DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION, when she was born, Socorro Herrera’s family ran a grocery and liquor store out of their late-19th-century home in Hernandez. By age 17, she was a young wife with a new baby. She learned to cook by necessity, priding herself on her ability to make a can of corned beef stretch three days with various recipes. After enjoying a career as a singer, she opened Socorro’s Restaurant in 1997. The bustling roadside café has since fed the likes of former President Barack Obama and actor John Travolta. Named after Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Herrera is known for bringing meals to people in need. Last year, Northern New Mexico College awarded the great-grandmother of 10 an honorary degree for her contributions to the community.
I developed the recipes over the years. I didn’t want to make Mexican food. Mexican food has a lot of spices—it’s good, don’t get me wrong! But Spanish people, we only use garlic, salt, and maybe a little bit of oregano. No cumin here. Just simple. Everybody tells me, “You cook just like my grandma.”
I’ll be 86 in July. Every birthday, I say I’m quitting, but then I keep going. I love the people here. I have boyfriends. I’ll tell the wife, “This is my boyfriend.” I have, like, four adopted sons who come here. They bring me flowers.
My band was Socorro y Los Sueños. I liked to sing boleros. We played at the Taos Inn every Sunday for 14 years. Those were the good old days, people dancing in the rain. I still sing here now, for people’s birthdays.
I have pictures of everyone on the walls. [The late boxer] Johnny Tapia would come every year for his birthday. I made him chocolate cake. John Travolta came three times. He brought his son; he brought his wife. He was so nice. He wanted to taste everything, especially the chicos.
I tell everybody in the kitchen, “If you put a little love in that meat, it’ll soften.” I just sit here, and I eat a lot. Maybe that’s why I’m so healthy.
Read more: From roadside diners to downtown drive-ins, ancestral haciendas to mom-and-pop cafés, New Mexico’s iconic restaurants tell tales.