Lunch Stop in San Antonio, New Mexico
Don and I don't usually stop at bars during the day, especially when we're on the road.
But Don had read a little something about this place that had us both scratching our heads. The curious trivia had to do with what lead to their well-known Green Chile & Cheese Owl Burger. We knew we had to make a stop on our way to Albuquerque!
The flapping flag and serious looking owl, made me worry that we might be walking into a local men's club. The door just past the sign, looked like the kind you'd enter from the alley. But the story behind the Owl Cheeseburger just drew us in.
Just though the door we found a small waiting area that made up for the mysteriously blank exterior. Photographs and articles covered the plywood walls. A stuffed owl looked like he was ready to land on my head. A rack of bubble gum machines made me feel less intimidated.
Where to Sit?
The bar was a bit more crowded, (than photo) when we first entered. About 3 older women rushed back and forth behind the bar, serving more food than drink.
The booths looked pretty iconic and it was tempting to choose one for a cozy lunch. There were dollar bills and personal notes, tacked to the paneling inside each booth. I learned later that the business gathers them up periodically and donates to charity.
Bar With a History
The 25 foot mahogany bar was purchased shortly after the Owl Bar opened in 1945. Frank and Dee Chavez started the business in Dee's father's grocery store. They bought the 1880's Brunswick-Balk Bar from a famous San Antonio family.
It turns out that tiny town is the birthplace of Conrad Hilton... as in Hilton Hotels. The lovely bar that I failed to photograph well, was first in a rooming House/saloon, owned by C. Hilton's father. Frank and Dee bought the undamaged front bar, after a fire destroyed much of the rooming house. It took 2 days to carefully moved the bar 2 miles, to their roadhouse bar.
Owls Behind the Bar
Don and I sat on our stools staring at the crazy collection of owls behind the bar. I asked "Leo" our server if she had any favorite owls in the place. "Oh there are so many of them. I don't really have a favorite, but there are some real cute ones." I had many more questions, but the women were far too busy. I held my breath while one woman rushed behind me, carrying 6 plates of burgers.
The Owl Burger
Leo served us up a couple of famous burgers while we pondered their history. The cheeseburgers made with roasted Hatch green chiles go back to around 1945. In my distorted photos, one burger looks huge and the other tiny. Actually they were a perfect medium size with gigantic flavor.
"Prospectors" at the Bar
Our cheeseburgers were as spicy and fresh tasting as we'd read about. But the real fun was imagining the people who first ate these famous burgers.
In 1945 some special customers talked Frank Chavez into buying a grill and serving food. The so called "prospectors" were a group of temporary "regulars" who were working in the area. The men who yearned for food, weren't ranchers or cowboys, they were physicists, who were involved in activating the famous Trinity Site explosion. It was odd and eerie to imagine these men sitting at the bar, where we ate our burgers. How out of place they must have seemed at first. I wonder if the bar drinks ever caused a secret or two to slip.
My trip to the restroom was entertaining. I found a back dining room that had more booths and more owl decor. The little hallway to the restrooms, had a rather dramatic arched entrance... and more framed owl art. The Ladies Room extra quite bright, with colorful, owl murals. I was a bit thrown by the lack of privacy between toilets. I found that downright amusing!
I returned to my stool and studied a little more owl art before we headed off. I wish I could have talked to the older man beside me. Maybe he knew people who had stories about the nuclear bomb, that was detonated just 28 miles away in 1945.
"Here It Is"
As we headed to the car, I looked at the building and tried to imagine how this rambling building could have been a grocery store plus bar. If only Rowena Baca had been there. She inherited The Owl from her parents, Frank and Dee. She was a child back when the Owl Burger was born, so I imagine she has some stories.
It was a yummy and interesting road trip stop, for sure! We had lots to think about, as we got back on the road.
Dinner in Vegas!
I've seen a lot of vintage postcards showing Las Vegas, with neon signs, glittery casinos and glam pools. This is a postcard from the cute place where we ate dinner in Las Vegas, New Mexico! No neon or glam decor shown in these photos. But, the postcard looks vintage and the restaurant itself looked pretty vintage, when we visited in 2017.
In 2017, Don and I stayed at The Plaza Hotel. No, we weren't at the ritzy Plaza in NYC... we were in Las Vegas. We weren't in the gambling Vegas, we were in New Mexico! The Nevada and New York locations would have been very entertaining, but this overnight was all about easy. We walked out of our sweet historic hotel and strolled across the plaza to dinner.
The Garcia Family has been running El Rialto since 1975. They've had some time to accumulate some curious things for their windows. I have no idea about the age of the building, but once inside, the high, pressed tin ceilings, hinted at old.
Busy on July 3
It was the day before the holiday, so there was a weekend energy to the restaurant. Most of the tables were taken up with large groups of locals, many with children.
Big Outfits Big Meals
Don and I obviously dressed for dinner. I don't think our shirts or jewelry fooled anyone into thinking we were locals. However, our server said she loved my squash blossom necklace. She said her grandmother had lots of turquoise and she hoped to get turquoise, one day. Don's bolo tie got noticed on our walk to dinner. A very polite panhandler asked for a quarter. Don gave him a dollar and then received a thank you, along with positive words! "Nice bolo tie!" We hoped there was no sarcasm in his voice.
Eating and Watching
Each of our piping hot meals was served on 2 thick plates. I ate my taco, tamale and relleno while keeping an eye on the busy kitchen. It was quite entertaining.
Don had chicken enchiladas and filled me in on the happenings in both rooms. He had a good view of many woven rugs, displayed on the wall. One had a large "R" in the center. Was that for el Rialto?
I studied a framed photo before we left. I don't know if we met any of the Garcia family that night. It was too busy to bother anyone with questions. If we'd had some chatting time, I would have asked how the restaurant got its name. Rialto makes me think of the bridge in Venice.
There were some curious lamp creations for sale and a t-shirt or two. We could have completed our meal with a purchase. But we headed off, with full stomachs and empty hands.
We headed across the plaza to our hotel. It was fun to imagine the little city, once a booming railroad town in the early 19th century. After WWII, the town grew quiet. We may have missed out on the excitement of a bigger city, but we made it back to the hotel, just in time for karaoke!
Lunch on the Butterfield Trail!
A year ago, Don and I passed through the sleepy town of Mesilla, in New Mexico. We had heard about the restaurant, La Posta. I was eager to eat a little Mexican food, in a 160+ year old building. The stucco structure also happens to be part of the only station that remains standing, on the old Butterfield Stagecoach Line.
The compound was first constructed in the 1840's. Ten years later, Sam and Roy Bean (yes, the judge) operated a freight and passenger service line from the compound. After the Civil War, La Posta became an important stop on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. By the late 1800's, Mesilla was a lively wild west town and The Corn Exchange Hotel opened up within the compound.
Stucco, Tile & Brick
Trees and Cages
There was a lot of wildlife happening in the main entrance of La Posta. There seemed to be trees growing up towards the ceiling... and cages...
... the cages were filled with parrots and tanks held fish, including 1 Red Pirranha. A bold sign warned us to keep hands out!
Paper Flowers and a Corner Kiva
Window and Giant Mask
One wall, felt like stage set. The giant mask made me of think Greek Theatre. The window with shutters and flowers made me expect to hear opera, from a singer on the balcony. I would love to know the story about this curious/whimsical decor.
There were 2 cantinas at La Posta. I peeked in and felt tempted. But I don't usually drink a Margarita before noon.
Beams and Color
My eyes tried to take it all in. The wall colors, the log ceiling beams, the flowers and rustic shutters.
We didn't end up in a cozy corner room or a 2-story space with skylights. Our room was in the center where I could see all around and watch the guests coming and going.
Chimichanga for Me
Don enjoyed his Sour Cream Enchilada Plate with chicken. He had no complaints.
Time to Wash Up
After chowing down, I needed a good handwashing... which means a trip to the Ladies Room. I could see a lamp's glow welcoming me, as I passed the fountain.
No one appreciates a kitschy Ladies Room as much as I do! The door decoration was beyond lovely. I stepped inside and found a sitting area, worthy of the title Powder Room. The walls were the color of bubble gum and the cushioned chairs had heart-shaped backs. I so wished I'd come with a lady friend, so we could powder our noses, then sit a spell and do a little gossiping.
I'm not making fun of this bathroom. I would be truly heartbroken if I returned and they had remodeled. The stall doors looked like a decorated cake! The sink area had some tricky hidden lighting. The tile had some fancy trim that couldn't be missed! Love, love, love it!
Old Mesilla Plaza
Besides dining rooms, cantinas and outdoor patio, La Posta also had a number of shops. They actually sold some lovely things, but Don and I decided to do our post dining meandering elsewhere. We wandered over to Old Mesilla Plaza.
We spotted our party of Sisters on the steps of San Albino Catholic Church. They took turns taking cell phone photos of each other and I regretted that I didn't think to run over and offer to take a photo of the group. That would have tied up our road trip dining adventure, very nicely!
Lunch Stop on Route 66
Don and I made a u-turn when we spotted this red carport, with neon accents. It at least looked the part, for our road trip lunch stop, on Route 66.
New or Old?
It was hard to tell the age of the building. It didn't look as worn as some of the motels and gas stations on the Route, in Santa Rosa. The brown stucco was smooth and the the retro, painted mural wasn't peeling. But the spirit of the place, felt old.
Best Mexican Food in Town
Then I spotted this odd little building in back. I loved the rough stone and painted cinderblock, the weathered door and the accent of live cactus! Could this have been the original building?
Feels Like a Diner
We headed in and were invited to sit anywhere. We chose a booth near the counter, where I sat facing a large framed photo of a cowgirl.
Main Dining Area
Don's seat faced out towards the main dining room. There was a good crowd of locals seated in the blue vinyl chairs when we first arrived. By the time I snapped this photo, most of the men in cowboy and trucker hats, had already departed.
Pie for Lunch?
I asked where they were from and the woman waved towards the window. "Oh, I'm from the apartments." Then she gestured towards the elderly man. "He lives in the motel." I asked what was good on the menu and was told I needed to order the Baby Back Ribs. "They are the best!"
Northern New Mexico Cuisine
We didn't order ribs and Don was craving a burger, but I went for the Mexican Special of the day. What a mix of flavors! I was told the restaurant made 5 different homemade chiles a day!
I loved reading the menu description of all the people who have influenced the local cuisine... "Native American, Mexican, Spanish immigrants, sheep herders, trappers, Jewish merchants, Eastern carpet baggers..."
"Oh, this was my grandfather's badge!" He seemed delighted we had noticed. He said it was from 1916, when his grandfather was a New Mexico Ranger. I wish we could have heard more stories!
When we checked out at the front desk, I studied some old photos and wondered more about this man who must have taken over the business from his parents.
I recognized Johnny, with his dark hair and mustache in this photo.
I looked Johnny up on the internet and learned little. One write up said restaurant owner was part Native American and part Mexican... nothing about sheepherder cook. I had missed my chance to ask Johnny my own questions.
We headed out of town on Route 66, thinking about our yummy-curious lunch. I spotted the Sun 'n Sand Motel and decided we might just have to return to Santa Rosa some day. A night at this fine Route 66 motel would give us an addition to the Notable Night List... and we could have another meal at Comet II!
Route 66 Breakfast... A Year Ago
On a cold February morning, we had breakfast at a 72-year-old restaurant. Well, actually it was 71-years-old... when we ate at Earl's, a year ago.
Warming Up & Waking Up
Don and I stopped at Earl's, while on a road trip last February. It was 14 degrees that morning, when we pulled into the parking lot off Historic Route 66.
We were given a booth in the back corner and a carafe of hot coffee for our table. In moments we were warm and awake and ready to read up on a little history. I love a paper placemat with local history.
Family Owned Since 1947
We read up on the "Land of Enchantment" and studied the menu. The Fried Egg & Bologna Sandwich was tempting...
The Smith Family has owned Earl's since 1972. The original owner must have been a decent guy, since they kept his name all these years. The Smiths must also be pretty decent, since they have worked closely with the Native American community. Local artisans are invited to sell their Native American jewelry and art at the restaurant.
Earl's opened as a hamburger place, about 20 years before this postcard was sold. Back in 1927 there were only 4 stools and 2 booths. The restaurant was larger, by the time Earl's was selling pancakes and Mexican food, along with burgers.
I'm guessing this image is from around 1967. That was when Sharon Smith started as a waitress at Earl's. She eventually worked her way up and bought the restaurant, on a handshake. She and her two sons still run the restaurant, today.
Back in the Corner
I was glad for our corner booth in the back, where I could take in the whole place. Over the years the space has grown and today there is seating for 382 customers. Most of them were locals, on the morning when we dined.
Don was pretty pleased with his Spinach and Monterey Jack Omelet. I didn't go for the bologna, but I did have Earl's Famous Biscuits & Gravy, with my scrambled eggs.
On the way to checking out, I walked by the dining counter. A large window gave a peek at the fast order cooks.
Near the Counter
Before we stepped out, I paused to look at a few earring displays. I was more than happy to buy 2 pairs for $5. each.
Selling in the Cold
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.