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Magic in Magdalena-by Dani Staley

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Featured Restaurant Tumbleweeds Diner

Magic in Magdalena

Written by Dani Staley 
April, 7th, 2024

“Food and travel are the best couple. They bring out the best in each other.” -Unknown

This statement couldn’t have rung more true for me than it did on my recent road trip to Magdalena for my first meal at Tumbleweeds Diner. Accompanying me was my 15-year-old son, whose food preferences run from slightly questionable to highly discerning. To his credit, for a teenager, he’s not a picky eater; he’ll try anything at least once. And, like his mother, he enjoys unique experiences. I couldn’t think of any better companion to take on this road trip than him.

We departed Albuquerque on a Friday in perfect 65 degrees and sunny weather. The hour-long drive on the I-25 South to Socorro was uneventful and pleasant at best. It was only after we hopped onto the 60 West Interstate to make the last 28 miles to Magdalena that we got into the spirit of adventure. We left the thoroughfare of civilization behind and entered the valley of the old Wild West. There was no signage pointing to the next off-ramp or frontage road, no random buildings or billboards whizzing by. The landscape morphed into a carpet of parched weeds and bushes draped across an earth that was unyielding, barren, and vast. In the far distance, the mountains appeared hazy and small against a canvas of blue sky as we drove down a two-lane road that ran straight into the horizon towards the edge of the world. It was a breathtaking view that transformed an ordinary road trip into a magical memory. If you liked the movie ‘Thelma and Louise,’ I guarantee this is a drive you’ll enjoy.

I-60 to Magdalena

Arriving in Magdalena
We exited the 60 West Interstate thirty-minutes later at our destination, the village of Magdalena.

Named after Magdalena Peak, aka ‘The Lady on the Mountain’ a rock formation in the shape of a
woman’s face overlooking Magdalena, the village is a historic ranching community well-known for
‘Trails End,’ a railroad spur line built in 1885 that transported livestock, sheep wool, ore, and timber
from Socorro to Magdalena.

Cafe in current day Magdalena, Main St.

Established as a municipality in 1884, today Magdalena is a living snapshot of times long past. With several historical buildings from the early 1900’s still intact like the Old Wool Wearhouse, and others used as private residences, businesses, and food establishments, you can easily imagine a cowhand after a hard day’s work, tethering his horse to a post and stopping off somewhere to get a cool beer before heading home.

Tumbleweeds Diner
At the top of a small hill where the road turns into dirt, past the scattering of structures on Main Street, stands a solitary, one-story adobe building on two acres of unfettered land, Tumbleweeds Diner.

Congenial and casual, Tumbleweeds Diner is adorned to suit the culture of Magdalena. Mexican Saltillo square tiles lay perfectly configured against an interior of adobe white. Dreamcatchers, watercolors, and oil paintings depicting scenes of the old West and other traditional art line the walls on the west side of the building. These pieces were all gifted to the diner courtesy of the people of Magdalena and Alamo.

In contrast, the walls on the east side of the building showcase more contemporary, abstract works created by local artisans, which are available for purchase.

A small area by the front door of the diner serves as a makeshift souvenir kiosk, displaying Tumbleweeds Diner branded mugs, t-shirts, and hoodies, Navajo-made accessories, and silver jewelry for purchase — perfect items for tourists as a memento of their experience at Tumbleweeds and in Magdalena. 

The diner setup is simple with no frills; a series of square café tables flanked by wooden backed chairs and benches perched alongside the walls. Suspended overhead is a hefty, hand-hewn log trellis –- a distinguishable piece of art and focal point of the dinner – covering the entire length and width of the room. Plants in macramé holders and a rista of dried red peppers swing from its rafters, with a string of mini-light bulbs dangling around the frame of the structure, invoking an unexpected touch of elegance and romanticism to the space.

Adding a bit of rustic Americana to the diner’s Southwestern theme, the American Flag is proudly stretched out in its full glory across the length of the cashier counter; a cowhide covered footstool next to it on one side, a vintage metal beer cooler on top of a rattan table on the other. 

The most extraordinary feature of Tumbleweeds Diner is found beyond its interior decor. Positioned above the village, the diner has unobstructed views of the desertscape for miles in every direction. With multiple, large square windows directly facing to the east and west, the sun provides a magnificent light show against the backdrop of the sky, bathing every corner of the diner in brilliant white during the day and showering it in dazzling gold at dusk.

There’s also acreage on the side of the restaurant overlooking the mountains that opens during the warmer months to patrons and for special events.

Meet the Owners
Originally hailing from Seattle, life partners and Tumbleweeds Diner owners, Osiris Navarro and Michal Gola, are no strangers to the restaurant business. Having run their own catering company specializing in ethnic foods — Osiris is from the Philippines, Michal is from the Czech Republic — they have a great appreciation and respect for creating fresh, homemade meals from scratch using indigenous spices reflective of the food’s culture and special cooking techniques perfected over the years.

Osiris Navarro and Michal Gola

The Food!

The Good Stuff
Tumbleweeds’ one-page menu has a good variety of burgers, salads, and entrees to choose from, as well as seasonal specialties. For Lent, Tumbleweed added a fish and chips dish to the list, which was recommended as our starter plate. We also ordered the ‘Smashed’ mushroom bacon Swiss burger and fried chicken stix.

Our fish and chips came out first. The fish was cooked to perfection, the fried beer batter coating beautifully crisp and golden. The cod was delicious and fresh without any fishy aftertaste or taste of fried oil. The texture was firm but flaky; every piece of fish broke off in moist, delicious chunks. The hand-cut fries were also enjoyable but definitely upstaged by the fish.

Fish and Chips

Our ‘Smashed’ burger came next. This burger is aptly named after the technique of smashing the beef patty on the griddle, which sears in the juices adding more flavor and richness to the meat. Made with a specific ratio of beef brisket and chuck, the meat is hand-ground fresh daily on the premises, and the patties are formed by hand. Hot off the griddle, and served on a toasted brioche bun, the Swiss cheese was still oozing off the sides of thick sliced bacon on top of a quarter pound of mouth-watering, medium-done Angus beef patty with savory mushrooms sizzling on a bed of lettuce, juicy sliced red tomato, green pickles, and sweet purple onion. The texture of this burger was ‘melt-in-your mouth’ lean, high-quality, flavorful meat with no greasy mess running on your hands. Insanely scrumptious from the first to the last bite, my son and I were in hog heaven with this meal. He called it ‘The Ultimate Burger,’ and I wholeheartedly concur.

Smashed Burger

The fried chicken stix arrived in a covering of breadcrumbs tangy in color, almost like a hot wings sauce, but dry. One bite and you immediately know this is not your grandmother’s fried chicken. Instead of a crunch, the coating was light and crispy, like biting into air-puffed breadcrumbs. There was a subtle, but distinct flavor of sweet and smokey I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Turns out it was the habanero and buttermilk mixture, but there’s also a ‘secret’ breading and cooking process Michal uses to seal in the flavor. The boneless white meat was moist without being greasy, well-seasoned all the way through, and fried up flawlessly. I absolutely loved this dish. My only complaint was I wished there had been more than four pieces.

Fried Chicken Stix

Tumbleweeds is a meal experience that by far surpasses the ‘greasy-spoon’ diner stereotype and is well-worth making the trip to Magdalena.

Interested in bringing Tumbleweeds to Albuquerque? Osiris and Michael would love to meet with you to discuss potential partnership opportunities!
For more information on Tumbleweeds Diner, go to https://www.tumbleweedsnm.com/

Osiris and Dani

For writing and business inquires contact Danielleastaley@gmail.com

Author and Son

Santa Fe and Albuquerque Foodies Roadtrip to Tumbleweeds Diner Sunday, April 28th, 2024 (12-6pm)

Facebook event link here.
https://fb.me/e/3Gp9bL3wz

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