Highway to Heaven

Poco and Mom's deserves to be its own destination on your map of fine eats.

Swooping down a highway with a full and empty day stretching ahead, finding a great diner can give a road trip a glorious spin. A true road warrior has that intuition when to exit the highway, turn down the street and sniff out a bona fide diner. Sometimes these diners become a part of the road warrior's lore. The green chile at Mr. Maestas's outside Holbrook is like Holy Grail for those of us who make our pilgrimages back to the motherland of green chile on a regular basis. And if you make it up to Taos, then you must stop in at Michael's for your bowl of green chile or huevos served Christmas (red and green).

Of course there are some prerequisites for what makes a good road diner great. It should look utterly innocuous from the outside or have a cheesy sign in the window with letters missing when the neon lights up. You'll know you're on the right track if they play bad '70s music and sell fake kachinas, pottery and/or arrowhead clocks by the door. The waitress has a toothpick that never moves in the corner of her mouth, and she can carry seven plates without missing a beat. She'll probably call you Sweetie, Babe or Hon. She might even use your name if it's tooled on the back of your belt, but only if your belt buckle is the size of a license plate. Otherwise, you'll have to settle for Hon. The coffee pot is always full, the plates drip grease, and the line cook is probably hung over. In short, it's a keeper.

If you don't have time to man the expedition and leave town, you might want to drop by Poco & Mom's, located on Pima between Swan and Craycroft. Of course the high road is nowhere in sight, but the parking lot out back is usually full.

When you walk in the door, you'll be greeted by the rich smell of coffee and red chile. The place is probably pretty busy, always a good sign, and then you'll hear it--those familiar strains--

"...There's a lady who is sure all that glitters is gold ..."

Someone pops their head up over the counter and waves you on in: "Take a seat anywhere, Hon."

OK, so you might want to bring a Walkman.

Still, the food is diner fare, serving plenty of homey platters of home fries, eggs, biscuits and gravy. Although we were initially excited to see Poco & Mom's advertising New Mexican chile, we were sorely disappointed not to find our coveted steaming bowls of green chile. We hail from northern New Mexico, and how we long for our homeland's best offerings, a bowl of incendiary green, a bit of melted cheese, chopped onion and a fresh tortilla. But no, Poco & Mom's offers a decidedly Mexican/American menu with regular diner fare, burgers, chops, biscuits and gravy, grilled cheese. Of course the best part of the menu, served up with the most love, is the Mexican side.

The Migas ($5.59) are just what any weary traveler would want to order and probably not want to share. A generous tumble of scrambled egg, tortilla rajas, chorizo and jalapeños (canned?) served with a side of refried beans is the kind of jet fuel that would see you clear to Albuquerque without stopping.

The Huevos Rancheros ($5.09), another whopping platter, was served in a rather uninspired ranchero style sauce. Served with home fries and tortillas, the plate was filling, but certainly not elevating a classic dish to where it should hover, on the plane of the sublime. Instead, you might want to order the Huevos Rojos ($5.39), which features a pretty decent red chile, and is more in keeping with what Huevos Rancheros should be all about.

Actually, pretty much anything you order with the homemade red chile is a decent bet. The Red Chili Pork Burro ($6.75) is an enormous platter slathered in a rich, glossy red chile. I know friends who have come to blows over whose mother made the best red chile, and it was true, those chiles were worth drawing blood over. Here at Poco & Mom's the red chile probably won't incite a riot, but it is a solid, comforting find.

The Carne Asada Tacos ($5.05) are surprisingly good. The carne asada is crispy, drenched in lime and features the right smoky flavor. The tacos are wrapped in two tortillas, served soft or hard at your request, stuffed with tomatoes, cheese and lettuce. Kinda just like your mom might make. For the asking price, the plate is a bargain.

Unless you really like a plate swimming in sour cream, the Sour Cream Enchiladas with Green Chili and Chicken ($6.95) isn't recommended. We ordered the green chile just to give it a try, and were disappointed to find the chiles were canned and flavorless. If you stick with the red chile, you should be a happy camper.

More than anything, Poco & Mom's hums with that genuine down-home flavor. The art on the walls is just like you've seen in every road stop café from here to Gallup and beyond. You'll be greeted with those crashing guitars from the '70s, the whish and whir of the dishwasher in the back, the endless cup of coffee.

If it is simple fare that you seek, and a bit of the glorious tug of the open highway, then you might want to drop in for breakfast. Even if you can't quite swing a road trip, you can always order some red chile and get dreamy with a map.

Poco & Mom's. 5224 E. Pima St. 325-7044. Open Monday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Checks & Cash. Menu items: $4.05-$7.95.
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