Chaos, Scratch, Whiskey Creek Zócalo—don’t mistake the names of these lunch spots for clues to the character of the mountain town where they can be found. If they hint at something, it’s the creativity of the minds behind their food. Whether you’re staying in Silver City proper or stopping through on a road trip, hungry after a morning ride or filling up before you cruise out to the Catwalk, these places will serve a meal that stays with you.
801 N Hudson St
“One Grass Grazer cut in half?” Jacob Ayala asks from across the counter. I can count on his smile and his remembering my usual order every time I enter Chaos Sandwiches, which serves both breakfast and lunch out of one half of a Chevron station.
Ayala and Benjamin Marquez opened Chaos four years ago at the urging of their friends and family who couldn’t get enough of their sandwiches packed unexpectedly with sides like coleslaw or macaroni and cheese. “Everything’s stacked on top of each other and smashed between two pieces of bread,” Marquez explains. “It’s definitely not boring.”
Silver City loves it. Chaos’s daily average is almost ninety lunch customers, and each one receives the same genuine welcome I do. “They put in these orders for these insane sandwiches,” exclaims Ayala, who appreciates the creativity of their regular patrons.
I have become a regular at Chaos largely because this pair invented the most decadent veggie sandwich—of all time. In the Grass Grazer, grilled zucchini, onions, and pepper are layered with crunchy raw cucumber, sweet tomatoes, and wilted greens. Two generous slices of wheat berry toast get smeared with pesto mayo, then everything melts together with queso cotija and asadero. “A lot of people, even though they’re not eating meat, say, ‘The way you guys put [the Grass Grazer] together, it’s very satisfying,’” Marquez confirms.
All named after popular trails and common mountain biking terms, Chaos’s menu items feature surprising as well as classic combinations. The Hacksaw is essentially a carnitas taco—complete with all the fixings—on sourdough, while the .50 Cal is a grilled cheese with green chile. The Fat Boy salad puts sirloin on a bed of romaine with grilled and fresh veggies, while the Hard Tail is a simple Caesar salad. “The thing about Chaos is we didn’t open it overnight,” Marquez says. “It was through the years of smoking meats and . . . playing around with food at home that these combinations came to be.”
When I’ve tried some of the two dozen other options on Chaos Sandwiches’ menu, I haven’t been disappointed. It’s just the Grass Grazer that brings me back.
100 W Eighth Street
Asian-inspired cuisine has historically been harder to come by than Mexican-inspired in Silver City’s restaurant scene, serving a somewhat off-the-beaten-path tri-county population of only thirty thousand people. A pop-up that opened in January aims to change that. Scratch offers one meal option per week, and that choice is most often a Korean, Thai, Japanese, or Indian dish.
Sisters and co-owners Shanon and Chrystal Muehlhausen serve lunch Fridays and Saturdays, plus a traditional brunch on Saturdays. Their patrons must preorder online and also need to know where to find Scratch. Their kitchen is tucked away in the old Lions Club at the north end of the Main Street Plaza west of the Big Ditch. (Ask a local if that doesn’t clarify the location for you.)
Shanon’s mother is Korean, and Chrystal, whose mom is of European descent, also grew up eating Korean food while their father was in the military and just plain loves cooking global cuisine. “The idea of opening either a Korean or Indian food restaurant would be difficult to sustain, given our southwest New Mexico clientele,” Shanon says. “But a variety means people can try all these different things.”
To achieve authentic flavors, they source ingredients—from vegetables to specialty noodles—from A-Ri-Rang market and Kim’s Oriental Market in Albuquerque. They also ask their family for guidance. “Some of [the recipes] are straight out of my aunt’s cookbook. The way she makes it is the way we make it,” Shanon says, noting that her oe-sook-mo (mother’s brother’s wife) went to culinary school in Korea.
The two-woman show is planning “a couple [of] multicourse pop-up dinners” this summer, and Shanon says they’ve both recently given up other obligations to focus on growing Scratch. (The sisters founded Spicy Me Foods in 2020 and now manufacture and package their specialty spice blends in Scratch’s kitchen.)
After sampling their Korean Bibimbap with japchae and cucumber kimchi, I look forward to more from Scratch. As she tops the rice with pickled carrots and sautéed zucchini, onion and seasoned spinach, along with flavor-packed tofu, Shanon explains that bibimbap would traditionally be served with a scrambled egg with spicy sriracha on top. She adds the egg and a drizzle of spicy gojuchang aioli. She and Chrystal chose cucumbers as the base of their kimchi for freshness—cucumber doesn’t have to ferment as long as cabbage or daikon.
Whiskey Creek Zócalo
11786 Hwy 180 East
“You want a sangria?” Rafael Zipin asks, already reaching for a highball glass. One of three co-owners of Whiskey Creek Zócalo, he knows that—especially at lunchtime during the peak of summer—anyone would be hard-pressed to turn down a fruit-filled drink.
The art of hospitality is something Rafael may have inherited from his mom, Melanie Zipin, who happens to have been the person I tapped to coordinate my wedding. Or maybe it’s something he mastered while working with the 1933 Group to open and run stylish bars in and around Los Angeles. Regardless, Whiskey Creek Zócalo combines Rafael’s background with Melanie’s love for community and the construction know-how of her husband, Jeff LeBlanc. The trio spent three years remodeling the old Hurley schoolhouse building in Arenas Valley while developing plans for the businesses they would jointly run on the property. The music venue–forward bar and restaurant that opened four months ago neighbors Whiskey Creek Zócalo’s plant nursery, goat yard, and garlic farm.
Rafael sticks a compostable straw in the white sangria—sauvignon blanc with simple syrup infused with orange, bitters, lime juice, blueberries, and blackberries, garnished with an orange peel—and explains that Whiskey Creek Zócalo offers beer and wine now and is on track to get a New Mexico spirits license this fall.
While the drink list is more extensive, I can almost count the number of items on the food menu on one hand. “We wanted to pick a couple things and do them well,” Rafael says.
Pizza cooked in a handbuilt New Mexico clay oven seemed a natural fit for a family that has built two of their houses out of cob. They fire the horno with local piñon and oak wood. “You can taste the earth in a really good way,” Rafael explains. Salads with veggies sourced from Frisco Farms, sweet and smoky stuffed mushrooms, and a simple Mediterranean platter are also on the menu.
The Whiskey Creek Zócalo lunch rush hits around 1 pm. Outside lunch hours, Wednesday happy hour is a mellow time to visit. That’s when wine normally only sold by the bottle is being poured by the glass—and you have a chance of catching some live music too. Whiskey Creek Zócalo also holds Friday and Saturday night shows featuring touring acts. Come Sunday morning, the family serves a brunch pizza and mixes mimosas while their guests play cornhole.
Whether it’s a Silver City phenomenon or just a common thread at these lunch spots, I can walk into Chaos, Scratch, or Whiskey Creek Zócalo on any occasion and be nourished in both body and soul.
Jennifer C. Olson
Jennifer C. Olson tells the stories of the Land of Enchantment’s people, places, and culture through outlets such as edible New Mexico, The Bite, and New Mexico Magazine. Whether shining a light on a single fruit or diving into the complexities of the rural food system, she relishes the grains of stories in all of life’s moments. She lives on the outskirts of the Gila National Forest.