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 Los Lunas, New Mexico.
N 34° 48.840’ W 106° 45.856’ Elev. 4932 ft.
(Actually, it’s named for the Luna family. If it were to mean “the moons” it would be Las Lunas.)
Although most of the fare here is standard American food, they also make a handful of “New Mexico Specialties”. I got a to-go order of Chile Rellenos ($7.75), served with rice and beans, chips and salsa. You can get them with red or green sauce. Since there are two to an order, I ordered one with each sauce.
As is too often the case, when I got back to the land yacht I discovered they had given me only the red sauce. Damn! C’est la vie. Still, the rellenos were fantastic!
They were made with fresh Anaheim chiles but they were not Anaheim chiles, the most common chile used for making real rellenos; by the way, “relleno” is Spanish for “stuffed.” These were long, no more than an inch or so around, and nice and semi-hot. They were stuffed with that white Mexican cheese, Queso Blanco (I think, as it wasn’t runny), battered and fried to perfection. The batter was not too thick, delightfully crisp on the outside yet still moist inside. And the chiles had just enough heat to make them fun.
I don’t know if it’s a New Mexican or a Tex-Mex thing but instead of cutting a slit in the pepper and inserting the cheese, they cut off the top/stem and stuff the cheese down into them. I’m not sure it changes the flavor but it changes the texture a bit as the integrity of the pepper is intact and it doesn’t have a chance to steam inside, keeping it from getting soft/soggy, plus the cheese has no opportunity to escape.
On a 1-10 scale I’d put these up in the 8-9 range, but only in case I have a relleno someday that makes me physically, well, … let’s just say I would need a fresh pair of underwear. Not overly sauced, cooked perfectly, and the rice and beans were really good as well. (Too bad the photos don’t do ‘em justice.)
Having sampled rellenos all over the country I know that ordering them anywhere east of the Midwest becomes risky, if not disastrous. I had one in Georgia once that consisted of a little one-inch square of canned pepper of indeterminate provenance covered with a weird tasting ground mystery meat and topped with a flavorless white cheese (probably casein). I had to ask them where the chile was when they brought it. I had another in North Carolina that consisted of the bottom of a Bell Pepper with tasteless ground beef in it, topped with cheddar cheese and run under a salamander.
It’s amazing how this simple, exquisite dish gets so badly bastardized from place to place. Thankfully, in New Mexico it’s usually a safe bet that you’ll get the real thing. And these were definitely the real thing.
All in all Panda Express is a great deal — two meals for me — for under $8 … with the secret survey code. (Hint: Five numbers, currently starts with nine.)
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you also get the obligatory fortune cookie. I was kind of hungry so I broke mine open immediately. Curiously, the fortune read: “Please Pay Cashier. Thank You. Come Again.”
And so we roll.