A Family Legacy and Piece of New Mexico History
By Robert Salas
Lamb chops with red chile and beans. Photo by Stephanie Cameron.
Angelina’s, inconspicuously tucked off Fairview Lane in Española, has a rich history of family ties and community love. The locally beloved eatery was established thirty-six years ago when New Mexico native and visionary Fidel Gutierrez took over the existing restaurant, then owned by state senator of Rio Arriba County, Emilio Naranjo. Gutierrez, wanting to create something special that would solidify his family legacy in New Mexico, named the new restaurant after his wife, Angelina Gutierrez. The family business today is a community staple.
Fast forward to 2001: Fidel’s son, Zev Gutierrez, began his journey toward becoming the head of the family business. Zev gained valuable culinary experience by running his own restaurant and studying under classically trained chefs throughout the state. He became the executive chef of the Artesian Restaurant at Ojo Caliente, but eventually returned to Española to help his father run Angelina’s.
“My relationship with my father was definitely centered around the restaurant. We spent most of our time here growing up,” he said. “I started bussing tables when I was twelve. It runs in my blood, and now my daughter, nephews and nieces, and wife are key players in the running of Angelina’s.”
Zev explained that he’s proud of his now nineteen-year-old daughter, Cassandra Dauz, for her zeal for business and her strong work ethic. However, Cassandra’s aspirations lie elsewhere. She hopes to attend college in the years to come and has the full support of her family. “I just want them to get something good out of working here,” Zev said. “I want them to know the importance of hard work and to know that they can get valuable experience here. Even if it is just a stepping stone to something greater.”
The menu at Angelina’s resembles what you might find in your abuela’s recipe box. Their New Mexican red chile caribe, ground from pods that have a deep scarlet hue and smokey taste, is featured in dishes such as flautas, enchiladas, tacos, nachos, and burritos. Zev said the red chile is sourced primarily from southern New Mexico with a small percentage coming from the northern Rio Grande Valley, specifically Velarde. He says all the chile is tied and dried in the northern New Mexican sun.
Left: Cassandra Dauz, Lourdes Dominguez, Veronica Gutierrez, and Zev Gutierrez. Photo by Alexander Almanza.
Right: Green chile rellenos. Photo by Stephanie Cameron.
“How you serve your chile really identifies what part of New Mexico you’re from,” he said. “The further north you go in New Mexico, the more meat you’ll see in the red chile. Our table chile is served with small chunks of pork. But we do offer a vegan option that is essentially a red chile sauce.”
Many of the restaurant’s staple dishes include regionally sourced lamb, including their lamb chops, lamb burritos, lamb fajitas, and a specialty dish, lamb costillas (ribs). “Lamb is actually a traditional northern New Mexican food. We’ve become known for serving lamb to blue-collar diners whereas lamb in other places is considered a luxury dish,” Zev said.
Served with a side of their smokey red chile, the crispy costillas share a similar texture profile to traditional chicharrones with a succulent touch of juicy rib meat. “The thing about domestic lamb is that they’re grain fed at the end of their life, and that’s very important for the palate of this area. It tastes and feels much different from an Australian or New Zealand lamb,” Zev said. After many years of experimenting with different sources, Zev chose to source his lamb from Greeley, Colorado, because it was the most economically feasible choice, keeping prices low.
In the kitchen at Angelina’s you’ll find veteran head cook Lourdes Dominguez, aka “Mama Lou.” Dominguez has been cooking traditional New Mexican dishes at Angelina’s for more than thirty years and says she puts the same love into the dishes today that she did when she started. “I love cooking food for the families of our community and upholding the traditions that we’ve worked so hard to establish,” she said.
Mama Lou’s right-hand man is cook Dioncio Santos Medina, a man of few words. He keeps his head down, focused on every detail of each dish he prepares. His stoic demeanor sets the tone in the kitchen as the other cooks are diligently prepping ingredients and frying fresh sopapillas.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard and has forced many to adopt new practices to stay in business. Angelina’s is no exception. However, Zev says it has been an opportunity to innovate his business model. “COVID has been a bringer of progress for us,” he said. “Invention and innovation come from necessity. We’ve seen a lot of new opportunities with carryout that we hadn’t really tapped before.”
Community support and pride are what keep the wheels turning at Angelina’s. Zev says keeping a consistent presence and upholding excellent standards is what he wants to exemplify through Angelina’s.“ We aren’t trying to change the world here, but when we do something, we want to do it well. I think the locals feel proud to see a family-owned operation that can hold its own in a market of franchise restaurants.” As a staple of northern New Mexico cuisine built on generations of know-how, Angelina’s more than holds its own.
1226 North Railroad Ave, Española, 505-753-8543