In the more than six years B and I have known each other, he’s talked about one particular New Mexican restaurant where he had lunch on an Air Force trip years before we met. He knew it was famous, he knew it had a glass case in the front, he knew it had a patio of sorts… and that was all he knew. Six years of hearing him telling me of this magical place. Six years of me insisting there was no way we’d ever find it. A few months ago, though, after polling my Facebook peanut gallery, we came to the conclusion that it was probably Barelas Coffee House.
It took awhile for us to get there, though. I made one trip to Albuquerque without B. My mom offered to take me so I could take photos and see if it was really his place. We opted not to, much to my father’s relief. Once we identified Barelas, I heard a lot of great things about it from a lot of people. My parents, however, remained merely willing to visit with us. They lacked a certain enthusiasm (or any enthusiasm). There were comments like “it’s not that bad” thrown around. B started to get nervous. He decided he could live with not finding out if Barelas Coffee House was, in fact, his white whale. I, on the other hand, after hearing about this place for the last six years, would not be dissuaded. We were going.
The moment we walked in, B knew we were in the right place. Since his last visit about ten years ago, they’d added a gift shop (where my dad, being a good sport, bought him a t-shirt). We arrived shortly after 11AM in an attempt not to wait for a table, but the line was already very, very long. My parents assured us it would go quickly while B immediately started trying to back his way out the door, offering to let everyone off the hook. Reluctantly, he stayed. Considering the length of the line, I was pleasantly surprised when we sat down at a table about fifteen minutes after we arrived.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was very large. It’s not fancy at all, which if you’ve been to the best New Mexican restaurants, fits pretty well with the norm. They sat us at a table that would comfortably seat eight. Then began the somewhat daunting task of ordering. The menu is rather extensive, but as in most New Mexican restaurants, there aren’t really that many options. It’s more a function of the fact that you can create any number of combinations from the items on the menu. My dad was the only person who took no time at all to order. He would have a cheeseburger. A cheeseburger. I can appreciate his support of my mom’s cooking by opting out of their New Mexican options, but I didn’t realize his real show of solidarity until I saw the cheeseburger.
It wasn’t the most attractive plate of food I’ve ever seen. In their defense, the server put the plate down and said “I was going to ask you about that bun…” and offered to get him a new one (which he politely declined). But really… a cheeseburger?!
As for the rest of us, mom had a taco plate and B and I both had the combination plate (aka the NM food no brainer) with enchiladas (both red and green), a taco, and a burrito. Our plates were rather more attractive.
I think I speak for everyone at the table when I say the collective sign of relief was palpable when we all realized we were enjoying our food. Well, I say all, but I’m still not so sure about that cheeseburger. B and I both realized quickly that it wasn’t the same quality as my mom’s, but we didn’t expect it to be. We weren’t disappointed. Considering the wait for our food, we were doubly relieved.
Our server was super friendly and there was a nice energy in the restaurant, but dear Lord, the service was slow. We left at least mostly convinced that there’s some sort of Barelas Coffee House time vortex because it makes no sense at all how they move people through the line so quickly and then take so long once you’re seated. It was sort of amazing, really. From drinks to food, as soon as we sat down, it became the longest lunch ever. Of course, it was made all the longer by the fact that B and I ate so much of our food. We took awhile.
We also had flour tortillas and chicharrónes for the table. Chicharrónes are also rather hilariously referred to by B as “fried fat bits.” This makes my mother laugh every time she hears him say it. The definition really isn’t all that far off. Depending upon where you are (they’re traditional in different forms throughout Latin America), they vary. In New Mexico, they’re pieces of pork fat fried with their accompanying pieces of lean meat. This order was (pleasantly) far more meat than fat. I realized I’ve had them many, many times throughout my life, but didn’t know since B’s description left me expecting something far more fat than meat. The tortillas were exactly how I like them, though, thick and just a little bit doughy in the middle.
So we finally came, saw, and B finally conquered his white whale. We might return to Barelas. We may not. In either case, we enjoyed our long lunch and solidified our knowledge that there really is no beating mom’s cooking.