De La Vegas Pecan Grill and Brewery is known for their pecan beer.


Forty-five miles north of Las Cruces and a world away from Provence is the future in the form of Spaceport America, where commercial space travel is scheduled to begin in late 2013. The ride will last for approximately two hours, with several minutes of that in the weightlessness of space. Deposits ranging from $20,000 to $200,000 for each traveler are being accepted, and more than 560 people — including celebrities — have signed up. Although small towns near Spaceport America will benefit from increased tourism, Las Cruces figures to benefit the most. And based on what I saw, experienced and, well, ate, visitors will be pleasantly surprised.

They can visit Rio Grande Vineyards & Winery, where a Southern New Mexico historian named Gordon Steel can regale them with how winemaking became so popular. So many missions opened in New Mexico beginning in the 1600s, Steel says, that monks had to learn a new craft because “they needed sacramental wine.”

At Amaro Winery, also known as “the local Cheers,” visitors will be entertained with tales of customers taking advantage of Amaro’s policy of allowing outside snacks to be brought in. As long as you’re willing to pay for the wine, you can bring your own eats.

“Craziest thing that ever happened?” owner Kelly Allen asks, repeating a question. “We had some people who came in with a Crock-pot. They plugged it in, bought their wine and had dinner.”

And anyone who visits St. Clair Winery & Bistro should make sure that along with wine, they order the green-chile macaroni and cheese, which may have been my favorite dish of the trip.

Favorite drink in Las Cruces? That’s easy. The pecan draft beer at De La Vega’s Pecan Grill and Brewery.

Drink most representative of the pepper craze? The Chile ’Rita blackberry (Habanero sauce, lime juice, agave tequila and Cointreau) at La Posta de Mesilla.

Dish I wish I could have tried? The stuffed steak at Double Eagle. It is a New York strip steak stuffed with blue cheese and tempura shrimp served with a red-wine bordelaise. The night we visited, it was not on our menu.
And the second — albeit a distant second — most important food item in Las Cruces behind chiles? Pecans. New Mexico ranks No. 1 in the production of chiles and No. 2 behind Georgia in the production of pecans, San Filippo says.

So if you plan to visit Las Cruces, which would be an excellent place for a three- or four-day vacation, you should try one of the featured appetizers at The Game Sports Bar and Grill, an Aggie-themed sports bar with 14,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. The item is called the “Corked Bat,” which consists of pecan-encrusted Hatch green-chile strips served with homemade ranch. If anything captures the food that’s most popular and prevalent in Las Cruces, that is it.