Española  is the place to go for hearty, inexpensive New Mexican.
If you’re just driving through on your way north, stop off for a quick bite at El Parasol (602 Santa Cruz Rd., 505/753-8852, 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, $3), a takeout stand with picnic tables under cottonwood trees and a Spanglish menu (“pollo with guacamole taco”).
If you’ve got more time, head indoors to neighbor El Paragua (505/753-3211, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun., $15) in a big two-story hacienda filled with wagon wheels, wrought-iron bric-a-brac, and vintage newspaper clippings. The place is constantly packed with locals stuffing themselves with big plates of carnitas, chiles rellenos, and the most delectable, perfectly fried sopaipillas in the region—which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also get some flan or capirotada (bread pudding) for dessert.
Turn for both of these places at the sign for Highway 76, which is called Santa Cruz Road in town—the restaurants are immediately on the left.
For a quieter dining experience, look for Matilda’s (424 Corlett Rd., 505/753-3200, 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Tues.–Thurs., 10:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat. and Sun., $7) to the southeast off the main road. The place strikes a homey tone from its front steps, filled with pots of geraniums; Matilda herself, who has owned the place since the 1950s, still presides over the tables. Her family cooks up the very traditional (read: heavy on the chile, light on the cheese) northern New Mexican goods, often using ingredients they’ve grown themselves.
On the main drag (Highway 68/Riverside Drive), diner-style JoAnn’s Ranch O Casado (938 N. Riverside Dr., 505/753-1334, 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri. and Sat., $7) serves breakfast all day, along with very good and inexpensive enchiladas, fajitas, and more. The kitsch factor is high—check out the mini-waterfall.