Aztec cafe reopens in Bloomfield
BLOOMFIELD — Local Mexican food chef Andrew Barela says moving his restaurant from a standard set-up in Aztec to smaller quarters in Bloomfield has been all bueno.
After 25 years of leasing his restaurant, Los Barela's, at its former location on Aztec Boulevard in the county seat, the chef decided to relocate to nearby Bloomfield. Earlier this year, he reopened his standard Mexican café in perhaps the unlikeliest of structures, an old train caboose parked on a gravel lot on North First Street across from the First Baptist Church.
The move has been a change for the better, Barela said.
Despite having cottonwood trees for shade and plenty of seating in an adjoining patio area, most customers prefer Barela's car-hop service.
Though he plans to rebuild the train car to accommodate a drive-up window, for now, he does a lot of hopping out of one end of the caboose to deliver any of his menu's 28 signature burritos to a hungry driver idling out front.
Barela is often up as early as 3 a.m. making pots of refried beans and tubs of New Mexican chile-based salsas, and rolling out his breakfast burritos for his weekday opening time of 5 a.m.
Most of his early-morning customers work in the oil field, he said. His eatery is situated only a few miles south of the gas plants on the north side of town.
He also caters events and training sessions for oil and gas companies, and for fundraisers at his church, Calvary Chapel in Farmington, he said.
Barela said his special take on Mexican fare has always been to keep it simple.
But his taste for the food is complicated, especially for someone who often makes hundreds of tacos, enchiladas and burritos six days a week.
"I don't like Mexican food," he said. "I make the same food; I just season it different."
Never a big fan of Mexican food spice staples like cumin, Barela said his food is a New Mexican's spin on the beans and rice-heavy cuisine: plenty of salt, pepper and garlic for seasoning.
And lots of green and red chiles. But not the chiles even non-New Mexicans have heard of — the Hatch chile.
"It's overrated," he said of the state's signature chile. Barela favors chiles from Belen, Española, Socorro or the Pecos Valley region.
Los Barela's also offers unique versions of popular dishes like carne asada. Barela said he prefers using rib eye steak instead of the more commonly used skirt steak, which lacks tenderness. Barela said it's "the worst piece of meat."
His wife also leans toward unexpected culinary creations. She came up with the best of both worlds, he said — the enchilada burrito, a two-in-one dish that is popular for breakfast or lunch, he said.
Barela didn't forsee having a future in food, but after four years in the Army, he said he had become an alcoholic and "was lost for two years."
He got some cooking jobs at truck stop cafés. In 1989, he went pro, opening his first restaurant, the Taco Hut, in his hometown of Tucumcari. The town is the largest city for travelers on a stretch of Interstate 40 between Albuquerque and Amarillo, Texas.
He met his future wife, Bernadette, at the eatery. She worked as a waitress there, he said.
Today, he said he is happy to sit perched in a train car and watch customers pull in. Barela said that if they call in an order and give a make and color of car, he'll run out when he sees it pull up.
"Call in, carry-out or car hop — whatever people like," he said.
He also uses social media to engage his diners, he said. Once a week, he posts photos with trivia questions and gives away a burrito as a reward.
Barela said three of the four employees at the Aztec eatery followed him to Bloomfield.
And customers, he said, are right behind them.
When Bloomfield resident Lyndsey Wakkinen saw Barela's eatery had relocated to her town, she decided to come by for lunch. Wakkinen, a mortgage loan processor, first tried Barela's burritos at a fundraiser last year.
On Thursday, she tried Barela's chicken burrito smothered in green chile and cheese.
"I usually go for the green chile," Wakkinen said. "It was just fantastic. It was a positive experience."
Wakkinen said that when her husband, oilfield worker Jamie Wakkinen, learned about her lunch order, he was a tad jealous. He took his lunch in a brown bag to work that day.
"He was like, 'Where’s mine?'" she said, laughing.
James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.
What: Los Barela's
Where: 200 N. First St. in Bloomfield
Hours: 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday
More info: Call 505-632-1313 or search for Los Barela's on Facebook