This adorable little café is one of those places that you’ll miss if you aren’t looking for it. And you might miss it even if you are looking for it. It’s located just off the road along Hwy 14, about 7 miles south of the intersection of I-25 and Hwy 14 near Santa Fe. It is open daily for breakfast and lunch.
The grounds of the café are unique to say the least. Peacocks and turkeys and chickens roam free (or semi-free; there’s a fence), and behind the building are several aviaries for turkeys, doves, and other birds. You might also catch a peek of what we call the “Lady GaGa Chicken” which is pretty much a chicken in a really fluffy feather suit.
The inside of the café is just as charming, with uniquely painted and crafted wooden tables and chairs, and a cozy fire in the fireplace (this day, at least).
Cups of coffee all around and cinnamon rolls for everyone. That’s how we wanted to start this trip.
San Marcos Cinnamon Roll
San Marcos Coffee
The cinnamon rolls are flaky and sweet and delicious — everything a good cinnamon roll should be. The coffee is tasty. This is a great duo to start off a weekend getaway.
Overall, we have fully enjoyed our stops at San Marcos both times we’ve been so far. Hopefully we’ll get to stop by again soon for a full meal, because their menu looks pretty amazing (burritos, green chile stew, huevos rancheros, and other NM staples).
SAN MARCOS CAFE
3877 State Rd 14
Santa Fe, NM 87508
(a few miles south of Santa Fe on Hwy 14, west side of the road)
I like to think I’m a laid back, authentic person. For the most part, I’m not judgmental (unless you’re a Kardashian, and then bring it) and I don’t particularly care about status. But there is one thing that I’m a snob about. And that is my chile. And by chile, I mean chile, not chili. I know this is a New Mexico thing, and if you look at dictionaries or websites, they say that you can use chile and chili interchangeably. But not in New Mexico, I say (rather snobbishly). You can always tell a native by whether or not they know the difference between the two. Green or red chile is stuff from heaven (made from our state-grown chile peppers, either red or green depending on when you pick em). Chili is that brown Hormel-like substance served in other states.
So imagine how trepidatious I felt when I found myself at the Owl Café in Albuquerque looking at their menu and seeing the Owl Burger “with green chili.” As a child, I had been to the Owl Café in San Antonio, NM many times to enjoy the Owl Burger. In fact, I believe it serves one of the best green chile (I just can’t call it chili) cheeseburgers in the state.
The original Owl Café was established in the 1930s in San Antonio, NM, and in 1986, the Albuquerque location was opened. The Albuquerque Owl Café has a 1950s diner theme in honor of nearby Route 66. There’s a jukebox in the restaurant, a pie case filled with desserts, and plenty of barstools and tables to enjoy a step back in time.
So had I been wrong about the burger? Had somehow the expansion to Albuquerque changed what the burger had become? Had the Owl Café forgotten its roots and started to make burgers that weren’t as good? Or worse, were smothered in some weird green Hormel-like chili with an I?
During lunch with some friends, I decided to momentarily put my snobbishness aside and order the green chile (won’t do it) cheeseburger. The cheeseburger runs about $5, and you can order regular fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings for an additional $2.
Instead of the staple chips and salsa as an appetizer, the Owl Café offers small bowls of beans and green chile. The green chile had a bite to it, and the beans were nicely flavored, so I began to become hopeful about the Owl burger.
And then the burger came out. The patty was hand-made and large. It was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and lots of green chile. A nice sized portion of sweet potatoes covered the rest of the plate. This looked promising. Then I took a bite. The burger was juicy, the condiments fresh, and the green chile was hot.
It was delicious and just as good as I remembered from my childhood.
I wolfed the burger down in no time flat. Then I was overcome by a wave of shame. Here I was judging the Owl Café for their use of an I instead of an E, and they delivered a wonderful burger. Luckily, the sweet potato fries helped me push through that shame.
What’s the lesson in all of this? I don’t know, really. I mean, I still don’t like people to use the word chili when talking about green or red or when they’re offering to throw it on my cheeseburger. But the Owl Café still serves a fantastic, mouthwatering, Owl Burger with green chile. So I guess the lesson is…well, just go try the cheeseburger.
The Albuquerque location of the Owl Café is at 800 Eubank Blvd. You can’t miss it. The building is shaped like an owl. Their hours are 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. on the weekends.
Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. An old-fashioned apple pie, with the New Mexican addition of freshly roasted Hatch Green Chile and some cheddar cheese.
THE MATH : Apple Pie + Cheddar = Delicious.
Cheddar + Green Chile = Magical.
Apple Pie + Green Chile + Cheddar = Magically Delicious.
By “old-fashioned” I mean I gleaned the starter apple pie recipe from the pages of a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook circa 1968.
Because I live in the modern age and I’m kinda lazy, I always use Pillsbury Pie Crusts (the kind that come rolled, 2 to a box). They are good and easy and I don’t think I could do it any better.
TO MAKE THIS PIE:
Create the apple pie filling in accordance with the BH&G recipe listed above.
Grate some Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, and chop up some Hatch Green Chile (which ideally has been roasted out on the grill like an hour earlier, but frozen or canned will do just fine).
To add the cheese and green chile, first unroll the bottom pie crust and form it to the bottom of the pie dish. Then sprinkle some grated cheddar on it.
Next, stir about 2/3 cup of grated cheese and 1 cup of chopped green chile into the apple pie mixture. (Save back a little cheese to sprinkle on top later.) Pour filling mix into pie crust.
Add a few pats of butter on top for extra yumminess. Unroll second pie crust on top, seal the edges together, and pinch a fancy design in if you are so inclined and able. My mom did mine. Don’t judge me. Cut some vents into the top. I did mine in a Zia symbol, just for funzies.
Bake at 400 deg for 50 minutes or until done. About halfway through, cover the edges with foil to prevent burning. When golden brown and bubbly, remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle a little cheddar cheese on top.
Let it rest for about 10 minutes, then serve it up!
THIS PIE IS WONDERFUL. And I guess because it has green chile and cheese in it, we didn’t feel at all guilty about having it for lunch.
I’d suggest some mild vanilla ice cream to serve alongside.
If you recall, I proclaimed my love for the piñon previously, in my recipe for Banana Piñon Muffins. So it may come as no surprise that my second recipe on this blog has piñons in it. The next one probably won’t, but really I can make no promises.
This recipe started out with a simple idea:
It’s summer! Let’s make ice cream!
I love making ice cream. I have a nifty little countertop no-ice-required ice cream maker, so it’s pretty easy.
Plus, it’s fun to try out new things! I knew immediately that I didn’t want to just make vanilla or chocolate ice cream. I LOVE those two flavors, but you can get them at any grocery store, and I’m probably not going to do any better than, say, Haagen Dazs, who has their recipes pretty dialed in. I wanted to do something unique. Something with a hint of FALL and a hint of NEW MEXICO.
Caramel + Apple + Piñon = ALL THE THINGS
2 1/3 c heavy cream, plus 1/4 – 1/2 c for melting caramels
2 1/3 c whole milk
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 c sugar
1/3 c piñons, roasted (see “A Note About Piñons” below)
1/2 c applesauce (I used homemade — see “A Note About Applesauce” below)
Caramels — about 15 little squares
A NOTE ABOUT CARAMEL:
I knew that I didn’t want to make my own caramel. I am a NOVICE in the kitchen, and I was on a deadline (wanted this ice cream for dinner that night), so if I messed up the caramel, it would throw me off schedule. So I grabbed the cheapest bag I could find of the little wrapped caramels and got my daughter to work unwrapping them. I think she only ate about 6 or 7. They worked just fine, but I admit homemade caramel would have been tastier.
This is a traditional custard-based ice cream, so it requires a little planning and working ahead (4+ hours minimum), because you have to make the custard base then let it cool in the fridge before putting in the ice cream maker.
Combine the cream and milk in a medium saucepan. Bring to just a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat.
Meanwhile, combine the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer (mid speed) to beat until the mixture is thick, smooth, and creamy (about 2 minutes).
Measure out about a cup of the warm milk mixture and, with the hand mixer on low speed, add the milk mixture in a steady stream to the sugar/egg mixture. (Adding it slowly tempers the cream. If you were to add the eggs straight to the hot milk, your eggs would probably cook — egg drop soup style.) You can add another cup of the milk mixture to the eggs in a slow drizzle, just to be safe.
Pour the entirety of the mixing bowl’s contents back into the saucepan and stir to combine.
Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon — a few minutes. If you cook this too hot or too long, you will end up with LUMPY CUSTARD (which I will name my punk band some day — I called it). If you end up with LUMPY CUSTARD, see “A Note About Lumpy Custard” below.
Transfer the custard mix to a mixing bowl and let it cool on the counter for a few minutes. Stir in the applesauce until combined. This does not have to be thoroughly blended, because some chunky pockets of applesauce in the ice cream will be pretty tasty.
Melt the caramels in a small saucepan with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of heavy cream, stirring constantly. The more cream you add during the melting process, the thinner the caramel sauce will be. I used about 1/3 cup heavy cream. Once melted, stir the caramel sauce into the custard base.
Cover the mixing bowl with cling wrap and put it in the fridge until it is completely cooled (a couple of hours at least).
Remove from fridge and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions. I use a Cuisinart counter-top ice cream maker. It took about 30 minutes to freeze this to a soft-serve consistency. When the ice cream is ALMOST frozen to soft-serve consistency, add the piñons then let it go a bit longer.
For a more solid ice cream, you can move the ice cream to a freezable container and leave in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden up.
A NOTE ABOUT PINONS
To roast/toast your piñons: Spread the shelled raw nuts out in an even layer in a dry skillet. Over medium heat, toast the piñons, shaking or stirring them every minute or so to check for color and prevent burning. You want to toast them until they are a nice deep tan color with some darker spots. Once you start to really smell them, they are about done. Remove them from the pan and spread evenly on a plate or paper towel to cool. Add a little salt if desired, then try not to eat them all.
A NOTE ABOUT APPLESAUCE
I bought a bag of “Manager’s Special” apples at the grocery store a while back. They were 99c for about 8 small Golden Delicious apples that were just this side of “iffy.” I was planning to juice them but never got around to it. There they sat, in the fridge, with a few other random old apples, dejected. Until one day I decided that the household needed some applesauce about as much as I needed to clean out the fridge. So I got out the crockpot.
To make chunky applesauce: Chop up all the apples (peels on for laziness). Put them in the crockpot with a little water (I used 1/2 c for about 12 apples). Add some cinnamon, brown sugar, and whatever other applesaucey spices you may have (nutmeg, allspice, etc.) Cook on LOW for 3-5 hours. Check on them now and then so they don’t get too soggy. Once they are cooked down, you can use an immersion blender or potato masher or fork to smash them into applesauce consistency. Add salt, sugar, brown sugar, and/or other spices as needed. This is good hot, cold, plain, as a relish, and of course, added to homemade Caramel Apple Piñon Ice Cream!
A NOTE ABOUT LUMPY CUSTARD
If, after cooking the complete custard base until it coats the back of a spoon (see step 5 above), you end up with LUMPS in the custard, do not worry! I ended up with lumpy custard at this stage, and I was really worried. Had I ruined my ice cream? Did something… curdle? Ick! So I did what anyone would have done. I googled it. The first answer I found was in a cooking forum, and it was, and I QUOTE:
“You gotta strain that shit, son!”
So strain it I did. I pressed the custard mix through a fine sieve and voila! No more lumps. And life made sense again.
This ice cream was flavorful, decadent, rich, creamy, and awesome. The caramel added a buttery richness to the ice cream base, the piñons gave it a little nutty crunch, and the applesauce made the whole thing taste kind of like apple pie a la mode.
Outside of grocery stores all across New Mexico, yellow tape cordoned off propane tanks. Empty one-room buildings near the sides of the road began to teem with life. Trucks pulled off in fields of dirt, and men and women gathered red chile ristras to decorate their truck beds. Cardboard sandwich signs were placed in strategic locations offering sacks and bushels and the prices for fresh or roasted.
It’s Chile Season in New Mexico.
From now until the end of the season, we won’t be checking in with our families and friends to ask how work is going. We won’t be at backyard barbecues discussing Billy’s first days of school, or how Aunt Sarah’s hip is doing. Instead, we’ll be asking each other for roasting sightings.
“Do you know when they’re roasting Hatch chile over on Wyoming and Montgomery?” or “Someone said they’ve started roasting at Smith’s… is that true?”
We’ll discuss the year’s weather conditions. “It was a dry summer, this chile batch might be extra hot, don’t you think?” We’ll take polls amongst each other to ensure we got the right amount. “Did you get a bushel [22 lb.] or a sack [35 lb.] this year?” And toward the end of the season, we’ll fret about others. “Did you get your chile put up yet?”
This week, I’ll talk to my sister and my mother and ask if they want to share a sack. We’ll decide if we want to go with Big Jim (mild) or Sandia (hot). I’ll go to Sichler’s in Albuquerque at San Mateo & Lomas and pay extra to have my chile roasted. If the peaches are ripe and the workers are generous, they’ll slice up a peach for me to eat while I wait. As I inhale the smell wafting off the roasters, I’ll nod a hello to the other people waiting around for their chile.
We’ll be our own little tribe, knowing that anywhere around the state, in small towns and large, from Las Cruces to Aztec, at any moment, the same mouth-watering smell is being shared across the open spaces with other New Mexicans who know the secrets of this season.
This season always takes me back to my past. The smell of roasting chile reminds me of times gone by when my mother and grandmothers and aunts would sit on the porch, peeling chile with gloved hands as my cousins and I played in the yard. The matriarchs shared recipes and family gossip, wiping their brows with wet washcloths to make sure they didn’t get the chile’s burning juices on their skin or in their eyes. They laughed as they recalled past batches, when they forgot to use the washcloths and, oh how the chile burned. They would call us kids over to grab more plastic bags or to take the filled bags to the freezer. My cousins and I would dare each other to eat the chile. Every child of the state made their bones on that first too-hot bite of freshly roasted green.
This time is about the future too. Because after the chile season comes the burning of Zozobra, where a 50-foot-tall paper and muslin puppet moans and groans as he goes up in flames, kicking off the Fiestas de Santa Fe. As “Old Man Gloom” burns, all our troubles of the year are burned away.
Soon after, the smells of roasting chile and our burning past troubles are replaced by those of funnel cakes and corn dogs and the sounds of the carnival rides and cheers from the nightly rodeo crowds at the New Mexico State Fair.
From there, the air grows chillier and the cottonwood leaves on the Rio Grande turn from green to a cacophony of auburn colors. Hundreds of balloons fill the morning sky and seem to compete with the sun in their majestic beauty during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Once the balloons have landed and been packed away, snow soon begins to dust our desert lands. Then softly glowing luminarias decorate plazas and homes across the state. And on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, families pull out their reserves of green chile from the freezer and come together to make their holiday meals. Pots of green chile stew boil on the stove and green chile chicken enchiladas bubble in the oven. Posole and tamales are served around the dinner table, and if the children finish their plates, they will be rewarded with biscochitos.
And it all starts with that first late summer sighting of green and red.
A friend of mine from New York once asked me why New Mexicans were so crazy about chile and the chile season. It’s not just about the chile, I answered. It is so much more than just the harvesting of the year’s batch across the state. Chile season is where the past, present, and future collide, and community and family are interchangeable.
New Mexico produces more chile than any other state in the U.S.
The majority of chile harvested in the state is from the southern region, from Lordsburg to Artesia. The most famous is Hatch, which holds its own annual Hatch Valley Chile Festival around Labor Day each year.
It’s illegal to advertise chile as being grown in New Mexico if it’s not. A new state program has taken this idea even further to help consumers identify New Mexico grown chile and chile products. To find out if your chile and chile products are New Mexico certified, check out GetNMChile.com.
All New Mexican chile grown today comes from cultivars created at New Mexico State University in the late 1800s. In 1913, Dr. Fabian Garcia introduced the New Mexican pod type.
There are several types of green chiles, other than New Mexican. The Anaheim or California is a mild version of the New Mexican green chile (tastes more like a bell pepper). The Poblano green chile comes from Pueblo, Mexico and is known for its dark green color and mild flavor. The Poblano is wider than the Anaheim and New Mexican green chile. The Chilaca and Pasilla chiles are similar to the Poblano in color, but are much skinnier. And there are the Serrano and Jalapeno chiles, which are smaller and generally spicier than these others. Of course, there are hundreds of other varieties of chile across the state and around the world. These are just a sampling.
We rolled into Ruidoso at what I thought was an optimal time, pulling into the parking lot at Casa Blanca at around 1:30 pm. A little after the lunch rush, but not too close to dinner time. As most New Mexicans know (and as I learned), roughly half the population of Texas descends on Ruidoso this time of year. We had about a 15 minute wait for a table, which, considering the crowd in town and in the waiting area, I thought this was very reasonable. (Author’s note: Okay, not really. I wanted to dig into those green chile strips so bad, I thought 15 minutes sounded like an eternity!)
The hostess and the wait staff were very friendly, considering everyone was hustling and bustling. We were seated at a nice table near a window, with plenty of room for our party of five. Three baskets of warm, crispy tortilla chips arrived immediately after we were seated, along with three bowls of very good salsa.
[Zia’s note: These are the best chips & salsa I’ve had in an eternity.]
After placing our drink orders, we asked for two baskets of their world (probably) famous fried green chile strips.
How do I describe these things?
How would Picasso paint a lovely woman in a hat and fur coat?
How would Neruda describe love?
Well, since I can’t really channel either of those famous Pablos, I will do my best to describe them from a foodie’s perspective. They arrive at your table nice and hot, almost too hot to eat immediately. The batter is light and crisp, sort of flaky. The peppers themselves are cooked to perfection; they’re not soggy or greasy, but firm. If it’s possible (or legal?) to describe a chile pepper as cooked “al dente,” then that’s what I’d go with. So, once these have cooled down a bit (about 10 seconds after they arrive to your table…a slightly burnt tongue is a reasonable price to pay), just pick one up and dredge it through some ranch dressing. The ranch will cool it off a bit. Bite, chew, and enjoy. Repeat ad infinitum or until the basket runs dry.
Confession: the chips and salsa and the chile strips were plenty filling and could easily have been our meal…but that’s not how we roll.
Jalapeno BLT: Reading the menu, this sandwich sounded SO good. Smoked jalapeno bacon on sourdough with lettuce, tomato and a habanero mayonnaise.
However, if I’d read the menu a little closer, I would have noticed that there is also cheddar cheese on this sandwich. I love cheddar cheese, and I love a good BLT, but I’ve never been a fan of cheese ON my BLT. Had I noticed, I simply would have asked the waitress to hold the cheese, so that one is on me. The sandwich itself was VERY salty, mostly due to the jalapeno bacon. The bacon was spicy, and taking a bite of the sandwich would definitely warm up the inside of your mouth, but the salt content was just too high. The combination of salt and heat makes you go through a lot of iced tea, so keep your glass full! (The wait staff was very good at keeping everyone’s glasses full.)
Going around the table, everyone was pleased with their entrees, but I think all of us had gotten so full of chips and salsa and fried green chiles that we had (temporarily) lost our enthusiasm for eating. Zia ordered the Taco Plate, which she reported to be “your typical taco plate.” Similar reports from the rest of the team.
NOTE: Casa Blanca offers a dessert sopapilla, which is ginormous and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. We were too stuffed to go there, but I’d highly recommend ordering like this: Chips & Salsa, Fried Green Chile Strips, Sopapillas. It WILL be plenty of food. You WILL leave happy.
Overall, I like Casa Blanca. I’ve been there twice now and would definitely return . . . as long as they keep frying up those green chiles.
Picture this: Some near-abandoned New Mexico back road, present day, Fall. The weather is just starting to turn and there’s a hint of a nip in the air, but you drive with the windows down because the sun is shining and somewhere someone is burning leaves. The two-lane road is in need of repair, but it is lined with skinny wild sunflowers and sage and mesquite and somehow a perfectly flat, smooth, black asphalt highway would just not work here.
You’re looking for somewhere to stop and stretch your legs and maybe grab a drink. A small town — not much more than a gas station — emerges on the horizon like a mirage. You slow the car. A makeshift roadside stand has been set up on the tailgate of an old beat-up Ford with rusted-out wheel wells. A hand-painted sign says: Green Chile & Piñon. An old man with a stoop and a young boy with a dusty baseball cap are roasting chile in a big black tumbler. Large burlap sacks of fresh green chile and small burlap sacks of piñon nuts line the tailgate. This is where you stop.
This is where you must always stop.
NM Piñon Nuts — the roadside delicacy — are an easy way to add some New Mexico flair to your dishes. Cookies, quick breads, pastas, and salads are some of my favorite places to use them. Roasted and shelled, they have a buttery, nutty flavor with a slightly crunchy texture.
In my opiñon (get it?), these little wondernuggets are the tastiest of all the nuts and seeds in the universe. And while other piñon or “pine nuts” (from California, Nevada, and Colorado) or the Italian “pignolias” are still super tasty, they just aren’t quite as perfect as the New Mexico Piñon. Oh and hey, they come from our state tree, the Piñon Pine. So, bonus. [ASIDE: I eat piñon nuts from the state tree. I would eat a cutthroat trout — our state fish. But I would never eat a roadrunner — our state bird. That just seems… wrong.]
Harvested in the fall, the entire piñon-ing process is done by hand. The entire pinecone is harvested before it completely opens up. (If you wait until the cones are fully opened, critters like squirrels and birds will take all the piñons because they know how good these things are.) You spread out a tarp or sheet on the ground below the tree. Then you use something long (like a broom) to whack the pinecones out of the tree down onto the tarp. Then, gather up the cones and empty them of their seeds. The piñon nuts are covered in a hard shell, which should be washed and dried thoroughly before roasting.
Harvests in the past 5 or so years have been much lighter than normal due to early/heavy snows and pests like the bark beetle decimating both the immature nuts in their shells and also the trees themselves. This causes supplies to diminish and prices to skyrocket. Anyone who has ever bought piñons or pine nuts or pignolias knows that they ARE going to be expensive. It’s just a matter of how expensive. You can expect to pay about a dollar an ounce or more. Trader Joe’s usually has a raw-shelled form of “pine nut” for about $8 for an 8 oz bag. These are not NM piñons, however. They are a smaller and blander variety imported from Russia! For true New Mexico piñon nuts, you can either buy them at a NM chile/farm store, farmer’s market, or roadside stand during the Fall, or you can order them online. A pound of roasted/salted NM piñons is currently selling online for about $30/pound. And that’s IN the SHELL. Which means more weight, less meat.
These delicious little bastards are super expensive, is what I’m saying. But they are worth it.
ON TO THE RECIPE
Whoa! I got carried away there and almost forgot this was a cooking & recipe post! Sorry about that. Here we go…
Banana Piñon Muffins
These muffins are based on a typical banana nut bread recipe, but with piñons added in place of (or in addition to) walnuts, to give it a little New Mexico flair. Usually I add green chile for NM flair, because it’s kind of a no-brainer, but I wasn’t sure it would work in banana muffins. Though, honestly, I really want to try it now.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup stick butter, softened
2 large eggs
4 medium ripe bananas, smashed
1/2 c buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 & 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup piñons, or a mix of piñons and walnuts if straight piñons is too spendy
1/2 c piñons or mix of piñons and walnuts.
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 medium ripe banana, sliced thin
Heat oven to 350.
Grease bottoms only of cupcake tins or use paper liners.
Mix sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Stir in eggs until well blended. Add smashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla, then beat until well mixed.
Add in flour, baking soda, and salt until moistened, but don’t overmix. Stir in 1 c of nuts.
Fill cupcake tins about 2/3 full.
Stir together topping ingredients except for sliced banana.
Sprinkle the top of each muffin with topping mixture.
Top each muffin with one slice of banana — for looks. 🙂
Bake muffins about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove and eat them all right there on the spot, if you’re me.
And there you have it! One of my favorite things baked into another one of my favorite things. Let me know if you try this recipe! I’d like to hear how you like it.
BONUS PHOTO: Don’t turn your back on your photo subject if your kid is hungry.
Tia Betty Blue’s is a small New Mexican café in what some call Albuquerque’s “International District” but I call “over by base,” meaning it’s kind of by Kirtland Air Force Base. It’s on the east side of San Mateo, between Gibson and Kathryn.
It’s an order-at-the-counter kind of joint, making for quicker service and a faster lunch all around. I highly suggest you read their “About” page to learn more about their culinary philosophy! >ABOUT<
Sometimes you just need some comfort food. Maybe for you that’s a burrito the size of an actual small burro, smothered in cheese and green chile. Maybe it’s a Frito pie or a waffle. Sometimes you just need a friendly young waiter or waitress to smile at you and bring you things, in a quaint little eatery smaller than your typical Starbucks.
Tia Betty Blue’s has all this and more. Specializing in breakfast and lunch (open until 2:00 p.m.), they serve a wide variety of typical NM breakfast/lunch entrees, like waffles, breakfast sandwiches, taco plates, and enchiladas. But what they do that sets them apart is take these café staples and give them a little twist.
There is something about a fluffy, crispy, chewy waffle that makes my heart go pitter-patter. And Tia Betty Blue’s has elevated the already quite elevated garden variety waffle by making them out of blue corn and serving them two ways — sweet or hot.
SWEET WAFFLE: You get a blue corn waffle topped with seasonal fresh fruit (like blackberries and blueberries), a little syrup, and your choice of whipped cream flavor: standard, cinnamon, chocolate, or lavender. The blue corn waffle is exactly the crispychewy texture you expect in a good waffle, but the blue corn batter gives it an air of sophistication and beauty, and makes it feel somehow socially acceptable to order a waffle for lunch. I opted for the cinnamon whipped cream, which was perfectly light, not too sweet, and slightly cinnamon-y. [Note: you can order this gluten-free, or with yogurt in stead of whipped cream, or with 100% maple syrup or agave syrup instead of the house syrup. Lots of ways to have it your way.] [‘Nother Note: I didn’t take a photo because I ate the WHOLE THING before I even thought about taking a photo… sorry.]
HOT WAFFLE: What’s that you say? A spicy waffle? Is it a waffle cooked with chile in the batter? No (but there’s an idea!). The Hot waffle is basically huevos rancheros, but with a waffle instead of a tortilla on the bottom. It is the blue corn waffle, topped with an egg, red or green chile or both, cheese, and your choice of meat if so desired. The sides are papas and beans.
GIANT FRITO CHILE PIE
I’m not sure where the “Frito Pie” was born, but I have met people from seemingly all over the country who have never heard of it. Which makes me sad for them. Frito Pie was — and still is — a cold weather staple in my family, akin to chicken soup or green chile stew. It’s just something you make every now and then when you want an easy, warm, and delicious (but not nutritious) meal.
For those not in the know, a Frito Pie (or Frito Chili Pie) usually consists of a base layer of Fritos, then the chili (typically of the chili-n-beans type), then shredded cheddar cheese and diced onion. Iceberg lettuce and diced tomato are optional. And maybe some more fritos on top.
But at Tia Betty Blue’s, they take this simple bowl of chili and turn it into chile. That’s chile with an E.
They start with Fritos, naturally. But then they do something so crazy but so simple, I’m surprised I haven’t seen it on a menu before. They add New Mexico chile (red, green, or both) — instead of the standard chili with an I. Then: cheese, onion, iceberg, tomato, per tradition.
Loved It! The day I was there, the red was very hot, and the green mild but with fantastic roasted flavor. The fritos gave it the perfect salty crunch, and the garnishing iceberg helped to cool things off.
OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING THAT I HAVE NOT ACTUALLY TRIED YET
Tia Betty Blue’s is very proud of their coffee. I love coffee, so I’m not sure why I haven’t tried this yet. They also have a big cooler full of unique sodas (think: juniper berry soda, key lime cream soda, cucumber soda, etc.). I love sodas, so I’m not sure why I haven’t tried these yet.
Tia Betty Blue’s does New Mexican food in a way that is both traditional and unique. They try new things, but not just for show. The new things they are trying make perfect logical sense, both to the brain and to the taste buds. The atmosphere is casual and friendly. The prices are reasonable.