Mike Gonzales never intended to run one of Albuquerque’s most iconic and beloved restaurants when he opened Barelas Coffee House with his brother in 1978. He was a sophomore studying business at UNM when his father, who owned a grocery store on Fourth St. in Barelas at the time, asked his two sons if they wanted to run a small coffee shop. Michael at the time, like any cash-strapped college student, immediately accepted the offer.
“I expected to have it maybe a couple of years until I graduated. And, no, it didn’t happen that way. Forty-three years later we’re still here,” Michael said.
Now Barelas Coffee House is a celebrated and beloved institution of the neighborhood that can claim former President Barack Obama as one its customers. Before settling in its current location, Barelas Coffee House occupied what is now a barbershop immediately across the street. Michael and his brother decided to move their little coffee business across Fourth in 1985 to an old, single-story adobe building. But as the breakfast spot’s popularity grew, so did the need for more space. Over the last three decades, Barelas Coffee House has grown from one small adobe building, expanding to over three. The space has also allowed the coffee house to create one of the most attractive patios in the city, featuring a high pergola with ancient vines offering additional shade.
Barelas Coffee House is also a reflection of the family who started it. Michael is a fourth-generation neighborhood resident of Barelas. During an interview with The Paper. Michael commented that the family still owns his great-grandfather’s adobe, located right behind the coffee shop. He estimates that the adobe is at least 130 years old. His roots to the neighborhood are also reflected in his relationship with his staff, some of whom have worked at the coffee shop for over four decades. He attributed Barelas Coffee Shop’s quick recovery from the pandemic to his staff—at least 90 percent of which, he noted, returned after the restaurant was allowed to reopen.
Michael commented that, in the last few months, as New Mexico attempts to return to normal, his business has been better than it was in 2019. “It’s kind of funny. After 43 years people are just finding us out.”
Barelas Coffee House is having a moment in Albuquerque. The family-owned business can claim generations of loyal customers who will rave about the family that owns the restaurant and the tantalizing and traditional New Mexican and Mexican food that they have consistently served for the last four decades.
Michael says that the dish that put them on the map for many families living in Barelas and in the South Valley in the ’80s is their menudo—tripe (cow’s stomach) in a broth and a red chili paste. The dish is commonly served in Mexico. Over the years Barelas Coffee House has expanded its menu, adding unique takes on New Mexico staples such as green chili enchiladas, breakfast burritos, sweet rice and a tantalizing selection of other local favorites.
Barelas Coffee House
1502 Fourth St. SW