I pulled off at a 4-way intersection with a flashing red traffic light somewhere in the middle of central New Mexico. I’d been meandering the back roads out east of White Sands and I was starving. I hadn’t seen a town in hours.
The two-block Main Street that comprised the one-horse town looked like it had seen better days. As I slowly cruised in search of sustenance, I happened upon a low-slung building with a handful of pickup trucks in the grass-smattered lot. A weathered sign towered above it. La Fiesta. Authentic Mexican Food. It looked like the only show in town. I entered.
Filtered sunlight streamed through the narrow windows.
A long buffet stretched across the back of the restaurant. One couple sat alone in a plush red banquette booth. The place was as empty as a prairie, but the smells emanating from that hot table spoke to me. It was a hundred miles to the next town. There was no one to seat me so I conspicuously sat myself at a 4-top in the middle of the barren floor. A woman approached. “Can I help you?”
“Are you still open for lunch?”
“Buffet just closed,” she said. “We can make you something off the menu.”
I waved it away. “How about enchiladas and some refrieds.”
“We can do that.”
“Got any tamales?”
“Is the pope catholic?” We smiled. “You want the pork with Hatch chili sauce?” It was New Mexico. Of course I did.
A few minutes later as I sat in the now-empty restaurant inhaling my meal, the proprietor, Marie, sat down to join me. We quickly dispensed with the “where you from” and “what the heck is a guy from New York doing out here” conversation. The dialogue turned to life in this crossroads, which was the true reason I take to the American back roads at least once or twice a year. I am endlessly hungry. I want to know.
La Fiesta, like so many other small-town eateries, had fallen on hard times. It had been her parents’ place, and when her dad got too sick to run it, she took over. That was 12 years ago. Her dreams of dentistry school had gone up in the smoke of a thousand combo de platos. Now she employed one chef, two weekend waitresses, and did the rest herself. I told her the food was delicious. She asked me what I did. I said I wrote about food. A smile crossed her face. “Excuse me,” she said.
A few moments later, she came out with a tray groaning with heavy white industrial plates. Chile Relleno in a piquant green hatch chili sauce. Carne adovada in a fragrant red chili broth. A steaming side of posole with tender hunks of pork shoulder sprinkled with fresh cilantro. And of course a warm tray of blue corn tortillas to sop up all those amazing flavors. I ate ’til I burst, sauce running down my chin, nearly weeping tears of gratitude as I let the flavors permeate my soul.
We talked, just the two of us, about the geographical distance that separated us and yet how much we had in common. We both had sons in college dreaming of a career in sportscasting, mine in upstate New York, hers in a nearby town. The night shift started to trickle in. I asked for the check. She held both hands up but I insisted. She drew up a slip. Nine dollars for the enchilada and tamales. I put a twenty on the counter next to the cash register and held up my hands. I was still thinking about those tamales an hour down the road.
The intersection that is Beyondish.
That’s where this all began. Good food. Local peeps. The place you’d never find if someone didn’t tell you about it. All served up with a dollop of green sauce and a smattering of friendly conversation.
A year ago, when we we first threw our team together, we figured we’d be a useful resource for the business traveler, the road warrior, or anyone blowing through that American town where a tasty dish was one well-placed question away. Then, everything changed.
Today, 1 out of 6 places are closed, and there are more hard working people like Marie than any of us can imagine, fighting to keep their dream alive and put a meal on the table for themselves and the rest of us. It’s a unique calling. I spent a year in a professional kitchen and wrote a book about it with a chef friend of mine. You have never met more impassioned, hardworking, talented, bordering-on-nuts professionals in your life – the ones who make that meal service happen. They don’t just have dreams. They have stories.
That’s what we’re going to do here at Beyondish. Celebrate their dishes and tell their stories. Because everyone’s hungry and we all have a favorite dish. And there’s not a joint in America that doesn’t need a helping hand, a mouthwatering picture, a few kind words, and the impetus to put it out there so the customers will come.
Welcome to the Beyondish community. Let’s spread the good word. It’s a first step in getting us all back on the road to recovery.
The editors at Beyondish will check in occasionally on this page with news from the American foodscape. In the meantime, we invite you to think about YOUR favorite restaurant meal and dishing up a review. You don’t need to be a food writer. Just a hungry soul with a short, sweet story to tell. See how easy it is at Submit a Review.
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