When wandering around the historic plaza of Old Mesilla, New Mexico, there’s really only one place to eat. That’s La Posta de Mesilla, a colorful restaurant with a colorful past that’s been filling bellies and quenching thirsty palates in the desert southwest since 1939.
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Where is Old Mesilla, New Mexico
If you’re looking for Old Mesilla, population 2100, it will be easier to find Las Cruces, New Mexico. Las Cruces, population 100,000, surrounds Old Mesilla, which is about 45 minutes from El Paso, Texas and the Mexican border.
This is as Old West as it gets. Billy the Kid was jailed here. That means lawman Pat Garrett was here, too, chasing Billy the Kid. Pancho Villa hung out here as well. And certainly all sorts of bad guys and bad girls who contribute to the legend and lore of the Old West.
Of course, the jailhouse that held Billy the Kid is now a gift shop. There are other gift shops on the Plaza with lovely jewelry, locally grown pecans and wines, as well as the beautiful Basilica of San Albino.
Personally, I was interested in a guy known in these parts as El Ermanito de la Cueva. There’s a chapter in my book Kansas Myths and Legends about The Hermit of the Santa Fe Trail. They are one in the same, and the old Hermit is buried in the Old Mesilla Cemetery. He was murdered mysteriously in the nearby Organ Mountains in 1869.
So aren’t you already planning a road trip to Old Mesilla? It’s that kind of place.
La Posta de Old Mesilla
They say that Billy the Kid ate at La Posta, but that’s not quite possible because the restaurant didn’t officially open until 1939. The Kid died sneaking into a woman’s bedroom in 1881 in nearby Fort Sumner, New Mexico. However, La Posta now operates in the meandering rooms of a former hotel and stagecoach stop on the Butterfield Trail. So yes, he ate in this building while he was in jail across the street. It’s a fine line.
Order up a big margarita (they have more than 100 kinds of tequila here) and here’s the story:
The building that is now La Posta de Mesilla was built around 1865 as a stop for the stagecoach. It was primarily a hotel, but surely if the horses were getting watered, so were the people.
A guy named George Griggs buys the hotel in 1900 and starts renting the rooms to local folks to use as a base for their businesses. In 1939, George Griggs’ niece, Katy, was 25 years old and wanting to start her own business. Uncle George sells her a room for $1.
Back then, the space had no running water, dirt floors and open windows allowing birds and other critters to come and go at will. Can we all give a “glory hallelujah” for our modern health code?! So Katy opens her little Mexican restaurant and it’s an immediate hit.
Eating at La Posta de Mesilla Today
And it’s been that way for more than 80 years. Katy, who was quite the flirt with married men, we’re told, eventually took over the entire building. Here’s a tip: If you leave your table to use the restroom, first drop a GPS marker on your phone. The rooms and public spaces flow one from another, turning and twisting here and there in a colorful maze. Yes, I got lost trying to find our table again.
There’s a dining room for every occasion at La Posta, each one festive, colorful and always filled with happy diners. There’s a private dining room now in what was her bedroom. You’ll find a fish tank with piranhas and a large bird cage filled with exotic birds in the original courtyard. Katy traveled all over the world and brought these critters home with her. The yellow haired parrot, named Frodo, came from her trip to the Amazon.
Katy died in 1993 and the restaurant is now owned by her great-niece-by-marriage’s family. It’s a stretch, but still, it’s family. And La Posta is as popular as ever, in part because of the long time employees here. Some have worked at La Posta for more than 50 years.
La Posta on the U.S.S. Mexico Submarine
Here’s a cool thing that speaks to the love that people of New Mexico have for La Posta: In 2008, the U.S.S. New Mexico was christened. It’s a Virginia-class submarine and the galley of the sub is named La Posta de Mesilla. And more importantly, the cooks on the submarine came to Mesilla and trained in the kitchen of La Posta.
Now I’m curious if any other ship or submarine has a similar restaurant connection to the state it’s named for.
And can they drink margaritas on the submarine? Do they stock 100 kinds of tequila? If so, sign me up sailor!
Tip: For another fabulous and uniquely New Mexican place to eat in Albuquerque, follow Interstate 25 north about three hours for cookies!!!
Or, for authentic Mexican food in the Midwest, visit the Taco Trail in Kansas City, Kansas.