The charm is in the chile

 Originally published in The Taos News
When I asked Raquel Troyce, a native of Guadalajara who lived most of her adult life in Mexico City, if she knew anything about smothered burritos, she thought I was talking about some poor little donkeys that drowned. She was familiar with regular burritos (a flour tortilla folded around chicken, beef or beans), but had never heard of “smoth­ered” ones.
Regular burritos are mostly popular in the northern part of Mexico and it is said they originated in Ciudad Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua.
As for the “smothered” kind, they are an American creation. Maybe even a New Mexican one.
Orlando’s New Mexico Café, at 1114 Don Juan Valdez Lane in El Prado, is known for the quality of its food. It offers four kinds of smothered burritos: beef, chicken, vegetar­ian and shrimp. They are covered with chile (red, green or caribe), topped with jack and cheddar cheese.
Orlando’s walls are decorated with ris­tras, paintings by Barbara Brock and Berlin Padilla, and the numerous awards that the restaurant has gotten since it opened in 1996. A large, wood-carved image of San Pascual Bailòn, (patron saint of cooks) presides over the kitchen. There are also other santos that local artists have brought here to display.
Roberto Zabala, a young man from Guanajuato, Mexico, is one of five cooks currently employed by Orlando’s. He has pre­pared more than two dozen smothered burritos on the day of our visit.
“The New Mexico smothered burrito is unique,” he said, “And it’s the kind of chile we put on top that makes it different because it is so flavorful and fresh.”
Another cook, Patsy Vigil, a Taos native, agrees. “Our chile is handmade from scratch,” she said. “All the ingredients are cooked here, not canned or processed.”
Orlando himself came up with the green chile recipe. His grandmother, Delfina Archuleta, invented the one they use to make vegetarian red chile.
Orlando started his business selling handheld burritos (the regular kind, smaller than smothered ones and with no chile on top) from a cart in Cabot Plaza. When he opened the restaurant, he added smothered burritos, enchiladas, chile rellenos and the other delicious items now listed on the menu.
“I believe people like the smothered burritos better,” said Vigil. “They have the chile flavor, the hot taste.”
As for what makes a good smothered burrito, having the right texture for the tortilla is imperative.
“You have to warm it up before,” said Vigil. “Then, you put cheese, onion, beans, and cooked chicken, beef or shrimp inside it. Roll it up nicely and add a little bit of whatever chile you want to use, and cheese on top. Put it on the salamander broiler briefly and let the cheese melt.
Bring it out, pour more chile over the bur­rito and garnish it with lettuce and toma­toes, and beans and posole on the side.”
The burrito must also be wrapped up properly.
“Some people fold it up as if it were a tamale,” said Zabala, “No! A good smothered burrito should be presented like a work of art, nicely wrapped up and covered with a thin blanket of chile.”
I took Raquel to Orlando’s and showed her the menu. She chose the vegetarian smothered burrito, tasted it and smiled.
“I’m sold on it,” she said. “And I am relieved, too. A smoth­ered burrito doesn’t look at all like a donkey, dead or alive.”
‘A good smothered burrito should be presented like a work of art, nicely wrapped up and covered with a thin blanket of chile.’

About dovalpage

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Taos, New Mexico. She has a Ph.D. in Spanish literature and teaches at UNM Taos. She also freelances for Taos News, Profile, Hispanic Executive and other publications. A bilingual author, she has published eight novels, six in Spanish and two in English, two collections of short stories in Spanish and one in English. Her English-language novels are A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010). Her collection of short stories The Astral Plane, Stories of Cuba, the Southwest and Beyond was published by the University of New Orleans Press in 2012. In her native Spanish she has authored the novels Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain), El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), Posesas de La Habana (Haunted Ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), La Regenta en La Habana (Edebe Group, Spain, 2012,) Orfeo en el Caribe(Atmósfera Literaria, Spain, 2013) and El retorno de la expatriada (The expat’s return, Egales, Spain, 2014). Her short novel Las Muertas de la West Mesa (The West Mesa Murders, based on a real event) is currently being published in serialized format by Taos News.
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