Haven ... I’m in haven
Some like it hot. For them, there’s Horseman’s Haven, the popular purveyor of red and green chile dishes on Cerrillos Road. It’s been around a long time, either at its present location or in the cozy adobe building that once stood nearby. The owners, fans of St. Michael’s High School, named their eatery after its mascot.
Food at Horseman’s Haven is seasoned for the norteño palate, and the owners apparently take perverse pleasure in testing the mettle of their customers by serving chile at Level 1 (very hot) or Level 2 (taste o’ hell).
It was snowing like crazy on the evening I arrived with two friends itching for a throwdown with the Level 2 green chile. Thank goodness we heeded the waiter’s advice to stick to Level 1 and to go easy on the green, which he said had been “unusually hot lately.”
We ordered our chile on the side. The red— thick and redolent of garlic and a touch of cumin— was hot and sweet, piquant, not deadly; the green arrived as hot as advertised and was agreeably flavorful. The chile is meatless, vegetarians, but not much else on the menu is.
I ordered cheese enchiladas, a standard in New Mexico kitchens, so perhaps unfairly subject to comparison with Everymom’s. I had anticipated white corn tortillas dipped in hot oil and dunked in chile prior to being rolled around plump piles of Monterrey Jack and freshly chopped onion and then slathered with more chile and popped in the oven to a melty goodness. Alas, someone else’s mom had made these enchiladas.
Haven’s enchiladas are stacked, and blue corn tortillas were simply warmed and laden with mounds of that ubiquitous pre-shredded cheddar. It doesn’t melt as well as some types of cheese, and the cheddar on my plate had coagulated by the time I got it, so looked like melted plastic— and tasted like it, too.
The several side dishes were encouraging, though. Whole-bean frijoles were tender and moist, as was the posole. I’m always happy to see posole on the plate, as it’s replaced so often by refried beans. The rice was tender, and the grains separated nicely. A haystack of lettuce and tomatoes finished the plate, which was accompanied by a basket of sopaipillas.
One of my friends ordered huevos rancheros with eggs scrambled (no, I don’t understand why either). The eggs were plated in one big blob under the chile. She described them as “oily and unappetizing.”
Another friend ordered chicken tacos. These were brimming with juicy, shredded white chicken meat (poached) and lettuce and tomatoes. Haven makes its soft tacos with yellow corn tortillas and its soft tacos with the blue corn variety. She couldn’t finish the huge plateful and was happy to leave with leftovers.
There were no desserts offered the night we ate at the Haven, which also occurred when Pasa writer Rob DeWalt reviewed the restaurant in 2009. The menu indicates a selection of pies, with or without ice cream, but “the truck hasn’t come for couple of days,” according to the waiter. The pies are not made in-house anyway, so ni hablar. We lingered over weak coffee instead.
The Haven’s spacious dining room is equipped with about 10 booths, an equal number of tables, and a retro-style counter. The place feels like a mom and pop truck stop, an image reinforced by the trucks waiting for gas at the station next door.
We learned that only one person works the dining room on most nights, but he’s a pro, service-wise. Within three minutes of our arrival, he had placed a basket of chips (fresh, light, and crispy) and a cup of spicy salsa at our table. There were only a couple of appetizers on the menu. We chose the side, rather than the full order, of guacamole, which was plenty to share. The Haven makes its guacamole with mashed avocados and just a little sour cream. Plain, but a perfect foil for the mouth-torching salsa and chiles.
Knowing that the Haven’s reputation is built on breakfast, I ventured back for a second visit. The menu was different and so was the crowd, this time in genial clusters of friendly folk who obviously felt right at home. My breakfast burrito consisted of scrambled eggs and a generous pile of crispy bacon inside a tortilla topped with chile. Potatoes, served on the side, were thick-chopped and crispy.
Head for the Haven when you crave chile. Just pass on the enchiladas, order huevos rancheros with eggs over easy like God intended, and take the waiter’s advice on the red or green.