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.
The menu told us the Martinez Family had owned the restaurant since 1927.
I was curious about the restaurant's name and asked our server. She said the original Comet Diner had burned down in the 1990's. That explained the "II". But, Comet still sounded pretty modern for 1927 and the Comet II felt and looked older than the 1990's.
Pie for Lunch?
Before ordering, I saw an order of pies come out of the kitchen to cool. I popped up to take a photo and that seemed to amuse the old couple sitting nearby. I told the woman we were from Houston, when she asked. She seemed concerned, since she'd heard there'd been a recent tornado... maybe she meant hurricane.
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..."
I was pretty excited when I saw a man with a white apron and flashy bolo-tie, making the rounds. He was welcoming all the locals and he sat down to chat with a few, at their tables.
He stopped to greet us and we raved about the food and complimented his bolo tie. "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 photo.
I 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.
Don paid up and I looked for more clues about the restaurant's history. If Mr. Martinez had not disappeared into the kitchen, I would have asked a lot more questions.
I noticed this little statue holding a sign as we headed out. "The Best Sheepherding Camp Cook to Ever Come Out of Pintada Canyon!"
What did that mean? I had spotted something in the menu about this. Had Johnny been a sheepherder's cook before he took over his parent's restaurant?
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!
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.