Thursday, December 30, 2010

On The Trail--

the Culinary Treasures Trail, that is.

As soon as we crossed the border from Arizona to New Mexico, I pulled up my favorite regional food blogger (Gil Garduno) and Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. And what do I find? Information on two guides to New Mexico eating developed by the New Mexico Tourism Department. One, the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, will be explained in a future blog. But today we are on the New Mexico Culinary Treasures Trail.

“In the restaurant world, ‘new’ and ‘hot’ always grabs attention, but it’s the older places that create the character of an area, and that provide the foundation on which more recent dining establishments can thrive. Here, we celebrate restaurants that have stood the test of time, independent spots that have become beloved in their neighborhoods and beyond. Many of these are operated by the founding family or by someone handpicked by the founders to carry on their legacy. In all cases they are still family-owned and operated. With the advice of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, we picked 40 years of age as the milestone New Mexico’s Culinary Treasures must have reached. We put out the word statewide and received nominations from loyal patrons, staff members, cooks, chefs, and owners. Then we convened a team of culinary experts to confirm their qualifications and comb around for more” (from

Over the course of our many trips through New Mexico, we have had the chance to eat at a number of the honored establishments. In Santa Fe, we dined at the Plaza Café and Bobcat Bite. In Gallup, we enjoyed a breakfast at Earl’s and a lunch at the El Rancho Hotel Restaurant. I had my first taste of Carne Adovado at Rancho de Chimayo. We found good burgers at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid. And in Albuquerque, we have sampled the red and green chiles at the Doghouse Drive-In, Duran’s Central Pharmacy, El Pinto, Mary & Tito’s, Sadie’s, and Taco Sal.

And here in Deming is one of those treasures—El Mirador. Founded in the early 1950’s and now owned by Maria Vasquez…, ”the café began life as the Castleberry Café and became known as El Mirador in 1997. The simple family-style restaurant blends recipes learned while the owner worked in some of Mexico City’s finest restaurants with a touch of homemade Mexican and New Mexican dishes. Multiple Vasquez family members operate the restaurant… (

Our first of two trips was for an early morning breakfast. At that time of the day, all of the diners (with the exception of Chuck and me) appeared to be locals. Spanish was the language of the day, including the news on TV. Each table contained a shaker of Mexican oregano, a shaker of some other Southwest spice blend, and a squeeze bottle of honey in case you are ordering sopapillas.

My choice that morning was the Huevos con Chorizo—eggs scrambled with a very spicy chorizo sausage with home fried potatoes, beans, and a flour tortilla. While the sausage in the eggs was no less zesty than that served at Harlow’s (in Tempe, AZ), it didn’t have that harsh uncooked spice taste that I found unpleasant at Harlow’s. My only complaint about the scramble was that the eggs had been cooked drier that I prefer. The beans were a tasty combination of whole beans and pureed beans, and the home fries were cooked crisp as I ordered and had a great crust. While red or green chile didn’t accompany the meal, I requested a side of green that appeared to have been thickened with either corn starch or a flour roux but still retained a bright, citrus-like flavor and plenty of spice. Just perfect for the fried potatoes.

Chuck chose one of the two breakfast specials, the Huevos a la Mexicana—eggs scrambled with jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes—with the same potatoes, beans, and tortilla. In his case, the eggs had not been overcooked and the veggies still crunchy crisp. No need for additional chile here. The amount of jalapenos made this hot enough.

A few days later found us back to El Mirador for lunch. As usual, we began with a basket of O.K. chips and a bowl of medium hot salsa that contained a goodly amount of cilantro--I was happy. Chuck was not.

His lunch choice—the Puntas a la Mexicana was the better of the two meals. His plate contained a bountiful portion of steak strips that were cooked in a tomato sauce flavored with jalapenos, onions, and red chile. While a few of the streak strips were chewy, the zesty red sauce redeemed the entire meal—including mine. With his meal came sides of beans and rice. Both were good, but not extraordinary.

And, to round out his meal, he ordered one beef taco, which came in a very thin and crisp taco shell.

I chose the Carnitas—cubes of pre-cooked pork, which, just before serving, are “heated for a few minutes to produce the desired alternating texture of succulent softness and caramelized crispness” ( While I had plenty of the “crispness,” I found scant evidence of the “succulent softness.” To me, these carnitas were overcooked. That’s where Chuck’s sauce came into play. I kept dipping my pork chunks into his sauce to relieve some of the dryness.

As we were finishing, our server brought out a basket containing two complimen-tary sopa-pillas. Again, not the best ever, but still light and puffy.

Gil Garduno was one of the judges charged with selecting the final list of Culinary Treasurers. As he said on his blog: “Americans are a nostalgic people. We long for the good old days and don our rose-colored glasses when we reminisce about the sights, sounds and memories of our past. Though we can’t journey back to those bygone eras which seem more sweet and innocent than perhaps they really were, we can recreate those experiences when we visit the vintage restaurants we loved in our youth and cherish in our adulthood.”

Thank heaven there are those who refuse to accept what I call the “chainifi-cation” of America be they restaurant owners or food bloggers.

I can’t claim that El Mirador was the best New Mexican food ever (that honor goes to Albuquerque’s Mary & Tito’s and Silver City’s Kountry Kitchen) I can still award 4.0 Addies for breakfast and 3.5 Addies for lunch.

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