Angelina’s: Seeking Lamb Chicharrones and Chicos in Espanola

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Restaurant Sign Espanola

It's worth driving to Española to experience Angelina's regional rarities.

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.


New Mexico Food Espanola

Of course we had to start with a plate of no-longer mythical lamb chicharrones ($3.50) that were indeed on the menu.

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.

Angelina’s section of “Native Plates” featured an impressive 19 options, including a dish that Rivera chef John Rivera Sedlar (and his mother) touted earlier in the day at at Taste of Santa Fe.

New Mexico Food Espanola

Chicos ($7.99) were kind of like a cross between corn and hominy, young corn that was roasted al horno and sun dried. The kernels were then stewed with lean chunks of pork and topped with red or green chilies. We went with green, which added a lingering kick.

New Mexico Food Espanola

We leaned heavily on the “Lamb Specialties” menu section, opting for a double order of Lamb Costillas ($11.50), eight rotisserie ribs served with an intoxicating bowl of stewed pinto beans.

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.

New Mexico Food Espanola

A basket of sopaipillas came with our entrees. The airy fried bread was good for dipping in bean broth or stuffing with chicharrones.

New Mexico Food Espanola

A “side” of Stuffed Sopaipillas ($5.75) was crammed with carne adovada, pork cooked in red chile sauce.

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.

Angelina’s: Seeking Lamb Chicharrones and Chicos in Espanola

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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