Casa de Benavidez
A taste of “old" Placitas in the North Valley
I first learned about Casa de Benavidez from an old hippie in Placitas. His eyes glazed dreamily as he described a North Valley restaurant that serves “Placitas-style” New Mexican food. Rita Benavidez, the owner, grew up near the old hippie’s commune. When I asked him if he’d join me for dinner, he said, “Just give me enough advance notice. I’ll need to shave.”
Arriving at the restaurant, we passed through a grand entryway decked out with a fountain and old photographs—
Casa de Benavidez is surprisingly large on the inside, with many dining rooms. In the back of the restaurant, facing the parking lot, is a takeout counter with a pared-down menu. On that beautiful evening, the old hippie and I sat on the deck, which offers as magnificent an ambience for dining as you could find. As I walked onto the patio I got slammed by the smell of roses. We crossed a bridge over some ponds with water lilies and goldfish and settled into a table by an eight-foot fence of ivy, surrounded by trees, plants, flowers and the sound of running water.
The chips had extra body, as if made from a coarser grind of corn. The salsa was masterful, hot and smoky, but a Margarita was disappointingly weak—especially for $6.25. The gin and tonics, at $4.50, were stronger. It was the iced tea, however, that went perfectly with the garden patio. The server just left a pitcher on the table and kept refilling it.
The menu is expansive, yet it rarely strays from its deep New Mexican roots. One exception, the pork ribs, was nonetheless right at home. It had thick red chile sauce and went great with a side of green chile and beans, which were baked to an al dente pasta-like consistency—neither soft nor hard—with a smoky favor.
For the old hippie, looking at the menu was a formality because he knew it would be a chicken chimichanga before he even sat down. Generously, he let me try a bite. It had a thin, tasty crisp. The chicken inside had texture.
Crunchy and meaty and fatty and fully drool-inducing. I dressed them in red and green and happily sent them home.
The batter on my chicken chile relleno yielded a faintly sweet bite of toasted marshmallow, and it was filled with more of that refreshingly textured chicken.
An order of á la carte chicharones, which isn’t on the menu but the server was happy to bring, was the real deal: crunchy and meaty and fatty and fully drool-inducing. I dressed them in red and green and happily sent them home.
The enchiladas were a little basic for my taste—just tortilla-wrapped meat—though the carne adovada was better than the chicken in this instance. A tamale was big, with a thin layer of sweet masa and filled with a generous portion of carnitas, tastily shredded and red-ed.
The sopaipillas—risen with yeast, according to the old hippie—were sweet, like a donut or fry bread. Yet somehow we saved room for dessert. I suggest you do, too. Flan was cinnamony and good, but the natillas was even better: Served cold, the creamy pudding was extra thick, with a luscious, unstoppable mouthfeel.
Sipping ice tea and nursing our food comas as the sun went down, we lingered on the deck, protected from the outside world by the ivy-covered walls.
On the way out, we chatted with Rita’s sister Margie Trujillo. She and the old hippie reminisced about Placitas, before it was a bedroom community.
"I called it Little Alaska," she said. " ’Cause in the wintertime when I was smaller, my gosh, we couldn’t even get out of the house they had such bad snowstorms.”
And no story of old Placitas would be complete without mention of her grandmother Aurelia, the family matriarch.
“She was amazing,” Margie said. “When she died, all her plants and fruit trees and animals died, too.”
But her cooking lives on in Casa de Benavidez.