The average American practically lives out of their vehicle, and if you’re a parent, “Ay, dios, forget it,” as my nana would say. For years, I abstained from fast food, but, alas, life as a new mom and a stepmom to two voracious kids has broken that kind of bougie behavior. But, with some willingness for adventure and allowing myself to feel like a tourist in my own town, I have discovered that food can be fast, local, fairly healthy, and pretty damn good.
As it happens, New Mexico’s travel-center game is not only on point, but next level when it comes to fueling the family, even if that family is just you, alone, eating for three. No judgment here.
I tried to narrow down the deliciousness by category, although let’s be honest, it’s all a lot of burritos and burgers—two foods I have never been mad at. But for the sake of a listicle, let us begin with the burger that is killin’ it the hardest on the road. (I tried to make a roadkill joke, there, did you catch it?)
Edible Poetry at the 66 Pit Stop
Every burger joint in the country claims to be home to a world-famous something or other, but in the case of the Laguna Burger, the 66 Pit Stop in Laguna may actually be achieving this goal. There are plenty of reasons why a Burqueño might find themself traveling west on I-40—heading to Vegas or the Gallup Ceremonials, pueblo hopping, and running from the police are a few that come to mind. Henceforth, if and when that day comes for you, detouring when the billboard tells you to is now mandatory.
I’m talking about the yellow-and-red hand-painted sign that says “Fry Bread, This Exit.” That’s your cue. And don’t tell me how you can go down to Twelfth Street and get your World Famous Laguna Burger at the new, fancy-shmancy place across from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, because where is the adventure in that? And also, there won’t be any sweet aunties named Janice a hop ’n’ a skip away selling fresh fry bread from the Indian Arts Center, an amazing Route 66 relic that instantly relocates you to a pre-internet world. (Don’t freak out, there’s still cell service for you to make food porn on Instagram.)
After you exit and navigate your way around the traffic circle, the 66 Pit Stop is impossible to miss, with its red-and-white facade and midcentury-mod sign. Obviously, I ordered a Laguna Burger, which the ladies kindly shut down their breakfast menu a smidge early to make for me. From 6 am to 10:30 am, it’s breakfast only, and then the burgers, sandwiches, dogs, and shakes come out.
The Laguna Burger is a sonnet of a green chile sliced in two, half a pound of expertly seasoned Angus beef, a locally baked bun, and burger juice that drips to your elbows with hearty goodness—and so big that I saved half for later. And speaking of later, if you’re on a journey, you’ll get hungry right when nothing is around, which is why you have to follow those yellow signs down a quarter mile to see Janice at the Indian Arts Center for a fry bread or Indian taco to go.
A Burrito So Good I Bit My Lengua
Enter the best burrito you didn’t know you were missing. Everyone insisted I try the food at Warrior Fuel in Bernalillo, and now I know why, though I was skeptical at first.
I walk into Warrior with a baby on my hip and spot a food counter to the right with an array of potatoes, rice, and meats sitting cafeteria style behind glass. The menu overhead offers items like tripe, asada, and barbacoa. Nothing looks particularly enticing in this display, so it’s hard to point out what I want. Additionally, I usually don’t eat meat burritos, but for the sake of journalistic integrity, I decide on barbacoa. But I’m suddenly struck with the thought that perhaps barbacoa is pork, and I don’t eat pork. Between face masks, a language barrier, sign language, and another customer’s help, I am reassured that the barbacoa served here is beef.
When I’m handed the burrito, the sticker indicates it’s barbacoa, but also reads “tripas o lengua”—two things low on my list of favorite foods. Maybe it was a generic sticker and maybe something got lost in translation, or maybe it was revenge for making her grab her cheeks and say “this part of the cow,” but, hell with it, “let’s doodis.”
One bite in and I’m lost to the flavor. Juicy meats melting in my mouth alongside beans and rice and cheese, oh my. I’ll never know if there was tripe and tongue in that baby, but I don’t care. I’ll be back. It was even worth the tedious task of wading through construction traffic.
For the Feast of It
I can’t tell you the number of times the breakfast burritos from the Pueblo Restaurant at the San Felipe Travel Center saved my life as a young college kid coming back to Santa Fe for class after an Albuquerque all-nighter. But the biggest, baddest breakfast burritos are just the tip of the iceberg lettuce, up against dynamite New Mexican classics like posole and green chile stew.
If you’ve ever been to a Pueblo Feast Day, then you know the magic of oven bread and red chile stew, both of which you can get alongside blue corn mush and squash with corn to throw a real, down-home Pueblo munch. I give the Pueblo Restaurant a four-star rating for best all-around road meal!
Last updated on October 16, 2023.
Ungelbah Dávila lives in Valencia County with her daughter, animals, and flowers. She is a writer, photographer, and digital Indigenous storyteller.