John and Donna’s La Casita
Get it while it’s hot
When you enter La Casita in Bernalillo, you’re greeted with a pair of chile-shaped chalkboards announcing the relative strengths of the red and green that day. Last time I went, the red was “hot” and the green was “extra-hot.”
Based on two trips there, it seems the waiters have been instructed to call you “señor” if you’re a dude. This can be endearing or annoying, depending on your mood, but there is nothing patronizing about the chile at La Casita, as the salsa you’re served upon being seated makes clear. If they say something is hot at La Casita, señor, they mean it.
When I ordered a bowl of green chile stew, the waiter regarded me with suspicion. “A bowl?” he confirmed.
The chile was almost puréed, with little else in the bowl, and it nearly tore my head off. I softened the green with the other items on my table, one by one, including the carne adovada (which was average), beans (which tasted canned) and rice (which was unusual for its thick tomato sauce). Whatever I added to the bowl offered only minimal mitigation to the heat. I was left with sopaipillas and honey, which finally doused the flames.
The no-nonsense decor of La Casita is elemental. There are carved chairs and tables set on wood floors, interspersed with wrought iron fixtures and a few ceramic pots. A kiva fireplace and medium-height flagstone walls break up the interior spaces into intimate dining nooks.
If they say something is hot at La Casita, señor, they mean it.
To go along with La Casita’s standard assortment of New Mexican offerings, there’s a list of New Mexican wines that would require several meals to fully explore. I began my first visit with a Rio Rojo from Blue Teal Vineyards (outside Lordsburg). It was sweet but buttery and packed a boozy punch. I’m not exactly a lightweight, but a second glass would not have fared well for my drive home.
On another visit, I tried the Merlot from St. Clair Winery (based in Deming). In contrast to the Rio Rojo, it was drier and yielded more complex flavors.
Like the green chile, La Casita’s posole is also simple and straightforward. A side plate of oregano, limes and minced onions is available upon request. The posole hit the spot perfectly—though I would recommend Christmas instead of green, which I ordered. (In an attempt to Christmas it myself, I added the red chile from my tamale plate, and it worked out well.)
The tamales—green chile chicken and red chile pork—were both exceptional. The masa was sweet and, next to its bulging contents, thin.
Since I wasn’t slurring any words yet, I followed my Merlot with a Nebbiolo, also from St. Clair. It wasn’t the most complex wine in the cellar, but it was highly drinkable.
A chile relleno contained a big green chile that I was relieved to discover was mild. The guacamole was good, and like some of the other items on the menu, it’s available to go in bulk. In addition to satisfying large appetites, the family-size takeout is a bargain—a pint of to-go guacamole for $8.99 versus a side of guacamole, about one-eighth of a pint, for $2.99. You do the math.
All in all, La Casita is a New Mexico bull’s-eye, with clear strengths and no serious weaknesses. The service is quick and friendly, and if you’re looking for a hot bite—and I mean hot in more ways than one—La Casita hits the spot.
• Posole (Christmas)
• Tamale (red)
• Sampling the wine list
• Bulk takeout
John and Donna’s La Casita • 567 Camino Del Pueblo, Bernalillo • 867-3166
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:20 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Price range: $7.39 (small enchilada plate) to $11 (four-item combo)
Ambience: New Mexico to the core
Booze: Beer and New Mexico wine