The first real New Mexican food we had in New Mexico was at Tomasita's in Santa Fé. This restaurant is in the railroad district, meaning it's next to the station. You can even get a train from here but it's just a tourist trip around the mountains and back. The railroad hasn't really come back to the West. The first language in the restaurant seems to be Spanish and there's a twenty minute wait for a seat, on a Wednesday. Both of these are good signs.
There are several things on the menu that I don't recognise from my previous excursions, and I also note the absence of fajitas which are apparently a Texan abomination, as is the use of "chili" as opposed to "chile". Get that wrong and the New Mexicans escort you to the border.
So I order the special, a combo plate with a blue corn enchilada, a taco shell and a chile relleno. There's also rice and refrito beans and a serving of nachos and salsa, but round here that goes without saying.
Whilst the enchilada and taco are pretty good, what really gets my attention is the relleno. This is a Hatch* chile that has been roasted, peeled, slit up the side, emptied of seeds and filled with cheese, then it's dipped in breadcrumb batter and fried. It's also covered in green chile*. It's cheesy, sweet and hot and I would eat them every day if I could. There's also a variant without the breadcrumbs but this seems more like a chile omelette and is not quite so good.
The other novelty is that instead of tortillas we get sopaipillas with our meal. These are fluffy little pillows made of dough that puffs up when fried. Those in Tomasitas are the best I tasted in New Mexico. They are very light with no evidence of doughiness. They are more like pittas made from puff pastry and go great with chile. They are served with cream whip and honey.
The next such meal we had was in the Sunset Grill in Truth or Consequence. We shared chile rellenos and stuffed sopapillas which, with nachos and salsa, came to $7 for the two of us, about £3.80. This was Mom and Pop cooking at its best.
davidt3001 and anubisgrrl also took us to several restaurants. Rancheros in Las Cruces, La Posta in Old Mesilla and Barrigas in El Paso. I'd also rank them in this order, with Tomasita's fighting it out with Barrigas for the top spot. Barrigas means bellies, or possibly even "five bellies". Once you see a portion you know why. It was here than we tried Tres Leches, a kind of sponge cake involving three kinds of milk. It's surprisingly light, creamy and moist and very, very tasty. Each slice is so big that we shared portions between two. We also went to Kiki's another greasy spoon, this time in El Paso on the recommendation of the guide at the Magoffin State Home. And once again New Mexico did not disappoint.
Other good non-Mexican food I had were beef bagels at the Out of this World café in Roswell, a build your own smoked turkey wrap in the River Eatery in Ruidosa and a pretty decent steak (although not quite rare enough for my tastes) also in Ruidoso.
I brought back a few goodies with me. Some chile pecan brittle, a Las Cruces delicacy, some Cholula hot sauce, so much better than Tabasco and my favourite American snack food, Austin Crackers - a devilish blend of cheese crackers and peanut butter. Keep your hands off my stash!
*Hatch is a small town north of Las Cruces, mostly underwater after the Monsoon season. It's the local chile Mecca and fortunately the fields are safe. The Monsoon season is July-August when it actually hardly rains at all - just when it does, it's a few inches all in one go and because the ground is hard it tends to flash-flood.
*New Mexico has a state question, "Red or Green?" to which the answer is "Both!" I prefer the Green Chile but you just can't get tomatillos in the UK. I may try it with gooseberries instead.