As I sit at a picnic table beneath the shade of some kind of tree whose name I never bothered to learn on the Reunity Resources organic farm just past Agua Fria Village, it occurrs to me (with apologies to Mr. Vonnegut): If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.
I'm here to visit Rose's Kitchen (1829 San Ysidro Crossing), a new food truck, and I'm delighted to find a brief but powerful statement at the corner of the menu reading: "Please remember we are on stolen Tewa land. Black Lives Matter. Defund the police (Please ask me more about this! Food and conversation go well together.)"
I love a restaurant (or truck) that doesn't shy away from some hard truths; I love a business that (sincerely) shares my values. I'm pretty much already onboard with Rose's Kitchen from the get-go, but once I'm a few bites into the all-organic Frito pie with greens picked fresh on the farm a few hours earlier, it's phased into full-blown love affair. I almost start gushing when proprietor Ilana Blankman joins me, but I play it cool long enough to ask some questions.
"I opened July 4, and it actually almost felt like it [came together] overnight," she says from behind her mask, responsibly distanced. "I was a circus performer and teacher for many years, and I was in this kind of transitional point in my life—not teaching, no work performing—I was kind of going crazy, but I started thinking 'What am I still doing all the time? I'm cooking all the time.'"
Blankman, who also works for Wise Fool New Mexico, says the idea of opening an eatery of some kind had been more of a "someday, when I'm retired kind of thing," but after posing the question about whether she should open a business on social media, the robust and positive responses sped up her timeline. Rose's Kitchen—akin to a natural extension of Blankman's love of hosting dinner parties—was born.
"I've been involved with local food systems for a very long time, and I've been an advocate for local food, so I knew that was going to be the focus, and then I thought, what are the dishes I always want to make for people that are my prize dishes for dinner parties? The menu just became that."
Hence, Rose's Kitchen's offerings are few, but focused and enticing. The aforementioned Frito pie ($7 without meat, $9 with beef), for example, comes with locally sourced beans and chile, plus grass fed New Mexico beef, and I believe I already mentioned the leafy greens. The side of earthy red hovers, taunting you, and it's nice to have the choice between slathering it or engaging in a little moderation. Blankman also offers taco combinations ($10) from three selections: beans, chicos (a dried corn dish I've only ever seen in New Mexico) and calabacitas; oyster, mushroom, beans and feta; or beef and cheddar with fresh made mole or salsa. "Eat 'em w/a fork," the menu reads. "They're a little full for folding."
You'll also find a galette of the day ($7, though Blankman was sold out by the time I arrived in the afternoon around 3 pm), a falafel or kefta Mezze plate ($12), a peanut and coconut noodle salad (which she says "is really good the next day;" $5-$7) and, happily, ramen with vegetarian mushroom broth, local vegetables and, if you want, a fried egg ($10). That doesn't include weekend brunches, which feature eggs florentine on homemade English muffins ($11), huevos rancheros ($9) and a hybrid dessert/breakfast sourdough waffle with a red chile honeybutter sauce of Blankman's own devising ($10). The menus, she says, could change at any time based on what's available locally and fresh.
Blankman has created a bit of a vegetarian oasis out there on the farm with options for the carnivorous among us. That's a rather nice swap from the vast majority of restaurants that offer little exciting for those who shirk meat.
"I try not to be dogmatic about my food choices—or anybody else's," she explains, "but a lot of people, when they see a place is a vegetarian restaurant, they maybe…I think, even if they were going to try and like something, they might not be as excited."
It's also about sustainability and responsibility. Blankman previously worked for the nonprofit Farm to Table, which creates healthy and equitable systems around food. And with a master's in community and regional planning, she's uniquely positioned to understand food's impact on the people, as well as the radical choice to grow one's own food—or support places that do.
"The idea is that I'm creating food that's really nourishing, but fun at the same time," she says. "I don't ever want to sacrifice deliciousness for healthy, because people's concept of what is healthy is so tied into diet culture and capitalism and weight loss, and I think you should eat what makes your body feel good; your body and your soul."
Future plans could involve sliding scale days during which customers are asked to consider their own privilege and pay accordingly (all us white dudes better cough up the big bucks should those come to be), and though Blankman says she's got a couple friends who are indispensable when it comes to prep work, it's possible she might offer more hours if she can staff Rose's Kitchen with trustworthy folks.
"Either way, I really recognize it's a huge privilege to be doing what I'm doing, and that I constantly struggle with how to figure out how to use that privilege in a way that contributes to justice and the health of everybody," she says. "I also recognize that I've started this thing at a time when so many restaurants are struggling or even closing permanently, and I don't take that for granted."