A Taste of
Local Film History

by Jason Strykowski

Santa Fe: Evangelo’s Cocktail Lounge

Academy Award–winning actor Jeff Bridges liked singing on stage at this neighborhood bar so much that he did it in two films. In Crazy Heart (2009), Bridges played a country music legend battling with alcoholism. In Only the Brave (2017), he appeared as a fire chief overseeing a group of doomed hotshots. Evangelo’s is a real drinking establishment open to the public and famed for, you guessed it, their live music.

200 West San Francisco, Santa Fe

Santa Fe: Plaza Café

Before it was remodeled after a fire, the Plaza Café appeared in the supernatural thriller Odd Thomas (2013) as a local, short-order joint. Early in the film, Anton Yelchin, as the titular Thomas, explains some of his favorite short-order menu items, like “cardiac shingles” and “tummy ticklers,” to a few children, all while wielding a mean spatula. Nick Nolte shows up in the Plaza Café in the television comedy Graves (2016–2017) looking for a similar slice of Americana. The show is about a former US president attempting to reconnect with his electorate, whom he finds at mealtime. The real Plaza Café serves similar homestyle chow, but with a full selection of New Mexican favorites.

54 Lincoln, Santa Fe

Madrid: Maggie’s Diner

This roadside souvenir shop off the side of New Mexico 14 in Madrid has a unique claim to fame—it was built as a movie set. The faux front appeared as a fictional diner in the comedy Wild Hogs (2007) and was later reinforced and transformed into a permanent structure. You’re not likely to catch Marisa Tomei inside serving drinks to Tim Allen, but you might be able to buy a T-shirt with her picture on it.

2867 New Mexico 14, Madrid

Albuquerque: The Range Café on Central

Duke City’s best-known screen eateries are all tied to a certain television show about a meth-cooking teacher, but the Standard Diner, which is now the Range Café on Central Avenue, showed up on film as a pizza parlor run by a cocaine dealer. In Running With the Devil (2019), Nicolas Cage plays an unnamed chef who has a small part in the international drug-smuggling market. When not moving drugs, the chef flips pizzas for soccer teams. The Range Café is also a good family joint, but serves New Mexican food and American diner selections instead of pizza.

320 Central SE, Albuquerque

Las Cruces Pecans

Actor, director, and producer Clint Eastwood made a film in Albuquerque last year called Cry Macho. Amazingly, the nonagenarian has been making movies in New Mexico since the 1960s. Prior to Cry Macho (2021), Eastwood brought segments of The Mule (2018) to Las Cruces. In the film, Eastwood plays an aged drug runner who conceals his illegal product with pecans, a true-to-life prized crop in southern New Mexico.

Truchas Beans

Located on the scenic High Road to Taos, Truchas wasn’t actor and director Robert Redford’s first choice to shoot his adaptation of The Milagro Beanfield War (1988) by New Mexico local John Nichols. It’s hard to imagine the cult classic without Truchas in the background, though. In his hilarious and insightful essay on the making of the film, “Night of the Living Beanfield” (featured in the book Dancing on the Stones: Selected Essays), Nichols recounts the tremendous efforts the crew made to plant real beanstalks in the community, only to have them freeze during the night.

Gallup: El Rancho Hotel

Built by R. E. Griffith (the infamous director’s brother) in 1936, El Rancho is a major piece of Hollywood history tucked along the roadside in Gallup. Inside the hotel’s grand entry are hundreds of photos of actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, and John Wayne, many of whom shot at nearby Red Rock Park or went farther afield to Monument Valley. The hotel includes a restaurant that serves classic New Mexican fare, and the rooms are still open to weary travelers and production crews.   

1000 E Highway 66, Gallup

Cerrillos: Mary’s Bar

It’s a good place to hide out, especially for vampires. John Carpenter, master of the horror genre, made a quick foray to this historic bar for a few scenes in his film Vampires, released in 1998. The violent slaughter of the undying is a little less than appetizing, but the real Mary’s Bar is an authentic Western-style bar that fits better into the cowboy milieu of Billy the Kid’s day than it does into a vampire fantasy. Not coincidentally, look for the main drag in Cerrillos in the 1988 film Young Guns, starring Emilio Estevez as New Mexico’s most famous gunfighter.

15a First Street, Los Cerrillos

Santa Fe: Taco Fundación

Taco Fundación and its sister location, Shake Foundation, have established themselves as local traditions, but before Taco Fundación opened at the corner of Guadalupe and Catron in Santa Fe, the building was home to another local tradition—Bert’s Burger Bowl. Bert’s made an appearance as itself in the cult classic Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). Directed by Monte Hellman and starring rockers Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and James Taylor, the film follows a couple of laconic rebels who haul ass cross-country in a roadster. They stop at Bert’s Burger Bowl to challenge another driver (the film’s screenwriter in a cameo) to a race. Today, Taco Fundación serves more than a dozen varieties of taco, while Shake Foundation dishes out the made-to-order burgers.

235 N Guadalupe, Santa Fe

Clovis: Bill’s Jumbo Burger

Chris Pine has a heart-to-heart with a waitress over his unfinished steak in the opening act of Hell or High Water (2016). Meanwhile, Pine’s on-screen brother, played by Ben Foster, hastily robs a bank and Pine is forced to flee from Bill’s Jumbo Burger so fast that the tires in his aging car screech. The real Bill’s serves made-to-order burgers, breakfast burritos, and chicken-fried steak.

2113 N Main St, Clovis ,

Jason Strykowski

Jason Strykowski is the author of A Guide to New Mexico Film Locations: From Billy the Kid to Breaking Bad and Beyond, to be released this winter from the University of New Mexico Press.