Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

For Michelle Montoya, opening a restaurant is honoring her mother and grandmother and the New Mexico-style cooking that she fell in love with when she was little. 

“This restaurant, why we are working so hard, this is for them,” Montoya said, “In memory of them.”

Montoya is working on getting her Nana’s Tamales New Mexico Cuisines near Old Town Temecula open to the public full time, but for now, she is open just two days a week. 

It has been a long journey for Montoya to get to this point. 

“This was established in 2007 after my mother passed away,” Montoya said. “We moved from L.A. to Texas, and I found quickly out there that there were no little good holes in the walls and there was no New Mexican-style food. We were in Fort Worth, and so we happened to be passing by this small little donut shop and I asked if it was available and they said yes. We opened up Nana’s Tamales out there, and it did very well for two years.”

But the weather in Texas didn’t suit the California native, and she got sick. Her husband worked for Abbott at the time and right about then is when he got transferred to Abbott in Temecula. 

“We didn’t know Temecula at all, and there was no way I was going to get back into the restaurant industry even though I had been cooking since I was eight,” Montoya said. “I just knew that it was too much work, so I was just going to get back into my real estate.”

But as a new real estate agent in the area, she knew she had to stand out. That’s when she began bringing her food to her open houses. 

“Before you knew it, people’s walls would come down and all of a sudden they loved me, they trusted me, they wanted to do business with me,” Montoya said. “After that, they just blew me up on social media saying, ‘I know the lady that makes the best tamales or she makes the best green chili.’”

Nana’s Tamales New Mexico Cuisines tamales covered in green chile sauce. Valley News/Courtesy photo

She started doing some catering in the area until the Health Department came knocking, forcing her to get a commercial kitchen. 

“I was doing winery event and taco parties and weddings, and it was great,” Montoya said. “I came to a point where it’s like, ‘OK, now I’m tired of dragging everything out to the winery now tired of doing this,’” Montoya said. “And I quickly found out, ‘you know, Michelle, you have a big following, you need a restaurant.’”

Nana’s Tamales New Mexico Cuisines’ loaded fries. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Her six children were old enough to help, and she wondered what she would do if anything were to happen to her beloved husband, George. Even though she was hesitant to get back into the game, she said God kept pushing her along until she found her spot. 

“Here I am building this kitchen from scratch,” Montoya said. “And so I have totally embraced who I am. I am not going to push it away. It is obviously my gift. It is New Mexico-style food, meaning that it’s the chili state. Everything is green chile and red chile, and it is very flavorful. It’s made with love, and it’s in honor of my mom and my nana; it’s who I am.”

They are open Saturdays and Sundays only while the restaurant is being built out. 

Street tacos are a big draw at Nana’s Tamales New Mexico Cuisines. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“We have to be open on the weekends because I still cater,” Montoya said. “So because I still have a catering kitchen on Jefferson, and I still make tamales and I still do taco parties. Now I just have my clients come to my restaurant, and they pick up their party trays and then they get to sample my food as well.”

Like she said earlier, her food is all about the chile.

“People from New Mexico are very proud of their chile,” Montoya said. “It’s a fire-roasted green chile pepper or it’s a red New Mexico chile. We blend everything down from scratch. The way the dirt is out there in New Mexico, it just makes this certain kind of chile, just tastes fabulous. The sister to the New Mexico green chile would be something like an Anaheim. However, Anaheim has no flavor, she said. 

Nana’s Tamales New Mexico Cuisines’ smothered burritos are a big hit so far at the restaurant. Valley News/Courtesy photo

“New Mexico chile, it only, happens one time out of the year, and it’s very flavorful and you can get it in all spices from your medium to your hot, to your extra hot.”

She said they are doing enchiladas, smothered green chili burritos, super nachos, tamales, green chile-smothered pork and a few other dishes for now. 

“Of course, we would have street tacos because everybody loves tacos,” Montoya said. “Especially if it has my chile in it. I’m a chili expert, so my salsas are amazing and if you have really good salsa, your tacos will be amazing. But I’m known for my chile.”

Nana’s Tamales New Mexico Cuisines is at 28286 Old Town Front Street in Temecula. Call (951) 401-2021 or visit www.temeculatamales.com or www.facebook.com/Nanas-Tamales-New-Mexico for more information. 

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.