One of my most favorite things in the entire world is eating New Mexican food. Not Mexican food, not Tex-Mex, but New Mexican food. It’s my comfort food; it’s my happy place, and I need to share it with you. I realized the other day that New Mexican food is in a whole category of its own—there are a lot of different components to it, and I’m here to debunk them and give you some tips for eating at New Mexican restaurants, because things are little bit different in the Land of Enchantment.
First things first: chile
photo credit: newscastic
Let’s just jump right in, shall we? Chile in New Mexico refers to a chile pepper, and at a restaurant you’ll have a choice of red chile or green chile. Red chile is a sauce, but green chile can either be chopped, left whole (like in a relleno), or as a sauce.
If you’re at a restaurant, your server will typically ask you, “red or green,” and your answer determines what color/type of chile will be smothered all over your food. If that freaks you out, don’t be afraid to ask for it on the side. Also, feel free to ask for a sample to taste it first if you’re curious about the heat—not all chile is created equal, so make sure the heat level works for you.
If you hear someone say “Christmas,” while in a restaurant, they’re most likely not referring to the holiday. They’re talking about getting both red and green chile on their food…at the same time. Get it? Red and green = Christmas! We’re a clever bunch.
How to Beat the Heat
Say you take a bite of your food and the heat level from the chile is way hotter than your tolerance can handle. Whatever you do, do NOT, reach for a glass of water or soda. You want something cream-based (so sorry if you’re lactose intolerant!!), so take a gulp of cold milk, spoon on some sour cream, eat a handful of cheese, or eat some honey (it’ll be on your table). Trust me, and your mouth will thank you later.
Chips and Salsa
You know how Italian restaurants bring out yummy bread and olive oil before a meal? In New Mexico you get chips and salsa. One thing you should note, though, is that sometimes refills aren’t free, so make sure you ask if it’s complimentary before ordering another basket of chips.
Salsas vary from restaurant to restaurant. Some serve it hot, some serve it cold, and some will give you more than one varieties of their signature recipe. Salsas are a restaurant’s calling card, and it’s sometimes your first impression of the food that’s about to come. It’s amazing what you can tell by that little bowl sitting on your table!
Also, as addicting as that salsa is, keep in mind that you’ll have a meal on its way, so don’t spoil your dinner too soon!
Get Your Roll On: Enchiladas
Enchiladas are my FAVORITE. I loooove them, but you can get them one of two ways: rolled or stacked. I prefer my enchiladas rolled, but some restaurants serve them flat and stacked on top of each other. Try them both and see how you prefer them—I’ve never come across a place that say “stacked” on a menu, but wouldn’t make them rolled for me, so don’t be afraid to ask for one way over the other.
Also, this tip may sound strange, but it’s totally normal in New Mexico. If you get enchiladas, consider getting a fried egg on top. It’s a delicious game changer. Trust me.
Saving the Best for Last: Sopaipillas (soap-ah-pee-ahs).
So here’s a pretty big tip: when you’re dining out at New Mexican restaurants, save room for dessert. Sopaipillas are little fluffy pieces of bread, typically served at the end of the meal, and they almost always come complimentary with your meal (if you order an entrée). The best part about sopaipillas are how many different ways you can enjoy them. Here are just a few:
- Order them as a main course and get it stuffed with your favorite ingredients (beef, rice, beans, chile, etc.)
- Sopaipillas come out towards the end of your meal, so if you have food left on your plate, tear your sopaipilla in half and stuff half with the food left on your plate. Then use your other half to….
- Drizzle honey inside the sopaipilla. Or you can…
- Repeat the process above and add some cinnamon sugar.
- If all else fails, just eat it plain. It’s crispy, fluffy, chewy, and perfectly delicious.
Time to Eat!
Is anyone else hungry for some New Mexican food now? Hopefully these will help you with your New Mexican restaurant dining experiences in the future. Have you been to New Mexico and have a pressing question about something that happens during a meal? Let me know!