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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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Enchanting Fare at Señor Pepper’s
Farmington, New Mexico

Story and photos by Cindy Paulsen

What makes Farmington, New Mexico the perfect waypoint for the hungry aviator? Señor Pepper’s restaurant and cantina, right on the field at Farmington Municipal Airport. Conveniently located in the commercial terminal just west of the tower and only steps from the FBO, Señor Pepper’s offers magnificent mountain and runway views with a Mexican courtyard ambiance. The bright, cheerful décor evokes the legendary charm and hospitality of the Southwest.

Señor Pepper’s opens nice and early (7 a.m.) seven days a week, just in time to de-brief those early morning sorties. Great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and even a late night snack, Pepper’s is also open late — until 10 p.m. every night except Friday and Saturday, when the doors shut a half hour later at 10:30.

The menu is extensive, offering lots of variety, from traditional Mexican fare (rolled enchilada, taco, tostada, rice and beans, etc.), the usual Americanized-Mexican dishes (fajitas, chimichangas, and nachos), to New Mexican favoritos (posole, stuffed sopaipillas, chili rellenos and flat enchiladas). Be prepared to answer New Mexico’s official state question, “Red or green?” referring to your preference of chile sauce. There are also plenty of Gringo choices. Pepper’s has quite a few LifeCourse selections sprinkled throughout the bill of fare. The LifeCourse items are dietician approved as healthier food choices.
Portions are generous, so go easy on the chips and homemade salsa that come once you are seated. Keep tummy space in mind when ordering, so you’ll have room for the fresh sopaipillas and honey that are served along with each meal. Adding dessert to all of that is a real challenge, but one worth taking on in the form of flan (Mexican style egg custard) or fried ice cream.

Seasoning intensity varies from dish to dish, so be prepared for surprises along the way. I found the salsa to be on the mild side of medium, but with a cumulative effect, so that by the bottom of the basket of chips, I had a pleasant “burn” going. My companions claimed the salsa to be even milder, but I noticed a lot of water was consumed throughout our dining experience.

I tried the chicken and cheese chimichanga, known as the Juarez Special at Pepper’s. This is one of the few places in New Mexico your chimi will be lightly deep fried instead of pan fried, the standard New Mexican method of cooking chimis. It was served with plenty of sour cream and guacamole, and although the chicken was mixed with chile Verde (green chile), it was extremely mild — closer to Farmington’s Colorado neighbors in the green-heat scale than the very hot variety of green chile that has made New Mexico famous. I enjoyed the innocuous nature and crispiness of the Juarez Special, but thought the chicken stuffing a little too salty for my taste buds.

The PIC ordered the El Grande combination plate (what else!?), which included a beef taco, tamale, cheese enchilada, and chili relleno, served with beans and choice of rice or posole with, of course, red or green chile sauces where appropriate. They offer substitution of ground beef for shredded in the combination plates, and even let us swap beans for posole in this case. Reports were favorable on all accounts. The rolled enchilada, taco, and rice were comfortably familiar, and the relleno was fluffy and oozing yummy cheese sauce. The tamale was a nice surprise, being much spicier than the usual, and generously stuffed with good quality pork. The posole side was rich, creamy, and spicy – like homemade stew. Overall, El Grande was a great sampler of New Mexican style cuisine.

My accompanying strap-hanger ordered the Huevos Rancheros; corn tortillas, beans, and eggs with chile and melted cheese on top. She enjoyed her Huevos with plenty of red chile and felt the level of spice-heat was just right.

Señor Pepper’s prices are mid-range reasonable, starting at $4.95 for entrees and going up to $8.95 for the largest combination plate. The friendly and helpful servers seem equipped to accommodate both quick turn-arounds and leisurely paced diners. We camped for two hours without a trace of impatience from our waitperson. The lunch rush starts around noon on Saturdays and about 11 a.m. or even earlier on Sundays and weekdays, with many Farmington locals coming to the airport just for the food and view, so early arrival is recommended.

Pepper’s has a private banquet room and catering services available. For when the flying day is done, they serve cocktails, beer, and wine in the restaurant or in their spacious cantina (the lounge). Smoking is only allowed in the lounge. American Express, MasterCard, Visa, cash, and local checks are accepted. Call 505- 327-0436 for catering, large groups, or more information.
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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
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©2001 Southwest Regional Publishing, Inc.