EL VADO MOTEL’S SUNNY COURTYARD is hopping on this Sunday afternoon. A happy crowd of motel guests, local families, friends, and couples toting leashed dogs hang out beneath umbrella-shaded tables sipping craft beer, listening to a local guitarist play James Taylor tunes, and savoring some of the most diverse food in the Duke City.
Opened in 1937, Albuquerque’s El Vado once enticed Route 66 travelers with its Pueblo Revival architecture and neon sign—until the demise of the Mother Road led to its decline. An extensive renovation preceded its 2018 rebirth as a 22-room lodging with serious retro vibes.
The courtyard, which once held parked cars, houses five “food pods” that open onto the space. Alluring scents waft from the kitchens, hinting at the delectable fare being served—Costa Rican platters, Asian-fusion chicken, Cubano sammies, and towering green chile cheeseburgers. The El Vado Tap Room, which fronts the courtyard, serves a rotating selection of Ponderosa Brewing Co. craft beers.
“A lot of time and effort went into selecting the right restaurants,” says Joe Kautz, El Vado’s general manager. “A lot of tastings happened with local restaurant owners to find some of the best local food in New Mexico.”
Buen Provecho, specializing in Costa Rican fare, was one of the first to win a spot. “I think El Vado is very popular because we are so close to Old Town, which attracts a lot of people,” says chef Kattia Rojas, who co-owns the eatery with her husband, William. “The motel is beautiful, we have great beer, and you can eat different styles of food every time you come.”
The setting reminds Rojas of the ocean-front hotel her grandparents owned in her native Costa Rica. El Vado’s white buildings, swimming pool, and delicious aromas of food in the air hint at a vacation getaway, despite the urban setting. “I don’t think there’s another place in New Mexico like this one,” she says.
After sampling the food and browsing El Vado’s retail pods, which sell T-shirts, candles, and other locally made arts and crafts, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been on a real vacation, even if you’re getting in your car to drive just a few miles home.
MIX AND MATCH
The El Vado food shops span the globe.