Restaurant Review Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante in Chimayó
Let’s be clear before we even pick up a fork: Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante is legendary in Northern New Mexico. Opened in 1965 by Arturo and Florence Jaramillo in a hacienda built by Arturo’s family in the 19th century, the restaurant has endured many trials on its way to local and international acclaim — from a scarcity of customers in its early days to trucks refusing to deliver to the remote location to a devastating fire in 2008. Known for its warm hospitality, excellent service, and a menu that reflects the foods Arturo grew up with, Rancho de Chimayó is now part of the New Mexico True campaign: “Serving timeless flavor,” says the ad, with a striking photo of a lovely young waitress dressed in the restaurant’s signature white blouse, black skirt, and red sash.
Set near the winding High Road to Taos, the restaurant was quiet on a recent Saturday morning. The breakfast room, toward the back, with a view of the patio, was sunny and serene, the cast-iron furnishings adding to the feel of dining in a conservatory. The small breakfast menu features many of the usual morning suspects, but we opted for house specialties that would show off the traditional dishes the restaurant is known for: chile, beans, posole, and the carne adovada that helped it score a 50th-birthday present from the James Beard Foundation earlier this year: recognition as one of America’s Classics, a restaurant with “timeless appeal” and “quality food that reflects the character of its community.”
Our carne adovada came rolled into a flour tortilla with scrambled eggs and hash browns. The pork was well cooked and permeated with the flavor of red chile. That sauce contains beef (a vegetarian version is available upon request) and is one of the best we’ve tasted: sweet, earthy, and deeply flavored, with not a hint of the bitterness that can haunt lesser, more industrial versions.
The Chimayó omelet was made with three scrambled eggs and filled with chorizo, mushrooms, cheese, and hash browns, all in good balance. The huevos rancheros were perfectly respectable — two eggs over easy on a corn tortilla, topped with cheddar cheese and red and green chiles and sided with pinto beans and more hash browns. The beans were perfectly cooked — soft and creamy but fully intact — as were the eggs in all three dishes. The green chile sauce, made with less traditional additions of tomatoes and ground beef, was as tasty as the red. The sopaipillas were the star of the morning — very hot, very airy, and very fresh, with almost no trace of the fat they were fried in. We declared them the best we’d ever had.
Dinner on a Friday night had a totally different feel. Most of the tables were filled, the wait staff bustled, and musicians wandered through, stopping by tables that encouraged them. Founder Florence Jaramillo was on the premises as well, displaying her fabled hospitality. The Hornitos margarita was excellent — cold, strong with its namesake 100 percent blue agave tequila and Patrón Citrónge, and tangy with lemon juice. It’s a perfect drink for those who like their cocktails more tart than sweet. The sangria was less successful. A blend of red wine, juice, and brandy, it was dull and forgettable, the only fruit an odd garnish of chopped raw orange rind.
Then the nachos grande appeared — thin and crisp house-made tortilla chips, perfectly cooked beans, a chunky guacamole, shredded lettuce, pale chopped tomatoes, olives that seemed to be from a can, and an anonymous cheese. The jalapeños on the side added some needed kick. Though we debated the quality of some of the ingredients, we left not a morsel on the plate.
The fajitas were the standard fare, a sizzling combination of grilled chicken and beef strips, red and green bell pepper, onions, and more beans. The accompanying pico de gallo was a big hit, and when we complimented its fresh flavor, our server told us how to make it at home. The trout amandine was properly cooked, but the side of calabacitas that accompanied it was mushy and bland. When asked in which waters the fish might have swum, our server blushed, tucked her head into her chest, and mumbled, “It’s frozen.” But, sensitively handled by the kitchen, it turned out tender and moist, showing none of the dryness or cardboard-like texture that can mar previously frozen fish.
The carne adovada, this time plated with Spanish rice, featured very large chunks of pork napped generously with that wonderful red chile sauce. The toothy posole, studded with cubes of braised pork, was flavorful, if oddly salty.
The dinner sopaipillas were good but not as extraordinary as those at breakfast — perhaps because of a busier nighttime kitchen. But a drizzle of the Bosque Farms special wildflower-alfalfa honey (sold in the restaurant’s gift shop) dissolved any complaints. A shared flan was also exemplary: smooth, creamy, and just sweet enough to signal an end to a classic New Mexican meal.