Dining September 25, 2016
The New Mexico Restaurant In The Middle Of Nowhere That’s So Worth The Journey
Some of New Mexico’s best restaurants are nestled in
small towns in the middle of nowhere. However, it can be hard to know which places are worth a detour. Chope’s Town Café and Bar is definitely out-of-the-way, but the chile rellenos and enchiladas make it absolutely worth the journey.
Chope’s is located in La Mesa, which is home to 728 people. It’s roughly 18 miles south of Las Cruces and 34 miles north of El Paso.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
If you’re coming from Las Cruces, you have several options when it comes to routes. I recommend driving along Route 28.
This takes you past Stahmann’s, which is known as the world’s biggest pecan producer. The 168,000 pecan trees create a tunnel of trees, making this drive a pretty one.
Route 28 is called the Don Juan de Oñate Trail because it follows the path that Oñate took as he traveled from Mexico into New Mexico. This stretch of El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro, or the Royal Road, is particularly tranquil. Let your appetite build as you watch the landscape roll, until you arrive in La Mesa.
Chope’s is an integral part of La Mesa. The restaurant acts as a social hub for this small community and has done so for many years.
The restaurant got its start in 1915, when Longina Benavides would light the kerosene lamp outside her house to let locals know that she had enchiladas for sale. Let that sink in for a moment. Chope’s has been open for more than 100 years!
The restaurant is still inside Longina Benavides’ old house, which was constructed around 1880.
In 1940, Longina’s son Jose “Chope” Benavides (after whom the restaurant is named) and his wife Guadalupe “Lupe” Benavides took over the business. Lupe is responsible for crafting many of the recipes that remain in use today.
The chile rellenos here is the stuff of legends.
A spicier, long chile is used in place of a poblano. Unlike other restaurants, the chile rellenos here are served plain. They’re so delicious that they don’t need sauce. This menu item is also the reason why the restaurant’s logo is “stuff it!”
The restaurant’s other signature dish is the enchiladas that were responsible for its initial success.
The green enchiladas arrive topped with hunks of chile. Spice levels here are strong enough to please New Mexican palates.
In 1948, a bar was added to the Chope’s complex - it’s the building with the colorful murals. The full menu is available in both the restaurant and bar.
The restaurant is historically significant in part due to its support for the Bracero Program. This guest worker program allowed Mexican nationals to work in the United States when World War II left the agricultural industry short of employees. The braceros often dined at Chope’s and sometimes traded crops for meals. As a result, the restaurant has always prized fresh, local ingredients.
Neither Chope nor Lupe Benavides are still with us, but Chope’s continues to be a family affair. Six generations have been involved with the restaurant and dining here feels like eating in a family member’s home.
Chope’s address is: 16145 S. Highway 28, La Mesa.
The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays and it doesn’t accept reservations.
Have you dined at Chope’s? Share your experiences at this special place on the
Only In New Mexico Facebook page.