Come On Home to Cecilia’s
Jubilation: tortillas again!
I should know. I’d go to the place for lunch or coffee nearly every day when I worked as an intern at the Albuquerque Journal as a teenager. In case you want to know, The Albuquerque Journal and Tribune and their associated press facilities were once located in a huge building a block away, on the northwest corner of Seventh Street and Silver. I was in the features section, writing stuff for the paper’s young readers. Though I can’t for the life of me recall the name of said eatery across from where I worked, I do, of course, remember the tortillas they served.
The the meals I took at Cecilia’s, the huevos rancheros and then the enchilada Ranchera, have more in common then their linguistic grounding in the hot and hearty grub that ranch hands across the state have traditionally enjoyed.
The small, plump and floury circles that accompanied my usual green chile stew were strictly unlike those served at home. Instead of functioning as a thin wrap that suggested bread, the tortillas at the restaurant of my journalistic youth were bready. At first that was shocking and back at home, I wasn’t sure whether I should tell my mother; she’d just be disappointed but then later curious about how such tortillas tasted: “Was the texture better than mine? Were they cooked enough?” she might ask.
Now my mother’s tortillas are merely a memory and the newspaper has moved on to an even bigger facility on the edge of the Heights. But the restaurant down the street—a different diner than I experienced so many years ago—is still a destination for workers in the area, for those set on experiencing Nuevo Mexicano cuisine as an authentic home-style, comfortably predictable part of their workaday or weekend experiences away from home.
Cecilia’s is open from 7am until at least 2pm seven days a week, so I went by for a early lunch and then most recently for a late breakfast.
A large printed depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe fills one of the windows now. Inside, a huge and probably ancient, glowing gas furnace—made from heavy steel painted brown and decorated with a crown—keeps things warm in the very small, but totally comfortable and never claustrophobic dining room. As I sat to eat on this solo outing, I noticed the joint was already decorated for Christmas, with bright lights, pine boughs and dangling ornaments adding to the cozy, home-like atmosphere.
The the meals I took at Cecilia’s, the huevos rancheros and then the enchilada Ranchera, have more in common then their linguistic grounding in the hot and hearty grub that ranch hands across the state have traditionally enjoyed. In both of these variations on common, filling and carb-laden dishes that working people depended on to get through the day, eaters will find tasty nuance and fortifying treasure borne upon the tortillas that serve as a center for both of these delightful dishes.
The huevos rancheros ($6.30-10.35) featured eggs that were as soft as velvet and fried so that while their edges were crispy, their centers were still plush, fragrant, seemingly farm-fresh and juicy. I let the egg yolk flow wantonly over the accompanying beans and potatoes so that I might savor every bit of it as I worked my way through a breakfast plate that was as satisfying as it was sublimely simple. The corn tortillas that are an intrinsic part of the huevos rancheros formula have to be substantial, but still somehow sumptuously invisible; here, they abounded in all of such qualities, supporting a heap of beans, potatoes and green chile that would have otherwise seemed overwhelming.
The Enchilada Ranchera ($6.30-10.35) was also accompanied by an egg and this time around I chose red chile to complement my midday feast. Of course the egg on top of it all was fantastic; the kind of consistency of quality in the cooking at Cecilia’s is one more reason to make this restaurant a regular chow stop. The red chile here is bright and bitter, with the kind of flavor that makes the eyes glow and the nostrils flare. But that’s a good thing and yet another reminder of a home where such sensory encounters are by definition de rigeur.
The flour tortillas that come with such platos de lonche are also subtly addictive; not too thick like their predecessors, these iterations of unleavened flat bread reminded me of my mother’s take on the tireless recipe. Tortillas should be thin and flavorful, a supportive device that helps bring the rest of a lunch or dinner platter to life. I made one whole basket of them disappear before I had gotten halfway through the saucy, delicious mess of enchiladas, beans and potatoes with which I had been presented. Luckily, I have a big appetite. And a good memory.
Back in the day, I recall that I finally told my mother the tortillas at the eatery on the corner of Sixth Street and Silver didn’t even rate compared to hers. But I’d have to add an addendum to that now, almost 40 years later, with Cecilia’s in place at that same storied location: “Mom, you’ve got competition,” I’d have to say.
Back then, I’d head back to the Journal and proceed to get a talking to by my editor about using the word “that” way too often in my youthful written explorations. This time around, I just went back to the office, wrote about some of the best eating I’d done in the month of November and no one said anything about my word choice. That’s cool because in either case I was full and happy, with thoughts of home filling mi corazon y mi panza tambien.
230 Sixth Street SW
Hours: Mon-Fri: 7am-2pm Sat-Sun: 7am-3pm