Truckin’ to the Table
Loyola’s is cool and comforting
Anyway, that’s what my friend Joseph tells me as I pilot the Bimmer down Zuni, towards San Mateo. We are going to have lunch at Loyola’s Family Restaurant, a place he’s been frequenting since the ‘90s. Long before the joint was made visible to the world at large thanks to popular teevee shows depicting it as a meeting place, as a staging area for fictional Burqueños—both those breaking bad and their associates who deal with the consequences of their fateful decisions—Joseph’s been coming to Loyola’s to meet up with friends and family, get neighborly service and of course, to eat.
“Turn down this street,” says Joseph, who is fiddling with the car stereo trying to make it produce sounds that are complimentary to hunger and suggest a filling outcome. I tell him that any kind of rock and roll music sounds good when one is hungry.
As I point the car toward the edge of Nob Hill, “Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead bursts out of the speakers, all candy-coated and rumbling like the clouds overhead, like the bellies we are going to feed. Joseph tells about the time in Santa Fe when we got lost for three days trying to find a way back from the tour. We somehow ended up near Placitas with nothing good to eat and an empty gas tank besides.
“Thank Hashem for hippies and the kindness of native New Mexicans,” he says as I park the car in an over-full lot next to Loyola’s. Inside the joint is bright and busy; nearly every table and all the counters are filled up with eaters who are reading, talking, visiting amidst a Southwest-themed dining room. There are big ceramic lamps hanging from the ceiling and an old-fashioned glass display case loaded with fruit pies up front.
An attendant who comes to greet us at the door knows Joseph by name. She asks after his father too, wondering when the old man might stop by again.
Somehow, it is my first time here. As we are seated, I admit to my friend how I am astonished and amused my father never brought me here but that his did. We blame it on the complexity of the synchronicity of lives bound up in the ritual of New Mexican dining and begin perusing our menus.
Loyola’s features a selection of traditional New Mexican food, its variations and a wide variety of comfort-inducing diner fare, like chicken fried steak, liver and onions, and tasty cheeseburgers, all hot off the grill. From the pleased looks of patrons indulging in any of that, I get the feeling any item here will satisfy, but order the Super Enchilada Plate out of habit.
Joseph asks for Sarah’s Special, which is a scrambled-egg burrito, covered in chile and accompanied by home fries and whole beans. It’s a breakfast that reminds him of Sundays when Loyola’s was open early and he’d drive over to the restaurant from the student ghetto with his husband Manuel.
They’d order the same items every time, luxuriating in the slow and friendly atmosphere before continuing a journey that included finding the perfect local bookstore hidden somewhere in the cool confines of a neighborhood that practically and successfully stretched from Girard to San Mateo.
Lunch arrives. Our conversation recedes into the background, ready to be instantly reactivated at another place and time, as has been the case since we were in high school at the golden city.
The enchiladas are soft and pliant, coated in a red chile sauce that is surprisingly light and tangy. Neither the corn tortillas nor the hearty ration of sopaipillas suffer from the effects of oil; they have been fried up using a method that focuses on flavor while denying the greasy nature of the process.
Also, the refritos are silky yet have a pleasing and solid texture to them. The rice, often an overlooked and undercooked aspect of Nuevo Mexicano cuisine passed muster with subtle, spicy overtones—contributing to its success with my tongue. Best of all, the chefs at Loyola’s take it easy on the cheese. “The cook clearly knows best,” I manage between bites, before asking about Joseph’s indulgence.
“Here is a meal fit for royalty,” he intones with a smile, invoking the humble grandeur of a plate heaped up with fresh beans and potatoes, eggs cooked until their character is tantalizingly crispy; all smothered with green chile hot enough to make one sing such praises in a high register. Our waitress reminds us of a remedy for that wholesome heat: Natillas, a rich traditional custard of the most milky and eggalicious variety, is always available for dessert.
When we are done, when all the food in front of us has disappeared through a grateful process, we remain—for a moment—lost in the resulting reverie. My friend is busy remembering kind portions of his life as the door to Loyola’s opens and closes. I’m thinking about the next time I might have an hour to spirit myself away from things and get back here. In either case, we will be here again.
4500 Central SE
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 6am-2pm
Vibe: A Toda Madre
Alibi Recommends: Sarah’s Special