Frida Kahlo is not the same as Georgia O'Keeffe.
Oh sure, their paintings may have the same vibrant colors contrasting with some of the same stark, blocky images, but the artists are clearly separated by cultural differences and influences as defined as the border between the United States and Mexico.
Likewise, it is important to not consider New Mexican food as Mexican food. Or even the same as Tex-Mex food.
Yes, the building blocks of New Mexican cuisine, like that served at Sol Verde, a food cart along SW Century, are chilies and beans. In fact, chilies are so critical to defining the food and culture of New Mexico that it is the only state with an official question, "red or green?" (referring to the chilies).
But New Mexican food is its own genre. A fusion of Mexican sensibilities, like chilies and beans, as well as staples like burritos and corn tortilla enchiladas, but the dishes are equally influenced by Pueblo Indian spices and even a dash of Spanish sophistication (from the 17th and 18th centuries, when parts of the area were territories). All told, the result is flavorful and dynamic dishes—and, daily, Sol Verde dishes up a great representation of this specific and unique melting pot of food sensibilities.
Back for its third summer, Sol Verde is parked across from Safeway on SW Century; a blocky '70s-style RV with mustard and brown-colored strips across the body, ala Steve Austin's mobile. This outer stretch of SW Century is surprisingly quiet and languid. With the smell of ponderosa trees and warm pine cones wafting through the picnic/parking lot area, it is as pleasant to eat at the picnic benches there, as to grab a dish to go.
For a recent lunch, the editorial staff picked up a sampling: Our favorites were the gorditas. Served in what look like brown coffee filters, they take a bit longer to prep (10 minutes), but hardly a long wait and certainly worth it. Sort of like cornmeal hot-pockets, they look like toasted clam shells stuffed with meat and potatoes. "They're cute," our summer intern exclaimed. The first bite was light and refreshing, filled with cilantro that was balanced by soft potatoes and spicy pork filling (two for $6).
The burrito was perhaps where the difference between traditional Mexican and New Mexican food was most noticeable. Again, our summer intern, who attends a prestigious women's college, piped in with a comment. "They're kind of girly," she said, meant as a compliment, noticing the flavors that were slightly floral and fruity, with a wave of heat from green chilies ($8). The tacos also were familiar, yet slightly unexpected, with an interesting happy-medium between soft sided and crisp shells ($5.50).
And, at first glance, the stacked cheese enchilada was lost under a sea of red sauce. But this low-profile take on classic Mexican restaurant fare is less massive mozzarella stick and more multilayer quesadilla in its construction—the result of which is a subtle, melt-in-your-mouth experience topped off with a just-spicy-enough kick. Accompanied by perfectly prepared pinto beans—firm, but not undercooked—and a light iceberg and cilantro salad, the meal was a pleasant balance of warm and cool, soft and crunchy ($7.50).
Subtly different from anything else offered in town—and a great representation of the 100 different ways to eat green and red chilies—Sol Verde is a wonderful addition to Bend's lunchtime.