When you’re driving across America’s wide-open spaces, your worst enemies are an empty tank and an empty belly. Although a car may not be picky about the brand of gas you put into it, a body cannot run on beef jerky alone. That’s why we’re crazy about New Mexico road food. Perhaps it’s the harmonious convergence of Mexican, American Indian, and Western-frontier cooking traditions found there, or maybe it’s the daunting distances between population centers, but we know of no other state in the Union where you can so consistently find such tasty cooking along the asphalt byways, often only steps from the gas pump.
Twenty miles north of Albuquerque, off Interstate 25, the San Felipe Pueblo Restaurant is a gastronomic jewel set amid a dozen fuel pumps, a casino, and a motor speedway. This gleaming diner with vinyl booths and views of dramatic mesas turns out superlative New Mexican and American Indian fare, such as stuffed sopaipillas (savory fried pastries, similar to American Indian fry bread, filled with ground beef or chicken, beans, and red and green chiles), huevos rancheros, and formidable combo plates: try the one featuring fresh flour tortillas, blue cornmeal mush, pork pozole (a hominy-studded stew), and a medley of corn, roasted green chiles, and yellow squash.
If you’re heading south from Albuquerque on I-25 toward Las Cruces, stop for a sugar fix at the San Antonio General Store, attached to a gas station, where owner Anne Lund’s homemade pecan fudge is a siren song to truckers and day-trippers alike. When Lund bought the station, three years ago, the previous owners’ top-secret recipe was included in the deal. Lund says it took nearly six months of trial and error to get the luxurious, creamy consistency just right.
Farther north, the high-desert farming town of Velarde is home to Michael’s Mini Mart, an unprepossessing pit stop along State Highway 68. There, take a seat at one of three small tables and, for less than you’d spend on a couple of gallons of unleaded, order from the 48-item menu featuring co-owner Alice Romero’s justly famous smothered red chile burritos, pork tacos with pico de gallo, and chicharron burritos, packed with pork rinds, refried beans, cheddar cheese, and chiles.
About 25 miles from Velarde, at the quiet crossroads where Highways 64 and 285 intersect, you’ll find a low-slung gas station and a chrome diner anchoring the hamlet of Tres Piedras. The latter houses a half-century-old establishment known simply as The Diner. On offer is American comfort food of the highest order: airy buttermilk pancakes, crisp home fries, and Frito pie (that delicious Southwestern classic consisting of Fritos corn chips, pinto beans, and red chile sauce) piled with fresh green chiles, an ingredient for which seemingly every New Mexican has an abiding love.
In the north-central town of Abiquiu, once home to the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, a colorful collection of locals converges at the cafe attached to the 88-year-old Bode’s general store, off Highway 84. The highlight of 29-year-old cook Sonny Garza’s menu, which also proffers enchiladas and tamales, is the half-pound green chile cheeseburger—a dish satisfying enough for the mightiest road warriors.
San Felipe Pueblo Restaurant
San Felipe Travel Center
(Off of I-25 exit 252).
San Antonio General Store
375 U.S. Highway 380
San Antonio, NM
Michael’s Mini Mart
1410 State Highway 68
The Intersection of U.S. Highways 64 and 285
Tres Piedras, NM
U.S. Highway 84 (in the same building as the Phillips 66 gas station)