Imagine for a moment that New Mexico is a sovereign land—a nation similar to the state we inhabit, but one that evolved strictly by its own devices, with no meddling from outsiders. It would be a place with its own official dictionary, wherein “Christmas” is formalized as a verb with several conjugated forms, as in: I would have Christmased my enchiladas, but August is such a green month.
If New Mexico were a sovereign land, you’d find more restaurants like Quesada’s. If Gabriel García Márquez or one of his characters lived in my mythical backwater nation of New Mexico, this is where he would hang out.
At home in an old adobe house on San Mateo between Central and Lomas, Quesada’s is effortlessly, unselfconsciously and tastefully quirky. Tables are scattered across an uneven and patched wooden floor, attended with chairs that look like they came from an office supply store liquidation. A display case has nothing on display other than the naked Tijuana blanket that lines it. Window frames are decorated regally with gold and silver paint. A purple wall holds a hammered-metal Virgin adorned with rhinestones. Spots of turquoise decorate the wooden frame of a mirror mounted on an orange wall. Ristras abound. The radio blasts from the kitchen, usually Spanish-language and country music.
The green chile smothered on top is more of a wake-up call than my coffee, which comes in a pot marked “Decaf,” even though it isn’t.
When you walk in, the waitress, who’s friendly and attentive though she looks like she could use a nap, asks, “For here or to go?” The menu says breakfast is served with “potato’s”—the whole thing contain’s gratuitous’ apostrophe’s.
The carne adovada has been cooking for centuries. It’s falling apart tender, juicy and perfect, absorbing both my eggs and multiple sides of green chile.
I eavesdrop on a conversation at a nearby table. An older white woman asks the waitress for a glass of water.
“So I can take my pill. Just a little water so you don’t have to waste any.”
“Are the beans fried or whole?”
“We have both.”
“I like them whole. I want huevos rancheros, with the eggs over easy so the whites are firm. And can I have some green chile on the side?”
She spreads her napkin on her table like a placemat, and waits, smiling with anticipation. Her order arrives quickly, like they all do, and she dispatches it methodically.
At another table, six men in suits are having a power breakfast, with tall Starbucks paper coffee cups and newspapers. People stream in steadily for takeout: an orange-clad road worker, a nurse, a security guard, a man looking for a post-workout reward.
It’s no surprise this place has a dedicated following. The flavors of all the dishes I try work well together, and the particular equations at Quesada’s are fine-tuned. A breakfast burrito is balanced between egg, green, potato, bacon and cheese. The green chile smothered on top is more of a wake-up call than my coffee, which comes in a pot marked “Decaf,” even though it isn’t.
This is true home cooking, without the campy advertisement as such. One morning I sat in the northernmost nook (one wall of which is decorated with a scene from Olde Mexico, with the sky painted on the ceiling) and ate a masterful plate of chicken and beef fajitas. Everything on the plate—the meat, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes—was perfectly browned. It came with red chile and a side of beans that had been melted into a creamy puddle of near mole-like consistency. The waitress, who wore a hoodie that chilly morning, said her favorite was the chicken fajita burrito. I’ll have to try that one next time.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Breakfast burrito
• Carne adovada and eggs
• Combo fajitas
Quesada's New Mexican Restaurant
513 San Mateo NE
Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Price range: $3.95 (breakfast burrito) to $10.95 (combo fajitas)
Ambience: Magical realism