Haven ... I’m in haven

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Camille Flores

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.

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