Burgers Worth the Trip
Nearly in the dead-center of New Mexico, less than 11 miles south of Socorro, off Highway 25 and on the Rio Grande is a small town called San Antonio, whose history begins in the year 880 AD.
The first settlement Spanish explorers came across back in 1581 was a pueblo occupied by the Piro who had been living there for more than 700 years. Later, Juan de Oñate discovered the Piro people called their pueblo Senecú.
The Spanish mission of San Antonio de Padua was built in Senecú in the 1620s by Franciscan friars who planted the first vineyard in New Mexico in defiance of Spanish law. The mission survived for about half a century, but both the pueblo and the mission were destroyed by Apache raiders in 1675.
In 1820, Hispanic farmers from northern New Mexico established present-day San Antonio on the site of the ruins. The Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1880, but three years before that, a young man who would become world-famous was born on Christmas day. That young boy would carry the luggage of passengers from the San Antonio train to his father’s hotel, rain or shine. His name was Conrad Hilton and he later started the Hilton hotel chain using what he’d learned from his father. Hilton’s hotel’s wooden bar survived a fire, and was later installed in a bar and cafe where it is used to this day. This cafe opened in the early 1940’s by Frank and Dee Chavez. Today, their granddaughter, Rowena Baca, runs the legendary establishment. Yes, we’re talking about San Antonio’s world- famous “The Owl.” The name came from the fact that gambling used to be conducted all night in the back by ‘night owls’.
Something else significant happened around the same time. At 5:30 AM, July 16, 1945, the US detonated the world’s first implosion-design plutonium bomb in an area called the Jornada
del Muerto “the Route of the Dead Man” at White Sands. The ‘prospectors’ who’d been hanging out, drinking cold beer and eating The Owl’s green chile cheese burgers were actually Robert Oppenheimer’s atomic cowboys.
The Owl makes not only history, but also some of the best burgers you will ever eat. (They also do great red chile cheese fries if you can catch them in season.) At The Owl, sit
amongst friendly locals, bikers, and tourists, eat a great burger and drink a cold beer. You can also see history climbing the walls in newspaper clippings, black-and-white photos of pale gringos packing slide rules, dollar bills pinned up with messages scrawled on them, and hundreds of police and fire department patches.
The renowned burger is a thin patty of beef ground on the premises, topped with cheese, chopped lettuce, pickles, onions, mayo, and chopped Hatch and Luna County roasted green chiles. Some swear the beans here are the best in the state. Others say The Buckhorn across the road has the better burger, which certainly means time for a taste test -off.
Little “middle of nowhere” San Antonio is steeped in history and great burgers and is certainly worth a visit. ►◄