Once a pueblo that offered food to conquistador Don Juan de Oñate, Socorro (Succor, or Relief) now shelters the students of the New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology (a.k.a. New Mexico Tech, 575/835-5011, www.nmt.edu), which has been training engineers since 1889. The town has a small time-warp historic plaza, but the mission-style campus is scenic as well. To reach it, turn west from the main north–south route, California Street, onto Bullock Street and follow it toward the hills.
Wet your whistle at the Capitol Bar (575/835-1193, noon–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–midnight Sun.) on the plaza, which doesn’t seem to have changed much in its century of doing business—this is one of those dim, swinging-door saloons that you thought existed only on movie sets.
Manzanares Street Coffeehouse (110 Manzanares St., 575/838-0809, 6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily), just off the plaza, is a popular non-alcoholic hangout.
For a full meal, try the Stage Door Grill (115 Abeyta St., 866/889-7124, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $10), just off the plaza, or Socorro Springs (1012 N. California St., 575/838-0650, 6:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat. and Sun., $9), a brewpub on the north end of the main drag through town that serves everything from morning coffee and omelets to late-night flame-grilled burgers and creative pizzas.
Another local favorite is Frank & Lupe’s El Sombrero Café (210 Mesquite St. NE, 575/835-3945, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $7), where the salsa verde is especially tasty; it’s just east of I-25 on the north side (Exit 150).
As for accommodations, chain motels are the only real options here; if you want something with a bit more character, head down the road to Magdalena.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition