The second day of the road trip led us to Las Cruces, New Mexico where we planned on visiting a stand that specialized in chile ristras. A chile ristra is a decorative arrangement of dried chiles designed to preserve chile pods until you are ready to use them. We were told the Ristramnn (that is not a typo, according to the owner “mnn” is the plural of “man”) Chile Co. was the place to visit for the most amazing selection of ristras in southern New Mexico. We were not disappointed. We finished our visit, and asked the owners if they knew of anywhere we could get some great local food. They were happy to suggest the place that was rumored to have the best chile rellenos in New Mexico; Chope’s in La Mesa. We asked them who had said they were the best, and they explained that this spot had gotten rave reviews from residents and reviewers alike. How could we pass up such an opportunity? We headed south to find this diamond in the rough.
The drive took much longer than we were told, and we weren’t prepared for what we found upon arrival. Chope’s has the reputation as one of the best New Mexican food restaurants in the state, and it also happens to be a biker bar. Now when I say biker bar I’m not talking about a place where casual motorcycle riders hang out. This was the place where the local chapter of the Bandidos motorcycle gang spends their weekends. Call me determined, moronic, or slightly insane, but it takes more than a bunch of grizzly men in leather vests to keep me from good food.
Walking into this place was about as surreal as life gets. Hardcore bikers in every direction looking at you like you don’t belong, and I didn’t. I walked up to the bar, and asked the bartender about their legendary chile rellenos. He explained that the restaurant wouldn’t open for another two hours, and we were welcome to order a drink and wait. How could I say no? What’s the worst that could happen? Get shanked at a dive bar in search of magnificent Mexican food? That sounded like a great way to go, so I perused their beer selection. I noticed that all the beer was in forty ounce bottles, and far be it from me to break from tradition. I ordered a forty of Dos Equis, and then it hit me. The only way to fit in here is to win them over! Unfortunately I wasn’t in the mood to pull a Pee Wee Herman and start dancing on the bar, so I improvised. I asked my cameraman if he would be willing to shoot here, and he reluctantly agreed. I asked the bartender for permission to shoot some video, and after checking with the owners he said it was fine. There was only one thing left for me to do. I had to climb on the bar, and tell this room full of gangsters that I wanted to interview them. Amidst a downpour of jeers I announced that we were shooting a video production, and we would like to talk to them about the food at Chope’s. I watched as almost instantly the room started to change. In a matter of minutes these men went from intimidating to excited, as the idea of sharing this place they hold so dear to their hearts became a reality. I spent the next two hours interviewing anyone that wasn’t wanted or on probation. All of them raved about the amazing food in the restaurant next door. The anticipation was killing me!