I’ve been doing some business out in Las Cruces, New Mexico recently. This was my first time to visit this part of the United States, and I have to say I’m glad I discovered this part of the world. I had always thought of Southern New Mexico as a desert, and the White Sands National Monument is an impressive desert for sure, but I was quite surprised to discover that there is a robust agricultural economy in this part of the world that produces world class pecans and legendary chile. I had no idea. The agricultural output is reflected in the local cuisine. My hosts have gone to great length to make sure I got the full-monty experience of this unique Southwestern cuisine using fresh ingredients like Hatch chile (The New Mexico legislature has made sure it can only be called “Hatch Chile” if its grown in Hatch, New Mexico).
There are plenty of places you can sample this cuisine. I have to say that my vote for the most authentic combination of cooking and ambience goes to Chope’s which has been located in the Las Cruces suburb of La Mesa since the late 1940’s and is still run by the same family. When I walked into this place, I really thought I had stepped into a page of National Geographic. The chili rellenos were the best I’ve ever had. I’d drive 100 miles out of the way to have lunch here and I said as much in my Trip Advisor post.
Pecans are an even bigger part of the local economy than chili. There is something about the local soil in the area that gives these pecans a unique flavor, so the samples I brought back to the crew in Little Rock lasted about one day. While I think it’s hard to improve on raw pecans, there are lots of interesting things that can be done using pecans as a
key ingredient. My friend Heather Salopek has created a thriving on-line business combining pecans from the family pecan orchards with a huge variety of other ingredients (like green chili) to make really interesting confections that make great gifts. The caramel pecan turtles she gave me as samples didn’t make it back to Little Rock.