It’s not quite the Golden Rule, but Eating LA founder Pat Saperstein may have stumbled upon another tried and true expression when she sat down next to a stranger in Santa Fe Plaza: “Never doubt a Jewish mariachi.” The wise L.A. expat told her tales of a magical town called Española where chefs crafted chicharrones from lamb instead of pig. Saperstein reported her find and it wasn’t long before our group was on the road north to eat dinner at Angelina’s, which came into focus as the sun began to set over the New Mexico hills.
Angelina Gutierrez and Chris Quintana opened their New Mexican restaurant in 1987, serving regional classics and a handful of dishes that were rarely found outside of home kitchens. They relocated to the current address 12 years ago. The cavernous space features two rooms, art on the walls, and ristras (strings) of dried red chilies hanging in the windows. Not that their commitment to chilies was ever in doubt. A banner near the entrance advertises Angelina’s as a “Proud Member of the New Mexico Green Chile Society,” and the sign sports a fire-red pepper.
Crusty fried lamb skin nubs were salty, with a pronounced funk that isn’t normally present in their porcine counterpart. It was easy to see why the Jewish mariachi prefers to toss the crisp bits into his homemade quesadillas for crunch’s sake.
Every chance he got during the course of the weekend, Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang requested “Christmas style,” meaning an even split of red and green chilies. Green chilies typically pack more heat, and red chilies are sweeter. The ribs themselves were too salty and dry, but there was something appealing about gnawing on the leathery, jerky-like meat.
Unfortunately sopaipillas were also filled with refried pinto beans. Between that and the blanket of red chile sauce and cheddar, this dish became soggy. The beans also diluted the pork’s impact. This was my least favorite dish of the night.
Angelina’s wasn’t quite the across-the-board epiphany we were hoping for, but the mariachi did lead us to dishes that were unthinkable, even in Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, and of New Mexican cuisine.