Southwest Diner – A Taste of New Mexico

Living in New Mexico for almost 10 years will change your palate.  Now that I am back in Missouri, I have green chiles shipped each fall to roast and store for the year.  Needless to say I was excited to see a restaurant open here serving New Mexican cuisine.

The key thing to know about New Mexican food is the answer to the question: “red or green?”  This is in reference to chile peppers and how you want them prepared.  I am a die-hard green chile fan.  However, for my first trip to the Southwest Diner, I opted for a Christmas (red and green) sausage breakfast burrito served enchilada style (smothered).

Sausage breakfast burrito served Christmas style.

The green was the closest thing I’ve had to a typical New Mexican green chile sauce since I left.  My only wish was that it was hotter.  The red was slightly hotter but still doesn’t pack the flavor or the texture of the green.  My preferences to green is based on a few things:

  • Better vehicle for the onion / garlic.  For those that have read other reviews, I talk a lot about garlic
  • Texture – the red can be a little more gritty.  I prefer the green since it has pieces of the meat of the chili pepper
  • The green is unique to the region and really unlike anything from elsewhere.
The ingredients in the breakfast burrito are pretty simple.  Besides the sauce and tortilla, you have eggs, potatoes, and meat of your choice.  The eggs were scrambled and were fluffy.  The potatoes were well seasoned.  I was surprised there were not more of them.    Most breakfast burritos in New Mexico are 1/3 to 1/2 potatoes (likely due to cost).  This had a lot of sausage patties chopped in it.
I also had a side of their cornmeal pancakes.

Small stack of cornmeal pancakes.

I was surprised how much I liked these.  At first bite you taste pancake, butter, and syrup.  You then notice that the texture is like cornbread and so is the finish / aftertaste.  I liked the sweetness to compliment the spice of the red sauce on the burrito.  I appreciated these pancakes more with each bite.  Before I knew it they were gone.

For those that have not had New Mexican cuisine before, I recommend trying Southwest Diner.  The breakfast burrito is the closest thing I have had to a real New Mexico one. If you are planning a trip to New Mexico, this is a great way to introduce yourself to the cuisine.  You can learn how to answer “red or green” and try chile at a St. Louis-hot level.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  Nice local diner with a very friendly staff.  I suggest going early or off hours.  When I left there was a wait.  It is decorated with several things that reminded me of my days in Albuquerque.

Southwest Diner on Urbanspoon

MEDIAnoche – Half & Half at Twilight

Last Saturday, my wife and I dined at MEDIAnoche. For those that have been to Half & Half, it’s the same location but a completely different style. Half & Half focuses on breakfast and brunch while MEDIAnoche is Mexican. This won’t be your typical Mexican restaurant, but you will find familiar dishes and ingredients used in a new and unique way. Since I have been a fan of Half & Half for several months now, MEDIAnoche has been on my list of places to try.

I love when restaurants offer a prix fixe menu because I usually have a list longer than what one human should consume in one sitting. Their version, called Probando, ensured that I would try an appetizer, a taco, and an entrée. Having my wife there, meant we could double what I would sample 🙂

My appetizer was the biscuit con Puerco. It was a biscuit made using pork fat with BBQ smoked pork belly inside and topped with Brussel sprout slaw. It was served with a side of mango Habanero jam. For those that read my post about Atlanta’s Six Feet Under, you are probably surprised I went for Habanero’s again so soon. I sampled the sauce first to determine how much to use for the biscuit. It started off with the refreshing taste of mangos and then had a nice after-burn from the Habanero. The texture of the biscuit was more soft than your typical flakey variety. The pork belly was a little tougher than what I typically like but still had that extreme pork flavor. I was surprised at how well I liked the Brussel sprout slaw; it provided a nice crunch. Overall this dish was unique but not something I would probably order again. The highlight was the mango Habanero sauce which has endless possibilities for use.

Watch out for the kick of the sauce!

My wife’s appetizer was the atun fresco. It was seared tuna with corn, oyster mushrooms, and jalapeno. It was a typical seared tuna that was cooked perfectly. The slight taste from the corn and jalapeno do give it more of a Mexican flair than you get at most restaurants. A solid appetizer for those that like seared tuna but not too out of the ordinary.

For the 2nd course, I had the de panza de Puerco (pork belly taco). My family has started to wonder about my obsession of pork belly. If there is an option for pork belly I will try it. As you can see it was a part of the 1st two courses! I love that they served the taco in a paper tray. It reminds me of real Mexican style street food tacos. You can tell that the toppings were fresh and that is a key to a good street food taco. If they only had cow’s tongue as an option….

My wife’s 2nd course was the avocado taco. I was hoping she would try the beef cheek or lamb. As all married guys know, there is give and take in a relationship. This was a time to let it slide. I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor. It was as if you took a good guacamole and served it in the taco. It has a peppery kick. In both cases, I really enjoyed the tacos.

For my entrée, I had the pato agridulce. This was seared duck breast with sweet and spicy confit and corn tortilla puree. The duck was tender and had a good flavor. The tortilla contained the sweet and spicy confit. Luckily the server provided the instructions to break that tortilla to mix in those ingredients. My favorite part of the dish was the corn tortilla puree. It always excites me to try familiar flavors in a different way. In this case, it was the mouth feel of eating something that tasted like a tortilla but had the consistency of mashed potatoes. It makes me want to puree things at home to experiment.

Fun presentation. Don’t ignore the corn tortilla puree.

My wife had the special lamb dish for the night. It was three different cuts of Jones Heritage farm lamb. It featured braised belly, shoulder, and leg. It was served over balsamic vinegar and had large fresh blackberries. The presentation was the best so far. She was nice enough to share a taste of the three types. The braised belly was my favorite. It may be too much for some if you aren’t used to that fatty of a cut of meat.

MEDIAnoche provided a unique spin on Mexican cooking. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly. They provided great suggestions for drinks and description of the food as it was served. I do recommend the prix fixe menu for sampling their diverse menu. I prefer the morning version of the restaurant, but this is a solid choice for dinner if you want something different.