A Visit to the Valley
Kathy’s Carry Out on Isleta reps Burque
He understood the gravity of my situation and so we settled on finding an eatery on Isleta Boulevard, in the heart of the South Valley. Although classic joints like Chicharroneria Orozco and Allsup’s (hey they still serve a fearsome and gorgeous green chile and cheese chimichanga that the patriots of Aztlán might have died for) came and went out of our purview—the former is now closed, sadly—we settled on Kathy’s Carry Out and made a beeline for that location.
Back in the day, Kathy’s was housed in a tiny drive-up painted in the manner of the southlands—that is, in bright, contrasting, thick coats of latex paint—and served every manner of quickly made Nuevo Mexicano delicacy. When I did student teaching at Ernie Pyle Middle School then got a gig at Rio Grande High School guiding the site’s formidable collection of misfits, Kathy’s was a quick way to make lunch seem to last forever.
The rico flavor, the doughy texture of Kathy’s homemade tortillas—grilled and then filled with freshly made refritos laced with just enough locally grown green chile to cause hysteric, mouth-borne eruptions of joy—made my daily trip down to el valle a time for happy reflection about what I had at home in New Mexico.
In the aughts, Kathy’s moved to a new building two doors down and just a little closer to the turn on Isleta that veteranos call “Dead Man’s Curve.” The new restaurant is where we landed on Thursday afternoon, on the way to meet Jeff Hartzer of the aforementioned Duke City dance company.
Though the drive-up business seemed a bit backed up, inside there was only one other eater. He was a fellow I happened to know from UNM. El viejo had grown up in Silver City where he had worked as a projectionist when they still used two projectors and carbon rods to make light.
After he came to El Duque, he ended up at CNM, administering this program and that. Now he was retired and waiting for a burrito at his favorite local hangout, which was as clean and sparse as usual, with the strains of authentic Mexican radio blowing steam passionately in the kitchen behind the service area.
We exchanged pleasantries. He grabbed a paper sack full of goodness from the cashier and disappeared back into the bosque’s edge. I looked squarely at the stout woman taking orders and asked for a red enchilada plate ($6.99) with onions and a tortilla on the side ($1.25) Daddy Gee ordered the inimitable Kathy Burger ($7.95), which is like a green chile cheese burger with bacon, but grander—it includes two huge patties of Angus beef held together with a chile relleno, if you’d like, for Crissakes!
After what seemed an interminable wait—the emphasis in the kitchen is still very much in drive-up orders and it really wasn’t that bad considering the radio played La Adictiva Banda San José de Mesillas whilst we waited—our food was ready.
The enchiladas were served in the style typical to central New Mexico, filled with sharp cheddar cheese, rolled—after being lightly fried in lard—and then slathered in a red chile that might have extraterrestrial origins; how else one accounts for its bitter beauty, nearly luminescent color and sustained fire upon the tongue must have mysterious origins, I began to believe after sampling the sauce thoroughly.
The side dishes served with this plato were competent accompaniments. The beans were just as I remembered, creamy yet decidedly not liquid, smoky and fresh with just a hint of bacon and cumin. The rice, dry like a fried rice and lightly seasoned with cilantro, garlic and onion was also served in the classic Burque style, sans tomato flavoring, a Southern variation of the dish that I still find gustatorily garish.
Daddy Gee reported that his burger was the utmost, it was keen and ginchy at the same time, yielding a cooked meat flavor he considers sublime. The fact that such is supplemented with the sharp deliciousness and hot, vegetable urgency of a chile relleno mixed into this traditional lunch favorite is fine and flavorful. Fresh green chile adds to any meal but seems to be a really potent ingredient in the foods Americans treasure most, from pizza to pasta, burgers included. Making the chile into a relleno is yet another delicious variation on that practice.
Gee got a sopaipilla with his order. He didn’t want it. I have to report that the flatbread was nearly perfect; it wasn’t greasy or sweet, but rather crispy and almost flaky. Say it with me, kids: just like mom used to make.
As we were done and began to make ready for the rest of our journey along a road that used to be El Camino Real—for realz homies, I wish I had told you about this sooner, it’s like historic out here in the South Valley!—a young woman pulled up next to our troca. She looked at me, smiled brightly and said, “I’ve been, like, waiting all day to come to Kathy’s and get a burrito but mijo’s been sick. I finally got my mom to take him; you gotta have Kathy’s burritos if you’re a mom in Burque, que no?
I smiled and nodded; Daddy Gee did too, slowly driving away while the lady who wanted a burrito ran for the door. I’m pretty sure I knew her from somewhere.
823 Isleta Blvd. SW
Hours: Mon-Fri: 8am-midnight
Alibi recommends: The Kathy Burger
Vibe: Puro Burque