In the bustling historic district of downtown Frederick, Maryland there lies a little bit of home, sort of. I have been living on the east coast for almost three years now and if there is one thing this New Mexico native misses, it’s New Mexican food with our signature Green Chile. New Mexican Green Chile is known to many farmers as the Anaheim Pepper. It grows fabulously well in the hot and dry climate of New Mexico and southern California and, depending on ripeness at the time of harvest, the Anaheim Pepper may be served either red or green. During my time here in Maryland, I have discovered that most Mexican restaurants have never heard of Green Chile, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing of value to offer.
During my first trip to the east coast to visit Xavier (back before he was promoted to the rank of husband), he took me to Cacique in an effort to make me feel at home. I ordered the Chile Rellenos made with Poblano Peppers and asked the waiter if I could get them “with red and green”? He raised an eyebrow and asked, “Red and green what?” After an awkward moment of staring at each other, I said, “Never mind, the way you usually make it will be fine.” Our waiter did not know what Green Chile was but the Chile Rellenos he brought me were fantastic. At the end of our meal, Xavier asked if I enjoyed my food and I remember saying that, “It’s different than the Mexican food I’m used to but it’s very good in its own right.”
Since this fateful first meal, Xavier and I have eaten at Cacique Restaurant many times, including on our wedding day, and it has become my favorite restaurant both because it reminds me of home and because of the unique dishes they offer that are not available at most Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque. It is worth mentioning that the front cover of Cacique’s menu reads “Fine Spanish And Mexican Cuisine” and, while they may not know what Green Chile is, they have some excellent Spanish offerings including an amazing steamed mussel appetizer that I wouldn’t expect to see on the menu at Little Anita’s or Taco Sal anytime soon.
Every dining experience at Cacique begins with being seated either inside the upscale restaurant or on the tiny and crowded, but exclusive and cool, sidewalk patio. The streets of downtown Frederick are never boring and there is no better place to sip a mojito or margarita and watch the endless parade of interesting people, weird cars, and dogs in costumes than the patio at Cacique.
The wait staff is always well dressed and polite and the most important dish they will bring to the table is the chips and salsa, which are made from scratch daily. I have enjoyed a lot of salsa in my day, most of it in New Mexico, but the one that stands out the most is the freshly made salsa at Cacique. With an absolute perfect balance of tomato, cilantro, onion, lime juice, and jalapeno, the only other salsa that may have come close was from the old Territorial House Restaurant that was operation in Corrales between 1972 and 1987. Like the Territorial House, Cacique also sells their salsa to go although they have not yet started packaging it for sale in grocery stores.
Cacique offers most of the same types of dishes that one would expect to find in New Mexico. They have enchiladas, chile rellenos, burritos, tacos, and chimichangas but, at Cacique, these dishes are just a little different. The most notable difference is the absence of Green Chile but the sauces they use are made of different types of peppers and are delicious in their own right. Another big difference is a conspicuous lack of corn tortillas. If you order enchiladas at Cacique, they are made with flour tortillas. I have never been a fan of the traditional Spanish rice, usually served as an obligatory space filler on standard issue plates of New Mexican food, but Cacique uses a completely different seasoning on their rice and it’s amazing! Speaking of obligatory space fillers, in New Mexico it is possible to order any type of beans you want so long as pinto is your bean of choice. At Cacique, many of the dishes come with black beans.
Tied with the salsa for first place, my other favorite thing about Cacique is their unique way of serving sopapillas. In New Mexico, sopapillas are usually brought to the table in a basket and many restaurants bring them automatically. Everyone knows the sopapillas are to be filled with the honey (syrup) that’s already on the table and enjoyed as a dessert of sorts. Cacique also serves sopapillas but they are listed as an actual dish on the dessert menu. The reason for this is because when sopapillas are ordered at Cacique, they are brought to the table on a huge plate, arranged around a hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Your dining companion may need to roll you back to your car afterwards but it’s well worth the caloric splurge.
Being a New Mexican living in a foreign environment can be tough, and even lonely at times, but comfort food is an effective way to feel at home. To my fellow desert dwellers, should you find yourself adrift in the foreign land of Frederick, Maryland be sure to get yourself a curb side table at Cacique and don’t forget the margarita!