On a recent weekend, I wove my way up Highway 4 to the Valles Caldera. I had heard there was excellent hiking there, in addition to hot springs, stunning vistas, and … pizza!
How I came about this info is as roundabout as the road to the caldera. A few years back I owned an "Airstream hotel," a half-dozen shiny trailers available for nightly rental. Instagram loves a picture of these gleaming classics, so I posted a lot of them. I also looked at a lot of them, and one of my favorite accounts was that of the Nomad Mobile Motor Lodge. These posts detailed the work of an East Coast architect who adored, and excelled at, the restoration of vintage trailers. Then, posts about pizza—in New Mexico—started appearing.
So I pulled off Highway 4 at Highway 126, about 9 miles north of Jemez Springs, to find Nomad Mountain Pizza (38710 Hwy. 126, Jemez Springs, 575-829-3197), run by no other than the owner of the aforementioned Instagram, a man named Michael Vallen.
Vallen moved to the area from Washington, DC, after falling in love with the beauty of the Valles Caldera. As it turns out, "the Southwest, with its dry air and
moderate temperatures, is ground zero," Vallen says, for those with a fever for relatively undamaged vintage trailers. Vallen immediately set up his custom renovation shop near Jemez Springs.
Nomad Mountain Pizza, by comparison, was just "more of a fluke," Vallen explains. He originally planned to open the business with a partner, but the deal fell apart and Vallen found himself with a space, but no restaurant experience. Not being easily dissuaded from a challenge, he forged ahead and finished the space himself, opening just over one year ago.
Everything at Nomad Mountain Pizza is, and looks, handmade. The rustic space overflows with finds from another era, from the pastel serving dishes to countertop bric-a-brac, and even the cabinetry from a vintage trailer, its innards having been removed to shoot a scene for an upcoming Netflix show starring Uma Thurman.
As for the food: The family-style Flying Cloud (an Airstream reference) Caesar salad (side, meal or table, $4, $8 or $14) features homemade dressing, creamy and tart, and croutons to die for: crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. Topped with thick shavings of parmesan, it's an ideal light starter.
Pizzas are obviously the stars of the menu here. Vallen worked hard to perfect a handmade dough that would work with the altitude and, atop this delicious crust, the 12-inch pies feature a generous layer of hearty homemade sauce and fresh toppings, sourced from as close to home as possible. If you'd like a lane change to sandwiches, Nomad Mountain also offers a variety of these, from house-smoked turkey to hand-crafted meatballs ($9.50). Chicken soup ($6),
mac 'n' cheese ($4), and even homemade bourbon pecan pie ($5) are available as sides, just like grandma made.
Having a delicious pizza place in the middle of almost-nowhere brought to mind the sign many of us have passed dozens of times, on the corner of Highway 84 (heading into Abiquiú) and Highway 554: Mamacita's Pizzeria (20814 Hwy. 84, Abiquiú, 505-685-4111).
A couple of friends and I were heading to Ghost Ranch for a horseback ride and decided Mamacita's might be a good place for a bite before we got to bumping along. I arrived early and sat in Mamacita's parking lot, along with a few other folks. I assumed the restaurant was not yet open until cries of joy erupted from the car next to me as Mamacita herself hand-delivered their pizza. Turns out, there's just nowhere to sit inside—only a couple of picnic tables outside, so unless the weather is warm, most locals order to go.
Mamacita is Marta Uribe, a former banker who left New York City after 9/11 to settle down on the distant planet that is Abiquiú.
"My family has 400 years of history here in Northern New Mexico," Uribe tells SFR.
She decided to open a business and, upon exhaustive examination, decided it was pizza that was needed. That was over 14 years ago, and this place is no joke. It's the best New York-style pizza I've had outside of New York—even better than a lot of places in New York, for that matter. Uribe pushes out exceptional pies (starting at $5.50 for an 8-inch to $17 for an 18-inch cheese) from this small space, where the decor includes a pizza box upon which is scrawled a note reading, "Oh My God!!! This was the BEST pizza we have ever had!"
Uribe hand-stretches dough shipped from a New York bakery and doesn't miss a chance to point out the ingredients are all fresh, not bagged or canned. "This is 100% whole milk mozzarella, not junk!" she exclaims, pointing to the cheese in hand.
Mamacita's also offers juicy, homestyle ⅓-pound black Angus burgers and super-tasty sandwiches including chicken parmesan and a veggie supreme (both $7), "served the way you like it, with cheese and six fresh veggies of your choice," says the menu. Oh yeah, I like it.
Time to plan some road trips!