Chopes Takes The Crown

By Bridgett Facio-Pickering

Since most people have discriminating taste when it comes to chile rellenos, we wanted to see who, in the valley, truly has the best. Recently, Tu Revista Latina held a month-long digital contest where we challenged the people of Doña Ana County to go out, taste and vote for their favorite chile relleno. On September 8th, Chope's Bar and Cafe was crowned the Best Chile Relleno in the Mesilla Valley with 4,400 votes received in their favor.

In Spanish, chile relleno literally means stuffed chile. Differing stories abound about the beginnings of the popular dish, but it is believed to have been created during the 16th Century Spanish conquest. The original version of the chile relleno was said to be stuffed with minced meat, also coated in an egg batter, and then fried. A staple New Mexican dish, the chile relleno graces the menus of many southwestern restaurants including Chope's Bar and Cafe.

Since the early 1940s, the quaint restaurant has touched the hearts and stomachs of people from around the United States with their homemade authentic Mexican cuisine. Located in La Mesa, New Mexico, it is locally owned and operated by fourth generation family members. The restaurant was named after Jose Benavides, nicknamed "Chope", who was born and raised in the home, which now serves as the cafe.

In 1915, Chope's mother, Longina Benavides, started selling enchiladas out of their home to local famers. Her savory cooking made the family name known throughout the community. After Chope's parents passed away in 1940, he inherited the home and his wife, Lupe, continued the tradition of feeding local farmers. The original bar and cafe were both under one roof until 1948, when they opened the new bar right next door.

After Chope passed away, in 1990, he left the cafe and bar to his wife, Lupe, who ran it until her passing in 2016. Now, the restaurant is run by their three daughters, Amelia Rivas, Cecilia Yanez, and Margie Martinez and also with the help of their grandchildren. The cafe serves over 600 people on Saturday alone. Although all of their food is prepared using traditional family recipes handed down by Longina, today Chope's is one of most sought after restaurants in New Mexico for their homemade chile relleno.

Ofelia Yvonne Loya has been handcrafting each chile relleno to perfection using a not-so-secret recipe for the past 16 years. She starts by stuffing Hatch sun-dried, green chile with a generous amount of white cheese, then coats them in a non-flour egg batter and finally fries them to a beautiful golden brown. For the health conscious, a healthier option is available; the relleno is browned on a griddle instead being fried. Approximately 1,500 rellenos are prepared in a given week and not one goes unsold. The dish is so popular that there have even been requests for them to be shipped out of state!

"We meet so many great people at the restaurant," said Amelia Rivas. "One day I got a call from Hawaii, a lady had a friend who was very ill and her last wish was to eat a chile relleno from Chope’s before she passed." Stories like this are common and people are willing to travel from afar to savor the authentic Mexican food, the ambience and the rich tradition and history that only a place like Chope’s can offer.

Chope was clearly on to something when he came up with their slogan, “Stuff It,” in honor of their famed entrée.