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Right at home
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
ImageAromas, flavors and dishes of well-established Papa Felipe’s create the feeling of a warm New Mexican kitchen

By Denise Marquez
Growing up with a family that has mastered Mexican cuisine and knowing what authentic Mexican dishes are supposed to taste like, it’s always been a challenge for me to appreciate most Mexican restaurants. With my history of eating fresh tamales, homemade tortillas and other Mexican delights, I’ve become a silent critic, and only a few restaurants make me feel like I’m right at home.

Papa Felipe’s, with Spanish tunes playing in the background and an aroma of Mexican and New Mexican spices filling the room, was like walking right through my grandparent’s front door. Papa Felipe’s has been cooking up home-style Mexican and New Mexican food for the past 35 years. Chef Larry Gonzales’ creative dishes have me adding Papa Felipe’s to my short list of “real” Mexican feel-good eateries.   

Papa Felipe’s 9800 Menaul NE, 505.292.8877
11a-9p, Sun.-Thu.;
11a-10p, Fri.-Sat.
I’ve always secretly put Spanish restaurants to the test through their chips and salsa, to judge how the rest of the meal will taste. If the salsa is good, then I’m basically in the clear. The Papa Felipe’s salsa was great. It had the perfect mixture of rich tomato, a hint of garlic and, of course, enough kick from the chile to set off the tingling sensation on my tongue.

A unique item on the appetizer menu caught my eye, the botana crispeante ($7). This is a plate of six miniature burritos stuffed with red chile carne adovada or spicy ground beef, accompanied by guacamole and queso. Biting into one of them on their own was quite pleasant, but dipping them in either the queso or the guacamole entirely changed the taste. With a bit of guacamole it seemed to soothe the burn from the red chile carne adovada, and a dip in the queso heightened the flavor and the spicy bite of the marinated meat.

ImageBefore my dining companion and I decided on our entrées, we were offered a chance to sample the green chile adovada, which was possibly the best carne adovada I’ve tasted. I’ve always been accustomed to red chile adovada, but it makes complete sense to take a traditional New Mexican cuisine and add more tradition by substituting green for red chile. The flavor was fresh and perfected with just enough chile to give it that familiar green chile tang.

Our waitress, Dana, highly recommended the chilaquile casserole ($10). We took her suggestion and it’s a good thing we did. A bowl filled to the top with layer upon layer of carne adovada, melted cheese, green vegetables, sweet corn and tostadas smothered in red chile sauce, along with warm flour tortillas, definitely hit the spot. After a few bites the red chile sauce was doing its work and making my mouth water for more.

We decided to take full advantage of the combination platter ($12), which comes with the option of choosing from three out of five entrees and two out of five sides. We narrowed our selections to a cheese enchilada, a chicken taco and the chile relleno, along with arroz and papitas.

ImageThe platter was a great way to get a little taste of most of the Southwest favorites, but the entrée that stole the show was the chile relleno. I highly suggest this traditional Mexican favorite. A huge green chile stuffed with the creamiest cheese that flows out when cutting into it, breaded with homemade egg batter topped with either red or green chile, isn’t as easy as it sounds to prepare. Nonetheless, Papa Felipe’s creates a chile relleno that had me sitting in my grandma’s kitchen again. The chile was ripe and mixed with the sharp cheese filling, and every bite was worth savoring.

An interesting item in the combination mix was the papitas. These diced up potato squares were cooked with bacon and green chile. It reminded me of something my mom would cook-up on the fly, something quick but just as tasty as a fully-prepared meal. The green chile and bacon flavors collaborating with the spuds made for a delicious pairing  with the chicken taco.

Washing down the meal with the Blood Orange Margarita ($8) and the Cabo Wabo Rockin Melon Margarita ($9) was the only appropriate way to end a true homemade Mexican cuisine experience.
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