Did you know that New Mexico has a Las Vegas? It was the first one. In the late 19th century it was a booming railroad town. When the railroad boom died after World War II it became a sleepy town. Today, it’s experiencing a comeback. It’s over 900 historic buildings, Fred Harvey heritage, hot springs and proximity to the Rockies’ Sangre de Christo Mountains is giving it a new life. Also, film tourism and a Rough Rider connection are fueling the fire that’s fueling this Phoenix. If you’re traveling to Las Vegas, you’ll need to know where to eat. We found a few Las Vegas New Mexico restaurants that we enjoyed and wanted to share.
The original settlement was west of the Gallinas River. The 1879 arrival of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (later Railway) to the the east of the city created the boom town of East Las Vegas. The two towns merged in 1970. We ate in four restaurants; two in “Old Town” and two in “New Town.” We did one New Mexican restaurant and one more upscale in each. We’re sharing them by geographical location.
West Las Vegas
The Plaza Café (formerly the Landmark Grill) at the historic Plaza Hotel, 230 Plaza Park (505) 425-3591 serves three meals a day. The casual ambiance in the high-ceilinged dining room, with its large windows facing Old Town’s historic plaza, befits this old cowboy town that Doc Holliday once called home and where the likes of outlaws Jesse James and Billy the Kid as well as lawman Wyatt Earp spent time.
We had to try the $5 breakfast: two eggs, toast and really good hash browns. Steve added sausage patties for $3 and I added a side of green chile for $3. It was a really good green chile; the perfect amount of heat for me and very tangy as well. The lunch menu has a range of classic New Mexican dishes, fish and chips, salads, burgers and sandwiches.
While the ambiance at dinner is casual, the menu offers a well thought out and creative selection of appetizers and entrees including Seared Scottish Salmon, served on blue corn cakes topped with grilled shrimp/avocado salsa; blue cornmeal dusted trout with beurre blanc and rosemary potatoes; seared pork tenderloin and seared flatiron steak with caramelized onions and Portobello mushrooms. Sides are interesting and well-prepared. We had an enjoyable meal which will be the subject of next Monday’s Food Thoughts.
We first heard about El Rialto, another bastion of Northern New Mexican cuisine, from a local we met outside the Amtrak depot on a previous visit. We’d stopped to visit the Las Vegan Visitor Information Office which is housed in this working station. When it was recommended by another born-and-bred local we knew we had to try it out. Ambiance in the dark, high-ceilinged main dining room is no frills. We sat in a wooden booth that rocked a bit when the adjoining diner moved. Our meal began with the house salsa, a bit hot but not killer. Contemplating a carne ado stuffed sopapilla smothered in green chile I asked how hot the green chile was. “Had the salsa been too hot for me?” our server asked. “No,” I replied. She said I’d be fine. Sadly, she was wrong. It was one of the hottest green chiles I’d ever encountered- so hot that I could not really taste the adovada. I always suggest that people unused to chile taste it before ordering or ask for it on the side. As I’m pretty used to this hot NM staple, I didn’t. To her credit, she offered to replace it when I said it was way hotter than the salsa, but I figured I’d soldier on. Many New Mexican restaurants won’t take food back if you decide that the chile is too hot for your palate. I should have taken her up on her offer! Steve ordered the chile relleno which was crispy and delicious, oozing cheese as it should. Portions were ample. I would go back to El Rialto, but would definitely ask for a taste of the chile before having my food smothered in it. Lesson learned. (Want to know what these NM food terms mean? Click here.)
East Los Vegas
Charlie’s Spic & Span
Charlie’s Spic & Span (aka Charlie’s Bakery & Café) at 716 Douglas Avenue calls itself “The meeting, eating, greeting place of Las Vegas.” A friend who used to live in Las Vegas recommended it. We loved it and have been back several times. The two large dining areas seem to almost always be packed, mostly with locals, and if you look toward the bakery section along the west wall where the cash register is, you’ll see a steady stream of customers buying baked goods and packages of fresh, house-made tortillas. Our friend recommended the stuffed sopapillas and that’s been my go-to every time we eat there. The fat, fried dough pillow is stuffed with beans or meat (choices include roast beef, chicken, ground beef, and carne adovada), smothered in red of green chile (ask for Christmas and you’ll get a bit of both) and accompanied by either rice, beans, posole or papitas (potatoes). My choice: roast beef smothered in green chile with posole on the side. The plates are HUGE here. A moderate eater will have leftovers to pack up. We haven’t gotten to Charlie’s for breakfast yet, but based on the chile and our lunches, it’s gotta be good.
El Fidel Restaurant, 510 Douglas Avenue,located in the historic 1920s hotel of the same name, is another place that features creative (often farm to table) fare. Under separate ownership from the hotel, it was recommended by several folks so we headed there for lunch one day. In daylight, the dining room, though trying for upscale, has a way to go. But, the food and service were good. The lunch menu offered a selection of salads featuring produce from Bodhi Farms as well as sandwiches, pastas and a few entrees. Steve had the Cuban Pork Sandwich with roasted rosemary potatoes on the side. They were delicious (I know I grabbed a few off the plate). I ordered the local Talus Wind Ranch lamb burger, skipped the bun and had it on a salad of locally grown greens from Bodhi Farms. The burger was perfectly cooked and juicy. Our dining companion ordered the daily special: a grilled chicken sandwich with caramelized onions. The restaurant is committed to using locally produced foods when it can. The dinner menu, with its interesting array of appetizers, salads, pastas and entrees including local “Chimayó Red Chile NM Rib-Eye” as well as Talus Wind lamb sounds like it’s worth a try.
We have a few more Las Vegas New Mexico restaurant recommendations from locals that are on our list for our next visit. The Rock Taproom & Grill at the Gene Torres Golf Course, has a casual menu and an outdoor dining patio. Dick’s, 705 Douglas Avenue, offers what it calls “creative American fare.” Their website recommends the “from scratch meatloaf” with green chile gravy, their slow-cooked barbecue ribs or tempura-battered mahi-mahi. It sounds like its right up our alley. We were told that The Skillet 612 12th Street has the “best burritos in town.” This “rolling kitchen” that calls a 1974 Airstream trailer home (in 1974 we spent a winter in an Airstream- but that’s another story) started with a 300-pound cast iron skillet (the stories on their website). We’ll definitely check it out next time we’re in town.
Have you traveled to Las Vegas? What are favorite Las Vegas New Mexico restaurants?
Author’s note: We were guests for dinner at The Plaza Cafe one evening. Their hospitality did not affect this post in any way.