Contrary to popular belief, Santa Fe does not abruptly end at Airport Road and sea creatures don't dwell past the 3000 block of Cerrillos.
The area hosts a platter of mom and pop restaurants, casual dining chains, food trucks and gems like Horseman's Haven Café (4354 Cerrillos Road, 471-5420)—an unassuming temple to New Mexico's culinary landscape housed next to a filling station—where the booths are wood-trimmed, the walls are adorned with equine paraphernalia galore, the curtains are ruffled à la old Bobcat Bite and about the only monster in sight comes in the form of Double H's signature "level #2" green chile.
“The ‘Mucho Burger’ is one of my favorites,” my server, Luis, says as I study the menu. The bill of fare comes with the following intro: “New Mexican-style cooking como en su casa. Ojalá! You enjoy your comida,” and is laden with regional staples like blue corn enchiladas ($8.55), taco plates served with beans, rice and posole ($9.95) and the perennial fave, loaded Frito pie ($8.50).
I take Luis' word for it and go with the mucho burger $6.95 (plus a couple of bucks extra for cheese and green chile) and, because I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Captain EO, the 3-D burrito ($9.95). I also throw in a side of the infamous level two for good measure and linger in expectation.
I take a moment to soak up the ambience, which includes a sign that reads, "When you're hot, you're hot," appropriately hung next to the longhorn-topped kitchen counter, and strike up a convo with the couple seated next to me.
"Is it as good as it looks?" the fairer half asks as my food is delivered. "My husband always orders the level two and he's always, you know, sudando," she continues, mimicking a sweating buckets visage as I stare down at a mass of Christmassy goodness. "When they have it in levels, you're in trouble," she says with a chuckle. I dip a fork into the miniscule serving of extra hot chile and prepare myself for a smokecoming-outta-my-ears cartoon moment.
Curiosity killed the cat and, in this case, semi-permanently scorched my taste buds. The side delivers a true kick, yes, but the taste lingers on your lips as if you'd just applied a hefty dose of Carolina Reaper-flavored ChapStick.
"It's just Hatch," Luis says. "With extra hot seeds."
Yeah, sure. And Devil's tears probably. I do my best to save face as beads of sweat emanate from my brow, tears are fought off and sinuses cleared.
I dive deep into the burro sans glasses—it's a hulking mass filled with adovada chunks, beans and home fries, and generously topped with cheese. With every bite of the big-enough-for-a-small-family meal, I feel my lower two shirt buttons about to buckle.
I picked the wrong day to go for the dandy look. I glance over to the burger and soldier on.
It's made from half a pound of freshly ground sirloin, comes drowned in chile and is accompanied by lettuce, tomato slices, onions and pickles. Take it from a wannabe burger connoisseur: it doesn't get any better than this.
With each bite, it seems, the burger gets better and better (and my buttons looser and looser).
Cheered on by my two new friends, I look down at the plate of engulfed green chile goodness and muster up, sudando and all. I take the last bite of the burger in the same fashion an Olympian would. It wasn't one of those "thrill of victory" moments, but rather the kind you see in a clip starring a Ugandan triathlete that got a piercing cramp and is reaching the finish line shaking, in a mess of tears.
Cue the national anthem. Now, where can I find a needle and some thread?
AT A GLANCE
Open: Monday-Saturday 8am-8pm; Sundays 8am-2pm.
Serving: Traditional NM fare with an edge.
Order up: Around 10 mins.
Best bet: The puts-hair-on-your-chest "level #2."