I was born and raised in Las Cruces and spent the first 24 years of my life basking in the sun, superior cuisine and creosote-scented rain. Before they filled in Laabs pool on West Picacho Ave, Caliche’s was called Scoopy’s and the only arcade in the city was Tilt in the Mesilla Valley Mall. If you want to know where the locals are actually getting their grub, caffeine and buzz, read on.
So you drove three hours to Las Cruces and you’ll probably need some lunch. I’m sure you’ve heard of La Posta in Mesilla, but let’s be honest. Are the parrots and exotic fish in the lobby really worth the long wait? If you’re looking for quicker and tastier Mexican food, check out Matteo’s Mexican Food, a relatively new eatery that has quickly established itself among the city populace. In my experience, people generally prefer green chile, but give the red chile a try. Matteo’s will quickly change your opinion on how you answer “Red or Green?” The agua frescas are also a highlight of their menu and they change these flavors regularly.
Try Nopalito’s and see what green chile is supposed to taste like with their warm green chile salsa. Also notable dishes are their gorditas and chile rellenos. Nopalito’s was started by Mr. and Mrs. Gallegos in 1964, but quickly outgrew the original building. You can now enjoy their delicious food in the converted Baptist church where the Gallegoses first met. Once you’ve eaten your fill, you can walk next door and check out some art at Nopalito's Galería which sits on the Old Camino Real, the oldest commerce road between Mexico City and Santa Fe.
You may recall an event known as the Whole Enchilada Fiesta that happened every Fall in Las Cruces where the record-breaking World’s Largest Enchilada was constructed. Albuquerque has their balloons, we had our enchilada! A local legend and restaurant owner, Roberto Estrada, spearheaded this event every year from 1980 until 2010. If you still want a figurative bite of that giant enchilada, stop by Roberto’s Mexican Food.
If American food is more your style, Burger Nook is the place to be. Not even well known to the locals, but around since 1983, this flame-broiled burger joint holds a special place in my heart. My dad bought me my first order of onion rings here and changed my life. There’s also the tried and true, locally infamous Day’s Hamburgers. Great Grandma Day opened her restaurant in Las Cruces in 1932 and her recipe is what is still served up today.
If you went to high school in Las Cruces in the late 2000s and were lucky enough, your first job in food service was at Caliche’s Frozen Custard. The first location of what was then known as “Scoopy’s Frozen Custard” opened on Valley Drive in 1996 and is still slinging the cold stuff today. If you’re looking to stick to the classics, a good ol’ Hot Fudge Classic Sundae with salted pecans will hit the spot. Want to try something a little more New Mexican? The Green Chile Sundae is the perfect blend of chile and creamy that work surprisingly well together. Is your dog staring at you, drool dripping out of their jowls? Lucky for your panting pup, they have poochie cones, free with human treat purchase!
I know it’s easy to go through the Starbucks drive through, but this coffee joint is worth stepping out of your air conditioned car for. Right across the street from the ASNMSU Center for the Arts is a literal mom (and not so much pop) shop called Mom’s Coffee. First opened in September 2018, this newbie to the game managed to get enough of a foothold to survive COVID and is still going strong. They have a yummy selection of drip coffee, specialty drinks, baked goods and paninis. Stop by during one of their open mic nights and catch some great local musicians, then peruse their selection of art and goods by local artists and crafters.
In the 1620s, the first grapes were planted in southern New Mexico despite there being a Spanish law prohibiting Spanish grapes from being planted on foreign soil. This makes New Mexico the oldest wine country in the United States by more than 200 years. Amaro Winery uses grapes grown primarily in southern NM, and many of their wines have medaled in the State Fair Wine Competitions. You can find Amaro wines locally in Total Wine and at Casa Vieja, but a trip down to their tasting room will also offer art by local artists (you may even catch a glimpse of my dad’s art there) and live music by great local musicians.
If you’re looking for cocktails, Dry Point Distillers is the place for locally sourced spirits and liquors full of New Mexican cultured names and labels. Their journey into distilling started with whiskey, so have a glass of the Dry Spell Bourbon Whiskey or Pistol Pete’s Six Shooter Whiskey (Go Aggies!). The cocktails made exclusively from their liquors and spirits are light, refreshing and really hit the spot on a desert summer night. If you’re not able to head south to try The Sombrero, Mariposa or Sad Bastard cocktails, you can pick up their products locally at Jubilation, Kelly Liquors, 4 Winds or Total Wine.
One of the best hidden gems of Las Cruces is COAS Bookstore, New Mexico’s largest bookstore. With over 500,000 new and used books in stock, you’re sure to find a good read. They also have a decent selection of DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, audiobooks and other media. Do you already have enough books to open your own library? Bring whatever you’re willing to part with and get trade credit to use in store.
While you’re already Downtown, head a few doors down to Organ Mountain Outfitters. Started in 2016 as a small booth at the Farmer’s and Craft Market, this local clothing company is doing more for the community than just improving our drip (that's local for style). Doña Ana County has a 39 percent child poverty rate, which is more than 10 percent higher than the statewide average. The owners of the company, one a Las Cruces local, the other all too familiar with having a balance due in the school lunch line, decided to do something about the problem. A portion of every T-shirt sale was donated back to Las Cruces Public Schools to cover the debt owed for school lunches and they were able to pay this debt back in full. They haven’t stopped there. Their new goal is to donate 1 million meals by working with Casa de Peregrine, Roadrunner Food Bank and Feeding America. Organ Mountain Outfitters has also partnered with Zia Pueblo for an official licensed use of their sacred Sun Symbol that we all know and may have tattooed somewhere on our body.
I’ve mentioned the Las Cruces Farmer’s and Craft Market many times, so let me try to describe something that is best experienced. In 2011, it was voted “Number One Large Farmers Market in the Nation” in America’s Farmland Trust’s nationwide poll and for good reason. Walk down the seven full blocks of Downtown and take in all the sights, sounds and smells of some of the best produce, arts and crafts Las Cruces has to offer. Be sure to wear sunscreen and bring lots of water, because it will definitely get hot out there. Luckily the sticky sweetness of the vendors and small town feel will make the heat not so bad. You’ll probably even get to pet some really cute dogs. Some of my personal favorite booths are New Mexico Soap, Perpetuity Art and Southwest Kettle Korn. Listen. I know the kettle corn line is long, but I promise it’s worth the wait. You’ll be snacking on that toddler-sized bag all the way home.
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