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.
Greetings from Los Lunas, New Mexico!
N 34° 48.840’ W 106° 45.856’ Elev. 4932 ft.
Los Lunas, bastardized Spanish for “the moons”? I don’t know why they named it that. I’ve been here for a couple nights and I’ve seen only a single moon — the same one! So much for the Land of (Binary) Enchantment.
(Actually, it’s named for the Luna family. If it were to mean “the moons” it would be Las Lunas.)
On the way here I stopped at Lisa’s Truck Center, just off I-40 at the east end of Moriarty. It’s an old funky place that’s been there forever. I’ve been stopping at Lisa’s for years and throughout all that time I’ve never been able to predict if its little restaurant was going to be open or not. In the past it tended to go in and out of operation with some regularity. (Regularity in Moriarty? Pure poetry!) This time, however, it was open.It’s hard to call the place a restaurant. It consists of no more than four or five tables inside the store, the kitchen a puny little thing accessible from the “dining room” through a tiny little window. (Sorry about the paucity of pictures. The place is actually kind of charming in funky sort of way, but there were diners there and ….)
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.
The next day here in Los Lunas I went to Panda Express, the nationwide chain of “fast food” Chinese restaurants. I like them because they’re very clean and very consistent yet the food is always good, always fresh and reasonably priced. (Truly the antithesis of McDouche’s.) And as an added bonus, if you take their little phone survey on the back of the receipt, you get a free item.
I got a couple of my standards — Honey-Walnut Shrimp and Kung Pao Chicken — and a new menu item, Thai Cashew Chicken, and chow mein. I’m sort of addicted to the H-W Shrimp. It’s got a great texture as the honey makes kind of a crust on the outside, while the shrimp is a succulent and tender. It’s served with honey-candied walnuts that are fantastic. It makes for a great trio of textures. The Kung Pao Chicken is typical KP, but they have big chunks of zucchini in it. I also appreciate that they’re not afraid of making it spicy.
The Thai Cashew Chicken was kind of silly. It’s chock full of big, bite-sized pieces of tender white-meat chicken, with Thai basil, onion, lots of red bell pepper, and a few cashews and peanuts thrown in. But …. While it was okay, it needed to be more Thai-y, though I have no idea how that would be accomplished. It just needs …? I ended up wishing they made something with Thai peanut sauce, like Param Chicken (chicken with fresh, raw spinach in a peanut sauce). I really should’ve gotten the Sweet Fire Chicken, which is what I normally get and is always great.The chow mein, however, is always good. The noodles are always cooked perfectly, not mushy, and it’s full of big pieces of crunchy celery and cabbage. Yum.
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.
Lisa’s Truck Center, 820 Route 66 East, Moriarty, NM
Panda Express, Nationwide
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.