A couple of things this week made me homesick for Las Cruces, New Mexico.
It began with a call from journalism colleague and friend William about his fabulous summer marketing internship with Ford Motor Company. Later, through email, he wished he, his parents and I could meet for dinner to celebrate. Impossible, since his folks live in SoNewMex, William is at Northwestern and I’m back home again in Indiana. His dad jokingly wrote we should all meet that night at Chope’s.
My mind wandered. I’m driving south on US28 toward this very unassuming establishment in La Mesa, about 20 minutes from Las Cruces. The road winds through acres of alfalfa, cotton and pecans. Irrigation ditches carved into the land carry water from the Rio Grande to the fields. And off to the left, the craggy, sometimes purple Organ Mountains sit atop desert foothills filled with juniper, sage, snakes … I miss all of it.
My New Mexico friends know the history but as I recall Chope’s has been there for eons. (There is great irony in Chope’s being listed on urbanspoon, by the way.) First it was just the tavern about 50 yards north of the restaurant.
Folks would walk from the bar to the kitchen to buy relanos to go with their cerveza fria. Now the restaurant bustles with diners downing homemade Mexican dishes from tacos to red or green enchiladas.
For my tastebuds, the best Mexican food in the country is homemade in New Mexico. In the first few months, I tried flautas at several restaurants in search of the best. As my palate adjusted to red or green chile sauces, I switched to green chicken enchiladas. I’m tellin’ ya folks, this is good eaten’. I was ruined.
Later, when visiting friends in Atlanta, Indianapolis and elsewhere and heard, “Well, we’ve got a great little Mexican restaurant called …” I would smile politely and ask for sushi.
My hankering for homemade tortilla chips this week really heated up when I heard an NPR interview with Gustavo Arelanno. (Arelanno’s taco talk was tortilla torture for me.) He spoke about his book “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” the humble taco’s rise to menudom in California and that Taco Bell is as close as some Americans get to eating Mexican food. How sad.
Friend Linda also called this week from Las Cruces, just to catch up. So while the weather is wonderful, family time is fulfilling and Sandrick Communications business is picking up, I have to admit Las Cruces will always be a part of me. Just like the five extra pounds I picked up from those M&Ms – margaritas and Mexican food.
Congratulations to William on earning a great summer gig. We’re meeting in Chicago in a few weeks to celebrate. There HAS TO be decent Mexican food in Chicago, right? Anybody?