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New Mexican Cuisine

Half the fun of a trip to the Southwest is eating New Mexican food. Whether it's a burrito or bowl of green chile stew from a takeout stand or a full-course meal from one of the state's finest restaurants, you'll find that New Mexico cooking is somewhat unique, similar to but not quite the same as Mexican and Tex-Mex.

The key to genuine New Mexico cuisine is the chile pepper (New Mexicans prefer the Spanish spelling of chile, ending in e instead of i). Served red or green, usually as a sauce (called salsa), it tops enchiladas, burritos, and practically every type of food short of oatmeal. Green tends to be hotter. In 1999, the New Mexico State Legislature proclaimed the official state questions to be, "Red or green?"

Following are some of the terms you'll run across in restaurants and roadside stands across the state.

  • Biscochitos -- Anise cookies made best with lard.
  • Breakfast burrito -- Scrambled eggs, potatoes, chile, cheese, and often meat wrapped in a flour tortilla, consumed hand-held or on a plate smothered with red or green chile salsa.
  • Calabacitas -- Green summer squash fried with onions and garlic, sometimes other vegetables.
  • Carne adovada -- Tender pork marinated in red chile sauce and then baked. Tends to be spicy.
  • Carne asada -- Literally, roasted or broiled meat, usually beef flank steak, marinated and cooked slowly. The marinade is the key and usually a closely guarded secret.
  • Chile relleno -- Cheese stuffed green chile pepper in a light batter and pan fried. Great any time of day.
  • Chorizo -- Spicy Mexican sausage, often found in breakfast burritos or as a side with other breakfast dishes.
  • Christmas -- The proper term for ordering half red and half green chile salsa.
  • Empanadita -- Individual pastry filled with minced meat, spices, and nuts.
  • Green chile stew -- A thick soup with green chile, meat (usually pork), potatoes, and sometimes beans. Tends to be hot.
  • Guacamole -- Avocados mashed with seasonings and sometimes chopped veggies such as tomatoes and onions. When served with chips, the perfect beginning to a New Mexican meal.
  • Huevos rancheros -- Fried eggs on tortillas, topped with cheese and chile salsa. Often served with pinto beans.
  • Mole sauce -- A flavorful sauce combining spices, almonds, red chile, tomatoes, and chocolate. Incredibly delicious over chicken.
  • Pinyon nuts -- The tasty nuts of the pinyon tree, a type of pine. Available at roadside stands.
  • Posole -- Hominy corn in a soup or stew, sometimes with pork and chile.
  • Sopaipilla -- Tasty "little pillows" served with most native foods, the dough must be deep fried in very hot fat to achieve the proper puffiness. Drizzle on a bit of honey and they are ambrosia.

New Mexican food seems as if it should travel easily, but like French bread or New York bagels, you just can't find it done right once you get away from the source. So eat as much of it as you can while you have the chance.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.