Mesmerized by Charles Medina

I’ll never forget doing chile shots with Charles. But I’ll kick myself for not capturing him on film, or CompactFlash media for that matter. Ouch.

Tortilla Burger at Medina Store in Chimayo

By the time we got to El Santuario Chimayó we were starving. We were either lightheaded from hunger, respectful of his culture, or merely too mesmerized by Señor Charles Medina to take out the camera.

A pity really, because words cannot describe this enchanting character.

Medina Art Gallery at ChimayoAn artist by trade, Charles sells dried chile spice mixes across the street from Chimayó. He crafts incredible crosses from small pieces of turquoise and scrap metal recycled from the old roof of El Santuario chapel, but also works in various other media.

Charles and his sister operate a small store and gallery which has a great looking menu of traditional New Mexican fare. I was excited about the tamales. Unfortunately, they were not serving anything off the menu. It was apparently the off season. Our choices included a tortilla burger, or a tortilla burger.

Having never had one before, I opted for the tortilla burger and we talked them into preparing René a quesadilla. But the highlight was Charles and his patented procedure for peddling his chile:

  1. Crack a pistachio and offer it to the customer. Tell them not to chew it, just moisten it and hold it in their mouth.
  2. Describe the “Mambo #2” chile mix, but mention you’ll save that for later.
  3. Dip the pistachio shell into #1 and offer it to the customer. Have them take the spice and chew it with the nut.
  4. Repeat with the green chile #3 and add a chaser of salt licked from the customers moistened hand.
  5. Remind them about Mambo #2.
  6. Repeat with various remaining spice mixes, finishing with Mambo #2.
  7. Give customer a reminder of #1.

Like I said, words don’t do it justice. You simply had to be there. To hear the accent, to gaze into the deep eyes, to catch the quirky mannerisms. So if you ever get the chance to visit Chimayó, be sure go see Charles. Just remember to bring change. Conveniently, neither he or his sister had change for our $20 bill.

We just wanted to get one spice mix and pay for our burger … before we knew it, Charles threw a couple other spices and some fresh Piñon – pine nuts, the largest I had ever seen – in our bag and took our twenty. How could we argue? The experience alone was well worth it.

The best part? When he described how you must speak up for your food, with respect. Oh, and when he motioned to Rene and told me I know how to pick them.

See Also: Meeting the Magical Mr. Medina, Again

18 thoughts on “Mesmerized by Charles Medina”

  1. I’ve heard about the chile guy with the pistachio shells from multiple people.
    Do you know if Sr Medina can take a credit card over the phone and ship?
    What’s Mambo #2?
    Were any of his chile powders of the heirloom ‘Chimayo’ variety?

    • What incredible timing you have Kate! 🙂

      We planned on visiting Chimayo this week, now we have to go! Mambo #2 was one of Sr. Medina’s chile mixes at the time. We’ll ask him about online/phone orders and provide an update. Stay tuned…

      • So, do you think the fall Chimayó harvest is dried and ground yet? One source told me end of October.

        I have tried to call Sr Medina but have not gotten an answer. I’m looking for a 4-oz bag (or two) his chile chimayó molido, and now I think I need to try the mambo #2 blend as well.

        Also, I saw online were Leona Medina Tiede, of Leona’s Restaurante, died last November. Are they still open?

        Look forward to hearing about your trip.

      • It’s actually Carlitos…
        Just visited him today…about 5 years after the last time.

        Glad you described the way he sells his spices etc. #1, #2, etc.

        He certainly did not want to do a credit card today…but…..when we gave in to using cash he knocked off a few bucks and put more in some of the bags.

        He is a character for sure! But one cannot help but like him.

        • Thanks for the note, glad to hear somethings never change! We had to replenish our Magical Medina stock by mail, and will definitely return again.

  2. What can I say about Charles Medina? My sisters and I met Charles about 15 years ago and we have continued to return to see him, taste and purchase the wonderful chile powders he creates. My tamales, enchiladas, chile verde, mole, salsas and guacalmole only get better by using his chile powders. As for Charles himself, he has always been kind and generous, a man who loves his family and is proud of his children. New Mexico has a rich an proud history and many wornderful places to visit and one place we always make time for is Charles Medina and Chimayo!

    • Thanks for sharing! I for one would love to try your tamales, and look forward to visiting Charles again for some pistachio chile powder tasting!

  3. charles is my old buddy from many visits to chimayo…spend a little more time and charles will side eye you intensely, get real close, and tell you some secret of the universe as if he is telling you a recipe for tamales…charles is a humble profet

  4. Good luck with Chipolte being anything like that but they do give out FREE Burritos the first few days of opening during the employee training 🙂

    I also agree that Jim can pick em, but give Rene a bit of credit here as well. Jim could pick them all day long but it took Rene’s keen senses to see through to the real Jim way back then 😉


  5. Charles and I have a lot in common.. mainly, that I agree you can really pick ’em. Now I can hardly wait for the new Chipotle opening next door; I wonder if it’ll be like that?

  6. in the old barrio we used to call guys like him “maderista” translation= one who can really fling the “toro” !


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