Sunday, August 19, 2012

It’s Never a Challenge…

finding information about restaurants in larger cities. It’s when you get to the smaller towns that problems arise. Sure, you can find lists with addresses, but more in-depth assessments are harder to come by. And forget about websites with menus.

So all we had to go on while visiting Las Vegas, NM, was one brief comment about Hillcrest Restaurant (so named because it sits on the crest of a hill) describing it as a 50’s style diner.

The diner was established in 1949 by George and Grace Fletcher. George had been a Santa Fe railroader, but an injury dictated his retirement. After retiring, George and his wife opened Hillcrest
as a burger, shake, and steak restaurant. The wall-mounted juke boxes (The music selections were mostly country with some Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra for balance. Kitty Humbug was apparently worried about “some button-pushing cowboy” getting his hands on the machine, muttering “Please, mister, please, don’t play B-17”*) date back to the 1950’s. (In 1954, George added the Flamingo Dining Room which is still a popular spot for meetings, weddings, parties, and Sunday buffets.)

Now a word to our readers in the East. No, this does not look like an East Coast diner. (The menu refers to the diner style as European International.) But remember, those diners were fabricated off-site and then moved to their intended home. Imagine trying to move a classic Kullman, Paramount, or O’Mahoney from its manufacturing point to New Mexico. It wouldn’t be easy, to say nothing about the expense.

But,…a diner is more than stainless steel.

Just inside the front doors was a short, three-stool counter by the cash register, behind which hung an assortment of bagged hard candies. While the counter was outfitted with napkin holders, salt and pepper shakers, and sugar dispensers, no one sat to eat here during our visit. The decorations were a mix of Route 66 memorabilia and Native American-inspired items.

The menu was a combination of New Mexican and American diner standards including burgers, sandwiches, fried chicken, and calves liver. One item that stood out was the Cattleman’s Steak Sandwich that included a chicken fried steak, green chiles, and “special” sauce on a toasted bun with fries. But neither of us chose this for our lunch.

I started with a cup of Chicken Tortilla soup. This was an unusual version since the soup base more resembled a cream soup while tortilla soup is usually broth based. The soup contained chunks of chicken, roasted red peppers, and—for a bit of heat—green chiles. The soup was accompanied by a small pile of house-prepared corn tortilla strips. While not the typical preparation, the soup was tasty nonetheless.

Even though we had just eaten one of America’s best hamburgers at Bobcat Bite, I decided to order the blue cheese burger lunch special. The 1/3-pound patty had a nice crust from being cooked on a well-
seasoned (i.e., old) flat top, but what made this burger special was the small mountain of tangy blue cheese. If you are not a fan of blue veined cheese, this burger wouldn’t be for you. But I enjoyed it. While the plate contained lettuce, tomato, and pickles to enhance the burger, I didn’t want anything to get between me and the blue cheese.

Chuck ordered the Billy Whopper Burger. This name reflects a bit of Las Vegas history, having been named (we think) after Billy the Kid, who was “among the ‘who's who’ of Las Vegas, which also included:
the dentist Doc Holliday and his girl friend Big-Nose Kate, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, Rattlesnake Sam, Cock-Eyed Frank, Web-Fingered Billy, Hook Nose Jim, Stuttering Tom, Durango Kid, and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler. ‘Without exception there was no town which harbored a more disreputable gang of desperadoes, and outlaws than did Las Vegas,’ said historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell” (

The sandwich contained two 1/3-pound patties and American and Swiss cheeses and was accompanied by the same garnishes as my plate, along with a small cup of fire roasted green chiles and red peppers.

Both of our plates came with a side of coated fries. While I still haven’t found a definitive recipe for these, it seems that most coated fries are tossed in potato starch, corn starch, rice flour, or some combination of the three.

Well, we are off to photograph more of Las Vegas following our 3.5 Addie lunch.

(To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.)

And we’ll be on the lookout for that “disreputable gang of desperadoes.”

On our way out of town, we passed this sign: "Calumet says Howdy." "This sign is from the 1980s' Patrick Swayze commie invasion movie "Red Dawn," which was set in the fictional town of Calumet, Colorado" (

We also passed the campus of New Mexico Highlands University on
our way to another college campus.

About five miles from Las Vegas was the town of Montezuma and Montezuma's Castle. We had wanted to get some photos of the Castle in its mountain top setting. However, it is now the main part of the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West and is basically closed to the public. The security person told me that only once a week are tours offered.

The Armand Hammer United World College of the American West (UWC-USA) is a two-year residential school that marks the beginning of an experience that is life-defining.

Arriving from over 80 different countries and representing a myriad of cultures, traditions, languages, and ethnicities, 200 students aged 16-19, selected on merit and not on ability to pay, begin their education as strangers and together confront a multitude of new ideas and opportunities.
They develop an ethos of critical thinking, discovery, and cross-cultural understanding that will frame the lives they lead and touch the people, institutions, and societies that they serve.

Overall, an interesting and educational adventure in Las Vegas, New Mexico
*“Please, mister, please” was a popular song from 1975 sung by Olivia Newton-John.

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