Just what you’re craving in Bernalillo
Antojo is Spanish for “craving”—one sense of the word actually specifies the craving of a pregnant woman. Antojitos, the diminutive plural form, would literally mean “little cravings,” but it actually means snacks or tapas that we eat to satisfy our little cravings. It’s ironic, then, how large the portions are at Bernalillo’s Antojitos Lupe.
The restaurant is a satellite to Lupe’s Antojitos in the International District. But unlike the Southeast Heights version, which inhabits a colorful, funky old house, Lupe in Bernalillo is installed in the corner of a gas station convenience store on Camino del Pueblo.
You walk through the convenience store to get to the restaurant. Potato chips and candy are only barely visible from the dining room, glimpsed through carved wooden dowels in a curving red adobe wall. Behind the counter is a clear view into the clean, stainless-steel-clad open kitchen.
The central Mexican menu includes three types of molcajetes. From the word for mortar and pestle, the dish—a specialty of Mexico City—is an entire meal served in a stone mortar. The mortar that my molcajete Lupe arrived in was sizzling-hot: Thin, nicely charred beef slices, pounded chicken, pork al pastor, rubbery chunks of queso fresco and prickly pear pads bubbled together in juice collected in the mortar’s cavity. The cactus pads, cooked with onions and unusually non-slimy, were mildly pickled and majorly tasty. The molcajete came with a stack of some of the most delicious corn tortillas I’ve ever had, made to order. It was more than just a meal, it was an education.
The molcajete came with a stack of some of the most delicious corn tortillas I’ve ever had, made to order. It was more than just a meal, it was an education.
I was equally impressed with my lamb (borrego) barbacoa. The menu says it’s only available on Saturday and Sunday, but we had it on a Thursday. The large piece of lamb had been steamed for hours until it barely clung to the bone, then grilled to give the exterior a brown crisp. The drippings were cooked into a brothy consommé—with chick peas, rice, cilantro and chipotle—and served in a bowl alongside the lamb, which came on a plate with red rice and beans. The whole shebang was garnished with a few shavings of orange-colored cheese and a stack of those fresh homemade tortillas. A single bright-red chipotle floated in the consommé: Inside that pepper, it was sweet like a tomato; waves of smoky spice soon followed.
There are several soups (caldos) on the menu, including a chicken soup rivaling mom’s, with lots of spoon-tender chicken, carrots, calabacitas and cabbage in a broth that could bring the dead back to life. The fish soup was fragrant with many herbs in a rich broth.
More fitting to the antojitos genre, the tacos came on cute little soft corn tortillas. Fish cebiche arrived piled on tostadas and tossed with cucumber, lettuce, tomato and avocados, the bright white shreds of fish having steeped in lime juice, onions and cilantro. They didn’t satisfy my craving. I craved more.
Also of note was a fried, whole tilapia in garlic sauce. Sorting the juicy, crispy chunks of delicious fish flesh from its many bones was a worthy project; though when it became too tedious, I simply crunched down the well-fried bones. It came with fries and the usual rice and beans, and those tortillas that were good enough to eat plain. A pile of cut limes, chopped onions and cilantro appeared on the side with bowls of red and green salsa. The red was bright, hot and ornery. The green was sassy and tangy.
A gas station may seem like a surprising place to get top-notch Mexican food, but inside those red curving walls, it was like a neighborhood spot in Mexico City. Customers kept close to Spanish-language soap operas on the little TV. The matronly hostess wore a beautiful smile and circulated the dining room attentively. My cravings and I will be back for more.