Things may have changed in New Mexico since I last visited, but I have a not-so-fond memory of chili peppers inexplicably appearing in just about every meal that came my way, from meatloaf to Chinese food, and most of the time it was all astoundingly average to awful.
So you can imagine the delight and surprise I experienced when I came across a restaurant that actually got it right. About a half hour north of Santa Fe on the High Road to Taos lies Chimayó, a small town of about 3,000 made famous by its sanctuary. Every year, a few hundred thousand pilgrims trek to El Santuario de Chimayó in search of a healing miracle. And who can blame them? According to the legend, a crucifix found in the ground was removed and brought to the nearest church. The next day, the crucifix had mysteriously returned to its original spot. The villagers removed it again and brought it back to the church, but the following day, the crucifix had boomeranged back into the ground. They finally got the message and built their own church right there in 1816, and it’s still standing today.
Just down the road from the sanctuary I happened upon Rancho de Chimayó. In 1965, the Jaramillo family converted their adobe home into a restaurant and have been serving traditional and contemporary New Mexican cuisine ever since. Photographs of the Jaramillos that hang on the walls lend the place an authentic family atmosphere, and fireplaces keep the whole place cozy in the winter. But I was here in spring, so I took a seat on the outdoor patio and enjoyed the views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains surrounding me. That is, until my meal arrived, and my focus turned to the fantastic feast in front of me.
You’ll go to Chimayó to see the sanctuary and nourish your soul, but you’ll be remiss if you didn’t nourish your body at Rancho de Chimayó — by far the best restaurant I found after a week in New Mexico.
Try This: Start with the tortilla soup or the red jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and fried until nicely crisp. Then dig into the chicken breast with either red or green chilies and delightfully gooey cheddar cheese alongside Spanish rice and calabacitas (a delectable dish of corn, squash, and peppers), or try the sopaipilla relleno, stuffed with beef and topped with chilies, guacamole, and cheese, accompanied by beans and Spanish rice. A frozen prickly pear lemonade will cool down your taste buds if those chilies are too hot, and make sure to leave some room for the toasted piñon mocha mousse.