corn, and organic black beans.
A veteran restaurant and catering business owner, Windels adores choosing ingredients from the pantry just beyond her kitchen for blue corn tamales and this summer’s wildly popular Sonoran hot dogs.
Windels was born in Maryland, but her family soon moved to Montana. She’s been a Westerner ever since, logging time in Colorado and Arizona. “I was a chile-head before I knew it,” she says. “My mom was a healthy cook who used natural ingredients and made everything from scratch, so I grew up eating homemade food. I started out in the business as a waitress, but I was terrible. I eventually ended up in the kitchen, where I felt at home and could be creative.”
During her time in Phoenix, she and a partner opened a catering business that has thrived for more than 20 years. “It was a lot of work. At one stage we had the catering biz, two restaurants, and a market,” she says. “We were so successful that I felt I needed an exit strategy.” By then, her husband’s parents had built a home in Las Cruces, and she visited often. The region’s bounty of produce proved irresistible.
Upon moving to New Mexico, she worked in a few local restaurants before coming up with an idea to “audition” for FARMesilla. “I looked around to see what ingredients I might play with,” she says. “Then I made a sampling of some dishes utilizing pintos, chiles, pumpkins, and green chile sausage and brought the dishes to the owners to sample.” Her ploy played off; she was hired as the business’s first true chef.
“The kitchen at that time was basically a juicing and food-heating kitchen,” she says. “I adapted it to prep a full menu. I create the whole menu using a small oven and a pressure cooker. I was lucky to be given complete creative reign on the menu and the packaged products we sell.”
When Covid hit, she expanded the to-go menu. “Business went through the roof,” she says. “I think our strong sense of and support from the community really helped us. Some people who didn’t feel comfortable shopping in a big grocery store felt safer here.”
In 2021, FARMesilla added New Mexico-made wine and spirits. “I think we are paving the way for more creative food concepts in Las Cruces,” she says. “I keep developing house-made products with layers of flavors and an element of surprise.”
As I prepare to wander the store, Windels points out some of her favorite items, imploring me not to miss the small-batch tequilas. “I also love Tucumcari Mountain cheeses, Talus Winds heritage meats, and Bluefly Farms sparkling waters,” she says.
I feel like a kid in a candy store. Apart from the packaged and bottled items, the shop’s freezers are stocked with chile, local meats, and sausages. The produce is beautiful. The refrigerated case holds prepared salads and sandwiches and bottles of zippy, house-made Carrot Habanero Hot Sauce.
You can eat indoors or on the patio, or pack it all up for a picnic. I choose to end the visit with a slab of Windels’s amazing chocolate beetroot cake with dark chocolate espresso frosting—a wonder to behold. While leaving, I pass a young family—parents, a baby in a stroller, and a tyke under five. How wonderful, I think, to see the next generation of foodies introduced to the joys of FARMesilla.
This multistep recipe can feed a large family. Becky Windels tops each bowl with eggs, queso fresco, chile morita verde sauce, and sweet-hot serrano bacon. She shares the full recipe below—except for the bacon. That’s top secret. You’ll have to substitute your favorite brand of bacon here and visit FARMesilla to experience the real thing.
FARMesilla chef Becky Windels uses fresh produce in this dessert, but you can substitute frozen fruit and chile. Thaw them first, though.