Tito Gonzalez was a firefighter until he retired in the 1960s. According to his grandson Travis Knight, Tito got bored about two weeks later. “He was in charge of cooking at the firehouse,” Travis says. “His natural progression was a restaurant, I guess.” Tito opened Mary & Tito's Cafe soon thereafter. Today, his daughter Antoinette Knight owns and operates the restaurant; Travis and his brother Jordan serve as acting managers. “My grandparents never advertised. The whole idea was: You do something right and people will find out. It was a word of mouth thing.”
Where We Went
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The weather and scenery in Albuquerque, New Mexico, makes it the hot air ballooning capital of the world.
Mary & Tito's Cafe is housed in a simple building in an industrial area of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Outside, the gravel parking lot kicks up dust. Inside, you're greeted with warm smiles: It feels like a home kitchen. The vinyl booths spring back like a trampoline when you sit, and picture windows let you watch the traffic hum by.
Tito was the cook during the early years, and he was meticulous about the food—especially the green and red chile sauces that are staples of New Mexican cuisine. He personally sourced the raw chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, 200 miles to the south, meeting with farmers until he found a product he liked. Those relationships have endured throughout the years. “The biggest compliment we get is, ‘Man, I haven't had chile like that since my grandma died,” Travis says.
I ask Travis if the recipes have changed at all over the years. “Well, there technically aren't recipes. It's all done by eye and feel. Nothing is written down. The amount of garlic that goes in is based on the size of the pot.”
Other Dishes Served at Mary & Tito's Cafe
Tito passed away when Travis was 7 or 8. “Mom quit her day job and came in to help Grandma. Everyone helped the family business.” As a result, Travis and his brothers grew up in the restaurant. “We have customers who've been eating here longer than I've been alive,” he says. “We literally had a playpen in the corner. Customers come in and tell me, ‘I remember when your mom was changing your diapers here.’”
Over the years, the restaurant expanded to the building next door. “What the kitchen could muster,” as Travis puts it, but the atmosphere, food, and sense of family remain unchanged. “We lucked out,” Travis says. “My grandpa put in the hard work. I don't know if I could do what he did."
If You Go
Restaurant: Mary & Tito's Cafe
Address: 2711 4th St NW., Albuquerque, NM 87107
What we ate (and loved): Chimichanga filled with Carne Adovada (the Wednesday special); New Mexican turnovers stuffed with refried beans and cheese and stuffed with ground beef and cheese; red and green chile.
Insider tip: If it’s your first time visiting New Mexico, you’ll have a lot of people telling you to order your chile “Christmas” (which means that you’ll get both red and green chile over your entree). Do yourself a favor, choose either red or green and appreciate one in all its stand-alone glory. If you just can’t decide and have the room, order a second plate of food with the other chile. The food at Mary & Tito’s is incredibly affordable and the portions are very generous.