Welcome to part 2 of the food tour of Southwestern New Mexico.
Last time I recounted our harrowing road trip through the Gila Forest on a thimbleful of gas.
We made it, clawed our way over the finish line. Which, I imagine is how Silver City’s bike race contestants felt the day before.
Silver City hosts The Tour of the Gila bike race every year – where the world’s toughest athletes come to compete before they head to their next big event: the Tour de France.
Having made it through the forest with a conventional gas tank, I can hardly imagine the muscle and fortitude that it takes to climb those mountains on human energy alone. Riders are a different breed and we were lucky to see a few trucks packing up their bike gear on the day that we arrived. If you’re planning a trip to Silver City, make sure to put the race on your agenda.
Silver City is a town with its roots firmly planted in the 1960s. Many people who came to Silver City were looking to get off the grid but still have some culture at arm’s length. There are museums, cafes, boutiques carrying New Mexico’s famous silver and turquoise, and most surprising for a town of this size – consistently great food.
Our first meal of our visit was at local hangout Diane’s. Strung with lights and framed with cheery vintage curtains, Diane’s is as comfortable as a worn leather couch. We arrived after 1PM, greeted by an all-day breakfast menu full of bacon, eggs and Hatch chiles.
“Where are you folks coming from?” our waiter Kevin asked.
With a half ton of photography gear in tow, it was clear that we weren’t locals.
We answered Santa Fe and then asked where exactly we were in New Mexico. More explicitly, in which direction had we just traveled?
That’s like driving from New York City to northern Maine, hauling your road-weary bodies over to the local luncheonette, ordering a Bloody Mary and then asking whether you’d just driven north or south.
Looking puzzled, Kevin’s answer was matter-of-fact. “You’re about as far south in New Mexico as you can get.” Translation: hike a few hundred feet up the local Pinos Altos Mountains and you can see Mexico with the naked eye.
Not to excuse our behavior, but a GPS will do that to you. Plug in your coordinates, and off you go.
Kevin recommended the Hatch eggs benedict, placed the order, and came back to chat with his directionally-challenged clients.
He’d come to Southwestern New Mexico to play college football.
“So this is a college town?”
A food town in the making is more like it. The Hatch eggs benedict is a local favorite and it’s easy to see why; chile cheddar toast is topped with more cheddar, ham, Hatch green chiles and poached eggs. The dish is then smothered in hollandaise and salsa. One of the most memorable dishes from the whole trip, and there was a lot of good food that came our way.
After inhaling our lunch, we headed back to the hotel, dropped off the photography gear, and went out to explore the town. While Silver City’s downtown area isn’t expansive, it’s a joy to explore – full of color and charm.
And walking was just the trick to build up an appetite for dinner at 1zero6.
Several years ago, chef Jake Politte opened a restaurant in Silver City called Spaghetti Western after honing his skills in restaurants all over California.
But after a rigorous schedule that kept him on his feet cooking most nights of the week, he closed Spaghetti Western and re-opened it with an East Asian theme under the name 1zero6.
Like Silver City itself, the restaurant was colorful and full of personality. Open three nights a week, Friday – Sunday, chef Jake keeps his food current with a menu that changes daily.
And the food, like our meal at Diane’s, was memorable. The restaurant backyard is filled with pots of herbs that he uses with a heavy hand, the result being dishes so flavorful – and so authentically Asian – that it’s easy to forget that you’re a stone’s throw from the Mexican border.
Next up was a stop at Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery for a few pints of Marble Brewery IPA. Our walk to the brewery should have been an indication that we’d already had enough to drink. But like good food tourists, we persevered past the sake haze from 1zero6 and landed at the bar, laughter-filled tears streaming down our cheeks.
After the kind of fitful night of sleep that comes with too many pints, we woke up early on Sunday, ready for our visit to Bear Mountain Lodge.
Bear Mountain Lodge is a few minutes drive from the center of Silver City, an oasis surrounded by mountains and good hiking trails.
We stopped into the breakfast room where we were seated, in Silver City fashion, surrounded by color.
I asked for something light before the morning hike and was swiftly presented with yogurt, fruit, and homemade granola; French toast with pistachios, ginger and pears; bacon and eggs. All of it delicious, my hike would have to suffer.
After breakfast, I met with John, one of the owners of Bear Mountain Lodge. Together, with his dogs George and Liza Jane at our heels, we set off on a hike around the property.
Like many of the people we’d met on our trip through New Mexico, John had a multi-faceted career: marine biologist, art rep, owner/operator at Bear Mountain Lodge.
John talked about the history of the lodge – first as a house for troubled boys, then a country club. He pointed out stretches of lawn and a few crumbing structures: “The swimming pool was over there; those were the tennis courts.”
He talked about his former job as a biologist researching infectious disease in salmon.
“So do you eat farmed salmon?” I asked.
He pointed to a large, vividly painted bench made of a paper machê-like material.
“For sitting and watching the clouds go by.”
Which is what I could have done all day. This property – so simple and rustic and beautiful. It’s no wonder that my Mum has been discussing a return trip; I’d go back any day as well.
Our last stop on our journey through Silver City was at local restaurant Tre Rosat Café. Like neighboring restaurant Diane’s, Tre Rosat was a cozy spot with big picture windows and welcoming food.
We ate lunch with our host for the day, George Dworin, who oversees Tourism for Silver City.
George is an interesting character: yurt-dweller, marketing professional, mixed media artist, archivist of all things Silver City. He walked us through the town’s history, its culture, and its challenges. Droughts, floods and reconstruction. But there’s no doubt that the city has kept so much from its past.
The food at Tre Rosat was right up my alley: fresh and locally-inspired.
“Everything you’re eating here came from local farms” chef Sean Byrd said as he pointed to a bright tomato salad. Though supply is sometimes limited (in comparison to other parts of the US), it forces him to be creative. “Easy access isn’t always a good thing.”
We walked through town once more after lunch. A final goodbye to this place filled with color, texture and personality.
As we walked we felt raindrops, and I hoped that it wouldn’t turn to heavy rain. But quickly realized that we were in the desert – and in the midst of a multi-year drought. It was luck; people in New Mexico are happy to see rain. And in that moment, I was too.
Next up, our third and final chapter: a road trip to Truth or Consequences.
Have a great week everyone…