“Authentic New Mexican food?” the lady in line behind me with eight Easter baskets stacked in her cart, the kind made of colorful strips of bamboo, answered my request about local places to eat with a question.
Vern and I had traveled through three states in two days and for a split second I forgot which state I was in, and wondered what it was about the Mexican food here that classified is as “new?” Without revealing my puzzlement, I nodded. “Yes. One of the things we looked forward to on this trip was authentic Mexican food.”
“There are good restaurants all over Santa Fe, but my favorite is La Choza and it’s not too far from here. Drive to the light.” She pointed across the room toward the exit. “Turn right and make another quick right or you’ll miss it.”
I made a mental note of her directions, while feeling a little silly about New Mexican food–after all, Santa Fe is in New Mexico, and thanked her for the recommendation.
We exchanged information about where we live. She resides in a home outside of the city. My husband and I have our home in rural Oregon, which led to learning that her daughter lives in the Beaver State, too. Our love of the food from South of the Border and the Oregon thing created a connection, and I was glad for the opportunity to speak with her.
“You won’t believe what I’m doing with these Easter baskets. It’s really terrible, I know, but I have an older friend who is an avid gardner. She passed a springtime gardening trick to me.” My new friend paused and lifted a basket from her cart. “I’m snipping off their handles, but I’ll leave an inch or so. Then I turn the baskets upside down over new plantings. They keep out the hot sun and the little bit of handle that I leave anchors them to the ground.”
After purchasing gift wrap for our children’s presents, which we would give to them when we arrived at our son’s home in Texas, we went a few blocks to the little adobe restaurant.
La Choza’s plain exterior gave way to a decorative, southwestern style interior with brightly painted walls, and the flavor of the area’s large Hispanic culture in paintings throughout the dining room.
As we learned from the restaurant’s host, the small adobe building was once a part of the Mercer Ranch and is more than a hundred years old. And since La Choza isn’t in the center of Santa Fe’s tourist haven, it’s more of an attraction for locals.
Our lunches were served on sizzling dinner sized plates. Chips and salsa weren’t included with the meal–something we’ve never before encountered. We ordered them on the side and weren’t surprised to find the salsa steeped with the flavor of red chile.
Southern New Mexico prides itself on its green and red chiles. During our walk from our place of lodging, the Madeline Inn, Vern and I spotted numerous Ristras, which are bunches of dried red chiles, hanging from home porches and outside of businesses.
We were in the chile pepper center of the world and we discovered New Mexico’s official vegetable in most everything, from enchiladas to soups to salsas to egg dishes–In this part of the country, they decorate and flavor food with chiles, chiles, chiles.
Photos and article copyright 2014, P&V Koefoed