My first plate at El Bruno’s, at their original location in Cuba, New Mexico, some 20 years ago, is on my list of top-ten memorable meals. My wife, her family, and me—all red chile veterans—randomly stopped in on the way to the Four Corners to fly fish the San Juan. The red was a stunning surprise: the color of bleeding iron-rich sandstone and rich with deep chile flavor. The chile told a story about the history of the Anazasi and the geology geology of thick soils. Wearing waders, we raptured about that chile all week on the cool San Juan and then stopped in again on the way home to verify we hadn’t romanticized it. We hadn’t.
Started by Bruno and Hazel Herrera, native Cubans, in 1975, Hazel still conjures her fiery, deep red in her Cuba kitchen. Unfortunately, Cuba—a dusty town with 740 souls—rests in the middle of nowhere, so eating there is an act of love. Scarily, it burned down in 2006, but like a phoenix, it rose from the ashes and, even better, in 2011, spawned an outpost in northwest Albuquerque. This outpost is our first stop after landing at the airport.
I almost always order the Enchiladas de Herrera (stacked corn tortillas with red chile pork and cheese smothered with Herrera chile; $12.99) topped with a fried egg (a traditional NewMex thing). Portions are sizable, and the chile makes you go “Mmmmm.” The redboxed items on the menu are what Bruno is known for, including the aforementioned enchiladas, the Carnitas ala Mex (grilled beef and two rolled enchiladas with beans), Hazels Special (sliced chicken breast with green chile, salsa, and tomatoes), Hazels’ Fresh Homemade Green Chile Stew, and carne adovada, among others. Perhaps I need to expand my menu exploration.
We had a debate as to whether the chile at the original is better than at the outpost: I believe this to be true. The chile in Albuquerque is typically not fiery, suggesting that it has been gringoized. On a future trip, we’ll have to compare: share a plate in Q-town and then drive to Cuba and share another. I hypothesize that Mom Hazel’s touch is a magical ingredient not on the menu at the Albuquerque location.
web&where: interwebs; 8806 4th street nw, albuquerque, nm
what’s the deal? red chile as deep as your soul; table service
overall: **** (food****; drink**; atmosphere**; service***; instagrammability****)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]