Have you ever enjoyed a dining experience that feeds your soul as well as your appetite? Rich and I had one such meal in the town of Las Cruces, NM. We’d been traveling from Arizona for some time and were a little road weary when we entered this popular “City of Crosses.” Personally, as an artist, I’d been looking forward to the town that is rumored to have inspired renowned painter, Georgia O’Keefe to paint the crosses located there. What we found there was unexpected and delightful.
I’ll get back to the food in a moment, but first will share a side story that we found to be slightly humorous, and which leads up to our dinner. It pertains to our belongings and how our Honda Element, which we nicknamed ‘Trekkie’, was a bit overloaded as we began our journey. It’s been no small task to decide what items to take on the road with us for this potentially year-long sabbatical. Our lack of final sorting was evident by the overflowing cargo area of our vehicle! So Wednesday night, at the peaceful Karchner Caves campground, we finally braved the potential relationship hazards of lightening our load one more time. (I tend to want to hold onto things and Rich usually wants us to minimize for practical reasons.) Anyway, with the deliberateness of an army task team, over the course of 3 hours we produced 3 bags of trash and recycling items, and another 4 bags for donation to Goodwill.
So back to the stop in Las Cruces. Here we were today, after 175 miles of travel from Karcher Caverns – and ready for our break. I proudly used my new Droid phone to locate a Goodwill drop-off location in town. With some stealthy navigating we found the Goodwill – only to be surprised that it was their regional office, rather than a drop-off spot. So Rich got his twin Droid out and smartly plugged in ‘Goodwill Retail Store‘ instead. Ten minutes later we were unloading our donations and felt about 100 pounds lighter for it.
The next order of business was to find a suitable restaurant. We were fully unprepared, feeling dazed by the myriad of fast food outlets, packed tightly between sketchy-looking strip mall eateries. I’d secretly hoped that we could have some local cuisine, but our impending hunger was dangerously close to driving us right to the nearest greasy spoon, except for one helpful tool that rescued us. You’d be right if you guessed it was our phones! We quickly opened our ‘Places’ app, which showed us a generous host of options. We decided upon a place called, La Nueva Casita Cafe, which boasted excellent reviews as a favorite local dining spot. Then our phones easily guided us from our current location to the cafe.
As we drove up to the historic Mesquite District, we saw one of the many white, cross-bearing churches that give the city its’ name. Just beyond, was an old west, 1950’s era building, identified by a dated, plastic sign and a front porch that lit up like a Christmas tree. It was welcoming enough, if a bit rough around the edges. Mind you, I know I’m jaded as I come from the uber-new area of Orange County, where I’ve lived for the past 12 years- with it’s urban planning and sparkling new facades that would make Hollywood proud. Anyway, we parked the car and walked around to the front, hearing sounds of lively, Latin music wafting from the park across the street.
The moment we entered the cafe we felt at home. We were told we could seat ourselves, and did so in a rustic room painted in green and filled with unassuming ambiance. As I glanced around I saw a giant, old jukebox that was kicking out tunes ranging from Spanish romantic, to Madonna and Ozzie Osborne. We were greeted by the friendliest waitress we’ve ever met, who promptly delivered a basket of warm tortilla chips and spicy, homemade salsa, along with a tempting menu.
I easily decided on the chili rellano dish, and Rich chose a combo platter of rellano, enchilada, beef and green peppers, and beans. While awaiting our meal, we tried to control ourselves from devouring the entire basket of the mouthwatering chips, and we could see why this was such a popular spot. This is the kind of place the the restaurant chains try and imitate – with the cactus paintings on the wall, the rustic wooden chairs, and the atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve been there 100 times.
When the food came, it was every bit as delicious as we’d hoped! The rellanos were better than any I’ve ever had, including a similar dish I’d had in Mexico once. To top it off, the waitress made it her business to create the most pleasant dining experience in the world for us! We also got the chance to try fidores, which I learned is a spicy type of Mexican spaghetti.
Later, as we paid the check, the waitress cheerfully recommended another popular dish to us, thinking we were locals. When we informed her that we were just traveling through, she marveled that we’d found the place, since mostly only the locals know about it. We shared the story of our phone, and promised to mention them in this post, as we like to support local businesses that bring such great value to the communities that they serve. (Unfortunately they don’t have a website, but could be found in several online restaurant guides by just doing a Google Search.)
We departed from the cafe feeling nourished and enriched by people who put so much passion into their work. Walking to the porch we watched the musicians in the park outside breaking down their equipment. As we drove off toward Route 10, the town seemed to twinkle at us mischievously, bidding us goodbye for now. We were glad to be on the road listening to 80’s tunes, and heading toward whatever unfolded next!