I’m happy to have Tio Wally (long-time Me So Hungry reader) aboard to send in his eating adventures from across America. Here he is in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Greetings from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
N 33° 9.2892’ W 107° 14.893 Elev. 4242 ft.
I don’t usually write about bad restaurants I’ve suffered. There’s simply no reason to waste the time. But occasionally a restaurant pulls off such a spectacular FAIL that it makes it notable. Such was the case with La Cocina.
Truth or Consequences is located 42 miles north of Hatch, the self-proclaimed “Chile Capital of the World!” Green chiles are Hatch, New Mexico’s claim to fame. They hold a giant chile festival every year to celebrate them. It stood to reason, then, that some of those chiles — maybe even some recipes — could migrate as far north as Truth or Consequences to, say, a Mexican restaurant.
I had high hopes as I marched up the driveway to La Cocina. I was greeted by a billboard advertising Alaskan Brewing Company, the makers of Alaskan Amber Ale, the best beer on the planet. I thought that was a good sign even though the prices were astronomical. They also had a cool arch over the driveway adorned with silhouettes of local wildlife, from wild turkey to elk.
As I crested the hill I became somewhat apprehensive. There were only two cars in the parking lot, one of them having just arrived, and it was 12:30. But hey, maybe it’s just not a lunch place. Maybe it’s off season. Maybe ….
I went inside and the hostess said I could sit anywhere I’d like and led me into the dining room. Because the weather was nothing short of glorious, I asked if I could sit “outside” in the mini-courtyard that was open to the sky. Except for the obnoxious amount of beer advertising that seemed to hang everywhere, it was really pleasant.
To drink I ordered a water. It came with no ice and a “sippy” straw, one of those bendable things. It was a good thing it was bendable as it was too short for the glass. It still kept falling in.
I looked over the menu and thought it was all pretty standard. So I asked the waitress for a recommendation. “We sell a lot of these,” she said, pointing to the Numero 3 combination plate: “Wisconsin cheddar cheese enchilada, ground beef taco, along with one chile relleno. Garnish of shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes” ($9.99). Okay, I said. I figured, being as it was denoted as a “Signature Dish”, it must be something more than its breathtakingly run-of-the-mill description. She then asked if I wanted red or green sauce; she recommended the green. Being as it’s only a stone’s throw from Hatch, Chile Capital of the World, I went with the green.
She brought out the obligatory chips and salsa. The straight-from-the-bag chips were noteworthy only because there were so many broken pieces in the bowl. I guess I got the bottom of the bag. The salsa, however, was quite good. It was very, very thick, almost a paste, with lots of big pieces of diced jalapeños. I thought it was very tasty.
Then she brought out the plate. I was immediately struck by the fact that the relleno had no stem or tip. It was, in fact, a butterflied chile, roughly rectangular shaped. It was as if it’d been cut by a machine and then packed in a can and run through an industrial pressure cooker. Although the batter was delightfully light and fluffy, there was very little cheese to be found and the chile itself was bereft of heat, texture or flavor.
Let’s take a moment to remember two things: First, relleno is the Spanish word for “stuffed.” I don’t care if you’re a theoretical physicist, you simply can’t “stuff” a flat surface, no matter how hard you try. Secondly, Hatch, New Mexico, The Chile Capital of the World, is 42 miles away. If you can’t find a fresh pepper in Truth or Consequences to make your “Signature Dish,” something is very, very, very wrong.
Chile Relleno? Strike One.
When I ordered, the waitress asked me “Are onions okay?” Absolutely, I said. I found out why when I cut into the “Wisconsin cheddar cheese enchilada.” There was very little cheese. But there was a lot of onion. It was, essentially, an onion enchilada. Moreover, there was so little chile verde (green sauce) over both the enchilada and the relleno to be all but non-existent. So little that I couldn’t taste it. Sad.
Enchilada? Strike Two.
Mexicans don’t make tacos with ground beef. Nor do they use hard (fried) “taco shells.” They make them, usually with two warmed petite tortillas, with a lot of different fillings but ground beef is not one of them. Best I can figure, ground beef in a hard taco shell is the invention of Glen Bell, founder of that chain purveyor of authentic Mexican food called Taco Bell.
La Cocina’s taco had the rare distinction of elevating the lowly fast food taco to a whole ‘nother level. The shell was every bit worthy of the stale Taco Bell taco shells you can find at the supermarket. It was stuffed with a granular ground beef seasoned with … who knows? It had a reddish tint. Maybe it was cheap, stale paprika. It was flavorless and remarkably dry. They did lay the taco on its side, toss a few shards of cheese on it and run it under a salamander to melt it, though. Presentation is everything, right?
Taco? Strike Three.
When three strikes are accumulated in baseball the batter is out. So it should be with La Cocina should you ever visit Truth or Consequences. This food sucked. This is Mexican food only a pre-pubescent whiter-than-white kid from Mazeppa, Minnesota would like. You know those kids, the picky-assed ones who think a dash of pepper is too spicy.
And to think the Chile Capital of the World was just 42 miles away. What’s worse is the McDonald’s two doors down had something really good by comparison: Big Macs 2 for $4. It’s just sad.
And so we roll.
La Cocina Restaurant, 1 Lakeway Dr., Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
Tio Wally pilots the 75-foot, 40-ton(max) land yacht SS Me So Hungry. He reports on road food from around the country whenever parking and InterTube connections permit.