Burg­ers Worth the Trip

Catron Courier - - Front Page -

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. ►◄

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