Northern New Mexico has its own distinct cuisine. While it overlaps with Mexican in some respects, the main ingredient is chile, either red or green. Chile is so important in [easyazon_link identifier=”1631214209″ locale=”US” tag=”theyum-20″]New Mexico[/easyazon_link], both as a crop and an ingredient, that it’s the Official State Vegetable. Rancho de Chimayó, about 40 minutes northeast of [easyazon_link identifier=”0756685478″ locale=”US” tag=”theyum-20″]Santa Fe[/easyazon_link], is a local institution. It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. Run by Octogenarian Florence Jaramillo, known affectionately as Mrs. J, it’s located in an old family home that has been in the Jaramillo family for generations. Take a ride into the mountains and stop for lunch or dinner at this beloved local favorite.
Location: Rancho de Chimayó is at 300 Santa Fe County Rd 98, Chimayo, New Mexico
Menu: The menu is huge and with a few exceptions, pure New Mexican. From 11:30 to 3:30 there is a special lunch menu with smaller portions and great pricing. The dinner menu is available all day. Signature dishes include carne adovada (pork slow-cooked in red chile) and stuffed sopapillas. For dessert, try natillas, a traditional New Mexican custard dessert. Breakfast is served on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Try a breakfast burrito smothered in green chile or huevos rancheros.
Thoughts: Rancho de Chimayó was launched with old family recipes passed down through the women in the Jaramillo family for generations. Over the years, recipes have been added both by Mrs. J. and her cooks. People often confuse New Mexican food with Tex-Mex. While there are some similarities, NM food is based on “the three sisters,” beans, corn and squash, the three crops that the indigenous people were cultivating when the Spanish arrived. Chile arrived from [easyazon_link identifier=”1786570238″ locale=”US” tag=”theyum-20″]Mexico[/easyazon_link] along with the Spanish settlers. Classic NM enchiladas are made with blue corn tortillas that are stacked flat, not rolled. You can also order rolled enchiladas if you prefer. There are many other differences. Don’t worry about the similarities and differences between Tex-Mex and Mexican food; just order what sounds good to you, dig in and enjoy.
As you enter the restaurant you’ll see strings of red [easyazon_link identifier=”B002N3K5LQ” locale=”US” tag=”theyum-20″]Chimayó chiles[/easyazon_link] (ristras) hanging from the roof. They are there to dry. For about two weeks a year, in late September or early October, once the new season’s ristras are ready to hang, they take down the old ones, rinse and grind the chiles and use them for their signature carne adovada. The new ristras stay up until the next year’s crop is ready for drying.
Start off your meal with some salsa and guacamole while sipping a prickly pear margarita; it’s a lovely red color and very tasty. My favorite things to order are either the carne adovada plate or Sopapilla Relleno, a fluffy fried masa (dough made from corn flour) pillow stuffed with your choice of chicken or shredded beef, Spanish rice and beans. It’s topped with cheese and smothered in your choice of red or green chile (order “Christmas” if you’d like a bit of both). My choice: beef and green. Order what speaks to you; everything we’ve tried on the menu is tasty. A word of caution: chile can be hot. Ask to taste it before having your food smothered in it or ask for it on the side. If you’re worried about the heat, skip the chile; most dishes are great without it.
Each dining room has its own character. In warm weather request a table on the terraced back patio. Even on hot days it’s cool, courtesy of strategically-placed umbrellas and oscillating standing fans. Our second favorite of the four dining rooms including the one in the bar, is the glassed-in porch, though that can get warm in summer.
Rancho de Chimayó is almost always crowded; if you don’t want to wait, make a reservation. On Sundays and holidays, the dining rooms are packed with large families who come for after-church lunch. Besides being popular with locals, it’s a destination restaurant. You’ll find tourists and sometimes even bus tours, but don’t let that stop you, the place is the real deal. In 2016 it was designated a [easyazon_link identifier=”0394724704″ locale=”US” tag=”theyum-20″]James Beard American Classic[/easyazon_link]. The award honors regional restaurants that, according to the Beard website, have “timeless appeal” and “serve quality food that reflects the character of their communities.” That’s what Rancho de Chimayó does every day. You can read more reviews here.
Price range: The special lunch menu runs from $7 to $10.75; entrees on the regular menu (served all day) are from $10.75 for a burrito plate to $24.95 for steak. Most entrees are in the $12 to $15 range.
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