Federico’s Mexican Food
Authentic taste served 24-7
No green chile? To a native New Mexican that’s like telling Hugh Hefner there aren’t any boobs or smoking jackets. Still, there are distinct differences between Mexican and New Mexican food, and Federico’s is a south of the border treat that makes a nice change from the usual red or green.
Open 24-7, this latest addition to the Juan Tabo strip is the four-month-old sister restaurant to the Federico’s in Rio Rancho (at 1590 Deborah). Owners Lorena and Javier Almanza have turned the Arizona/California chain into a family-owned franchise that offers huge portions of authentic Mexican cuisine in a clean, tidy space for the price of a value meal at the golden arches.
I made a midnight trek to Federico’s, thinking I wouldn’t be able to distinguish the place from the endless onslaught of strip mall structures. I was wrong, because I could see its big yellow sign miles away through a fog.
I was immediately taken with the squeaky-clean and amiable atmosphere. The canary walls and tiled counter were psychologically inviting, as the tasty aromas wafting from the kitchen piqued my always-healthy appetite.
The menu spans an entire wall, and I had a tough time deciding between breakfast or dinner, tacos or burritos, carne asada or adobada.
I ordered my meal from the counter, and was charmed again by the old-fashioned glass bottles of Coke, Sprite and Fresca—they bring them in from Mexico--in the cooler. I was also psyched to see cold dispensers filled with Mexican juice drinks like horchata, tamarindo, jamaica (hibiscus flower) and piña. Next to these is the self-serve salsa bar with hot red sauce, even hotter green sauce, and pickled carrots, garlic and jalapenos, fragrant with oregano.
And then there were the booths. I have to shave off a few brownie points for the uncomfortably hard wood-and-plastic-veneer benches and tables, but the sparkling bathrooms were uncharacteristically spotless for a round-the-clock eatery.
My meal came fast and the plates weighed a solid couple of pounds. The carne asada tacos ($6.49) consisted of four soft corn tortillas piled with lean Angus beef cubes, homemade guacamole and pico de gallo. The meat was virtually fatless and passably juicy, the guac was thick and not cluttered up with too many accoutrements and the pico got my upper respiratory system working overtime after the first bite.
The taco and enchilada plate ($5.19) was equally large, and the taco meat was reminiscent of a fine, slow-cooked brisket. The sides of beans and rice were ample, and as everything is made from scratch, the consistency of the two was heartier than those served elsewhere, including some of the pricier places.
But no green chile?
Owner Lorena described the intensity of emotions involved when patrons request their indigenous condiment and are politely told that Mexican food does not include green chile.
"They tell me that I must have it because this is New Mexico," she said.
She spoke for a few minutes about specific skirmishes, but they can all be summed up by saying, "There is no green chile, dammit, so get over it and try the other stuff."
I certainly enjoyed my full stomach and two full to-go boxes.
Even the temporarily chile verde-deprived can get behind the fresh menudo every Saturday and Sunday, and the well-lit drive thru is also open all day and night.
Is there life beyond Hatch? It may seem inconceivable, but a meal minus New Mexico 6-10 and the Big Jim (two popular varieties of green chiles) can be just as good if you appreciate a taste of Mexico proper. After all, a good, inexpensive meal can be any color, and the less green paper involved, the better.
The Alibi Recommends:
Horchata or jamaica drink
Rolled tacos with guacamole
Carnitas burrito or torta (they're huge)
Federico's Mexican Food, 1109 Juan Tabo NE, 271-6499; Hours: 24 hours, seven days a week. Price range: Inexpensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, to-go orders, drive thru.