There is no indication as you’re driving northeast along Highway 68 to Taos that the Rio Grande River will reveal itself in the middle of one of Earth’s biggest geologic rifts. About halfway out of Espanola, the river at this time of year was lazy. Several rafters were making their way down river near Rio Grande Gorge State Park.
The Rio Grande River flows from Colorado to Texas for almost 2,000 miles. It defines the border between Texas and Mexico all along the southwestern edge of Texas until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Through all of New Mexico, running north-south, the river flows through the middle of a gigantic rift in the earth’s crust, the second largest outside of Africa’s Great Rift, the result of a splitting apart that began 30 million years ago. The rift extends from central Colorado to northern Mexico, part of unstable geological activity that produced the volcanoes and lava flows that are still evident today. Cities to the south, such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, sit on top of basins that were formed after the split. A spectacular view of this geological phenomenon can be appreciated from Rio Grande Gorge Bridge outside of Taos.
Rio Grande rift (from Apple Maps)
In 1976, an American anthropologist, Spencer MacCallum, sought out and found Juan Quezada, a potter in Mata Ortiz, a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, approximately 100 miles south of the U.S. border. Years earlier, he had been impressed with and purchased one of Quezada’s pieces at a general store and began a search for the artist. With MacCallum’s encouragement, Quezada produced more pottery with the guarantee that all his output would be purchased. As his fame grew, others in his immediate and extended family took up the craft, which is now considered a movement and a genuine folk art.
We ventured into Chimayo Trading del Norte in Ranchos de Taos, where we were immediately struck by Mata Ortiz pottery. The proprietor took the time to explain the distinguishing features of the pottery after we expressed interest and amazement. It is entirely handmade without the use of a potter’s wheel, using a coiling technique that is commonly used throughout the Southwest by native peoples. It is also shaped, polished and painted entirely by hand. The painting technique, often done with brushes made of children’s hair, involves exquisite geometrical and other shapes symmetrically drawn on vessels that are often tapered and rounded at the bottom, requiring ringed collars to support them. The constant experimentation by both male and female potters produces new forms of expression all the time.
We saw more examples of the pottery in Chimayo (affiliated with the gallery in Taos) and Albuquerque.
Doc Martin’s sits inside the Historic Taos Inn. It is a well regarded restaurant in Taos, having been in business for over twenty years. Two nights ago, we scarfed down margaritas and chips in Taos Inn’s bar area, Adobe Room. This morning, we decided to do brunch here, served only on the weekends, before heading out of town. We split the Kit Carson (☆☆☆½)—poached eggs over yam biscuits—and fruit plate. The eggs are a sort of meatless Southwestern version of eggs Benedict but for the substitutions of yam biscuits for English muffins and a cheesy sauce for Hollandaise. The biscuits were tender and good, the eggs perfectly poached. The red chile sauce served on the side added flavor and bite.
Green chile cheeseburger
One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to have a great example of New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger. Since we were in Taos, I had to try out 5 Star Burgers. USA Today rated it as the best in New Mexico. The review focused on the quality of the ingredients: freshly-ground, antibiotic- and hormone-free Black Angus beef and locally sourced produce, not to mention other environmentally friendly practices that would make any eco-warrior take notice. There are also locations in Albuquerque and Denver.
The Taos branch was just down the street from where we were staying, so off we went for lunch. We ordered the green chile cheeseburger and fried green beans. The visually impressive burger was adorned with Pepper Jack cheese and green chile mayo and served on a toasted brioche bun. While I admired the restaurant’s dedication to quality, as a burger (☆☆½) it fell short. The beef was too lean, suffering from an almost dry, crumbly texture. Burgers should be juicy, so it was a surprise that all the accolades heaped on this restaurant didn’t match our experience.
The fried green beans (☆☆☆½) were a hit though: crispy, seasoned batter and tender.
Fried green beans
5 Star Burgers
1032 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur
Taos, NM 87571
Also locations in Albuquerque and Denver
Like Doc Martin’s, the Adobe Room is part of the Taos Inn, a bar where you can also order snacks. Since we weren’t too hungry, we just decided on a basket of tortilla chips and margaritas. The salsa (☆☆☆) was pretty good, thick, tomatoey and spicy. The chips also came with a side of nice guacamolé. There were many margaritas from which to choose. We went all-out with the Grand Reserve (☆☆☆½) made with Cuervo Reserva Familia, Grand Marnier, agave nectar and lime juice—a bracing, potent and delicious cocktail, pricey enough to seem like we paid for dinner.
Grand Reserve margarita
Chips with salsa and guar
Michael’s Kitchen is a very popular restaurant with the locals. One big reason is that it serves all kinds of food besides New Mexican, a diner that appeals to many tastes. Today being Saturday, patrons (including families with children) were out in force. There was a wait for us to get seated.
It’s a testament to the omnipresence of Mexican food that enchiladas are thought of as rolled tortillas with fillings. Yet, here in New Mexico, enchiladas are instead stacked, called enchiladas montadas, typically made with fried corn tortillas laid flat, alternately layered with onions, shredded cheese and red or green sauce. Anxious to try one, we ordered chicken enchilada (☆☆½) for lunch. The chopped chicken pieces were somewhat dry, combined with shredded romaine lettuce, chopped tomatoes, red onion and cheese. Red and green chile sauces were ordered on the side. Theirs is likely not the best interpretation of the dish, but it satisfied our curiosity.
304 C N Pueblo Rd.
Taos, New Mexico 87571
Menus: Breakfast, lunch, dinner