Green Chile Burrito in Albuquerque
My first sight when arriving home to Albuquerque is the Sandia Mountains to my right and the six-lane highway stretching into the horizon ahead of me, broken only by the few scattered high-rise buildings that count as “downtown.” There is no question where I’m headed; it’s always the first and last destination of every trip home. Just off Interstate 25 on Central Avenue is a familiar barn-shaped building with a kitschy yellow roof and the words Frontier Restaurant displayed prominently in white and red.
It’s 11 p.m., an unusual hour for a breakfast spot, but inside it’s bustling and boisterous. Frontier will be open for two more hours—a change from the original 24-hour policy after some unruly nights and a shooting that took place behind the restaurant several years ago. Servers and cashiers in soda jerk hats are yelling out to one another as order numbers flash across screens around the room. Retro booths with orange, plastic cushions fill the front space, and three more large rooms stretch into the back of the restaurant. I wait patiently until the next green flashing light indicates an open cashier. Customers in here ignore the looming menu above the ordering space—they know what’s served and what they want.
I place my order, wander into the farthest back room, and take a seat under one of numerous paintings of John Wayne that hang on the walls alongside Native American rugs, flower landscapes, and turquoise jewelry. Sipping my homemade lemonade, I wave to the co-owner of the restaurant, an older woman dressed immaculately in a long skirt and blouse with her hair in a French twist. She’s busy busing down the table next to me and I’m sure her husband, the other owner, isn’t far.
When my number is called, I collect my tray from the front and finally dig into it: the green chile breakfast burrito I’ve been fantasizing about for the seven months since my last visit home. For the most part, the East Coast hasn’t—yet—quite caught on to the breakfast burrito (or at least, this version of it.) But green chile—peeled green pepper, roasted and chopped, with a a unique heat and spicy flavor that’s impossible to replicate—is so essential to New Mexicans that those who have moved away often have friends or family mail them jars of it regularly.
The Frontier burritos are notoriously hefty, filling a large dinner plate, but the eggs, golden hash browns, crispy bacon, cheddar cheese, and hot green chile all wrapped in a homemade tortilla are beckoning, and I devour the entire thing. The comforting spicy tingle of the chile lingers on my lips. Satiated, I consider ordering another one to take home for breakfast the next morning, but I know I’ll be here again on my way back to the airport when I leave. I’ll have one last burrito, and pack a jar of green chile and several freshly-made tortillas into my carry-on to take with me. A little piece of home for the road.
Photo by: Don James