Remember when you were a kid? And you had that special auntie who could playfully tease you one minute, gently scold you the next, and still make the best enchiladas in the tri-state area in between? Well, you no longer have to suffer through a family reunion to get that old feeling, because Auntie Marta serves it up daily at Marta's Camino Real.
Located near the now-defunct Ron's Camino Real on the corner of Yale and Coal, this new and improved haven for homemade boasts the modest indoor dining room of a converted house—two sections with four tables each—a backyard barbeque-style patio with 10 tables and the cleanest kitchen this side of the Rio Grande.
I paid a visit to Marta's at 2 p.m. on a Saturday. I was greeted with an eclectically decorated patio with lots of hanging lights and a decent sound system that boomed dance club remixes of the Macarena. The kitchen is smack in the middle of the patio; a freestanding little villa with two order and pickup windows; one in front, and one off to the side.
The menu was solid New Mexican fare: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Marta's breakfast burritos are made to order with eggs, hash browns and beans, and your choice of sausage, bacon or carne adovada. Breakfast prices range from $3.25 to $4.50, and for an extra $1.50 you can have your morning burrito smothered with chile and cheese. Nothing says "wake it up" like a smothered burrito in the morning.
Lunch and dinner include homemade gorditas, tacos, burritos, quesadillas and platters served with beans, rice, salad and a tortilla or sopaipilla. I ordered Rick's combo grande, which included a relleno, a cheese enchilada and a shredded beef taco, all reasonably priced at $8.
I wandered up to the kitchen window where I was greeted by a bustling and cheerful lady with bright eyes and a lemon-lime headband who I immediately realized was Marta herself. I paid with a credit card and joked with her about my clumsy method of payment. She grinned as if she wanted to pat my head, and said gravely, "I don't mind, mejita, as long as it goes through." She then chuckled and hurried back to the stove, all business.
I chomped my way through an order of guacamole and chips, which were well worth the $2.25. The guac was thick, chunky with tomatoes and peppers, and fragrant with fresh cilantro. It was served over a bed of light, crisp chips sprinkled with cheddar cheese and garnished with diced tomato and cucumbers.
I had yet to finish my first soda before my lunch was ready. I hustled to the window to receive my plate, which was generously loaded and smelled so good I almost salivated on my socks. I overheard another diner at the side window commenting on how big his nacho plate was.
"I'm big Marta," replied the smiling face behind the window. "Everything here is big!"
My lunch steamed in front of me while I contemplated where to begin. The enchilada was rolled, fat with melted cheese, and slathered with the brightest red chile I've ever seen. The sauce was medium-hot, which is just hot enough to warm you up, but not enough to make you dunk your head in a bucket. The relleno was a bit seedy, but the breading was perfect. I was impressed by how tender the beef was in my taco, and I wondered how long it must have slow-cooked to make it fall apart like that. Marta doesn't skimp on the garnish, either. I was surprised to see the abundance of cheese, and the nice-sized nest of lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad on the side.
After I made it as far as I could into my food, I asked for a to-go box while simultaneously confessing to Marta that I planned to review her restaurant. She threatened to snap me with her glove, and then told me that she had always wanted her own place.
"For the longest time it was like a dream—I would feed everyone during potlucks at my old job," she sighed.
As I watched her pat blue corn dough into perfectly round balls, I realized what so many restaurants are lacking: the personal touches that make their guests truly feel at home. I thanked Marta for the fine lunch, and asked her in parting what made her food so good.
I watched her face glow like sunset on the Sandias as she said, "I only cook what I like to eat—and I like to eat everything!" She then hurried back to the hot stove.