Story and photos by Marc Zorn
We had to laugh about the convoluted way we found ourselves at El Charrito Restaurant just outside the airport in Gallup. This wasn’t our intended destination. But, if we’d known about this great little restaurant before we left, things might have been different.
The forecast that morning said it would be one of those great December days. It was to be cool, calm, and clear for a few hundred miles in every direction. Anywhere we could fly round trip from Albuquerque was forecast to be gorgeous. The Southwest has more than its fair share of days like this every year.
As it turns out, we had charts for every direction but the one in which we had planned to fly. Fine. If we couldn’t go east to the Texas panhandle, then we’d fly in the opposite direction. I suggested we head to Winslow to grab some lunch, and fly over Meteor Crater before heading back. This sounded good to both of us. With the tanks full and a couple of cups of coffee in us, we saddled up and headed west.
The terrain between Albuquerque and Winslow is very pretty and colorful. There are lots of huge black lava beds and cinder cones from ancient flows. The rock is rich with iron, which gives it a deep red hue. There is also green scrub over the top of the mesas, and light brown sand everywhere else. The terrain has some interesting magnetic properties that can play havoc with your magnetic compass and ADF. In this part of the country there are long stretches with very few people for miles and miles. If you’re not familiar with the terrain, it’s probably best to stay within sight of obvious landmarks, like Interstate 40.
Just past the Arizona/New Mexico border, still 25 minutes away, we decided to dial up the Winslow ASOS to plan for our approach. Surprise! The automated voice was reporting a 100-foot ceiling and one mile of visibility. But, that couldn’t be right. The forecast was for clear skies everywhere, including Winslow! Looking toward the west, we could see only one small section of low clouds, and it was sitting right over Winslow. Everywhere else we looked was severe clear. It was time to plan for destination number three.
The closest airport was Gallup, about 35 miles northeast of our position. Looking in the Flight Guide, the only restaurant listed was closed on Sundays. Unfortunately, the cups of coffee I’d had an hour earlier gave my bladder some influence on our decision.
Finding the Gallup Municipal Airport (GUP) is easy. The GUP VOR is at the top of the ridge about five miles west. The runway is parallel to I-40, Old Route 66, the train tracks, and is clearly marked. It’s difficult to miss, once you’re lined up.
The folks in the well-equipped terminal building office were very helpful. They gave us the inside scoop on the restaurant situation. The one in the Flight Guide was indeed closed on Sundays. But, they suggested El Charrito Restaurant, which was nearby and had just opened up the previous week. It was open on Sundays, and certainly worth a try.
The walk was short and very pleasant in the cool air and the midday sun. Just walk past the T-38 on a pedestal, outside the gate, turn right, and walk half a block. It only took us about five minutes.
As soon as we opened the door, we knew it was going to be good. The smell from the restaurant was inviting us in for a great meal. We were immediately seated. The friendly, soft-spoken waitress came by without delay. (I always appreciate efficient service.) The menu is well rounded, so we had trouble deciding what to get. They serve breakfast all day on Sundays, which complicated the choice. When asked, the waitress recommended a few things, including the Navajo taco.
The Navajo taco was calling my name. That is Indian frybread, ground beef, green chile (a New Mexico staple), lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Don wanted breakfast and decided to have the enchiladas and eggs. The two cheese enchiladas came with red or green chile (or “Christmas,” which is both), eggs any style, hash browns, bacon, and a tortilla.
The food was excellent! My Navajo taco had just the right balance of ingredients and amounts, especially the green chile, which gave me that warm feeling inside and made my nose run a little. Heaven. Don mentioned that his enchiladas and eggs were also perfect. There wasn’t much conversation while we ate, just a lot of nodding, chewing, and smiling. That’s always a good sign.
Afterward, we agreed that if we lived nearby, we’d be in there all the time. So, what would make a pilot fly to Gallup for this meal? Well, pilots will fly without too much provocation, but a good recommendation will get them to fly to a specific place. I can certainly recommend flying to Gallup Municipal Airport (GUP) and taking the short walk to El Charrito Restaurant. I know I’ll be back, even if I’m driving.
El Charrito Restaurant is located at 2003 West Highway 66, and is open Monday to Saturday from 6am to 9pm, and Sundays from 7am to 2pm. Tel: 505-722-8969.