Mas menudo?

Love it or not, this savory Mexican soup is legendary in the Southwest
Nora Burba Trulsson

Frankly, it's been decades since I've overdone it on New Year's Eve, but that doesn't stop me from indulging in a favorite New Year's Day ritual: I savor a steamy, spicy, chewy bowl of menudo, the legendary Mexican soup traditionally eaten after a night of revelry. It's been said that menudo cures the aftereffects of those multiple champagne toasts.

Made with beef tripe and hominy, menudo is often flavored with garlic, onions, and dried chilies. Some cooks like to add a cow's or pig's foot for extra oomph. In any case, it's an adventure in eating, one that my husband and kids emphatically don't care to share with me.

"When it comes to menudo, you either love it or hate it," admits George Shaar, a fourth-generation menudo maker and manager of El Minuto Café, his family's Mexican restaurant in Tucson. On New Year's Day the menudo lovers come out in droves, and Shaar's restaurant will sell 50 or 60 gallons of the soulful soup by midday.

Menudo's origins remain rather murky. While you can find variations of the soup throughout Mexico, it seems to be most closely associated with the areas near the U.S. border, where cattle ranching flourished.

Menudo's mystical power to cure the queasy stomach and throbbing head of a classic hangover does have some merit, says Ester Ruiz, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at Arizona State University and an expert on Latino health issues. Menudo fights the dehydration and loss of vitamins and minerals caused by consuming alcohol, she says, and its high fat and carbohydrate levels help the body process alcohol more quickly.

You don't have to wait for a hangover ― or even New Year's Day ― to sample menudo. Plenty of Mexican restaurants, particularly the smaller, family-owned establishments, have menudo on their daily menu. Order a big bowl, either blanco (loosely meaning plain or clear) or rojo (red, with spicy chilies). You'll probably be served several condiments, such as lemon or lime wedges, cilantro, chopped onions, dried oregano, and more crushed red chilies to fine-tune the flavor to your liking. Add a side of warm flour tortillas and you'll have a hearty meal.

One final tip: make sure your dining companions are also menudo fans. That way, you won't have an unwanted side order of eeews from those around the table.

Make room for menudo

Here are a few of our favorite restaurants that have menudo on their regular menus; open daily unless noted.

ARIZONA

Phoenix: Albuquerque Tortilla Co. Closed Sun. 1507 W. Hatcher Rd.; (602) 371-8848. Matador Restaurant. 125 E. Adams St.; (602) 254-7563. Rosita's Place. 2310 E. McDowell Rd.; (602) 244-9779.

Tucson: El Minuto Café. 354 S. Main Ave.; (520) 882-4145.

NEW MEXICO

Albuquerque: Albuquerque Tortilla Company.  Both locations closed Sun and New Year's Day. 6770 Fourth St. NW; (505) 761-0480. 4300 Alexander Blvd. NE; (505) 344-4011. Casa de Ruiz Church St. Cafe. 2111 Church St. NW; (505) 247-8522.

Las Cruces: Nellie's Cafe. Closed Sun-Mon and New Year's Day. 1226 W. Hadley Ave.; (505) 524-9982.

Santa Fe: El Comal Restaurant. Closed New Year's Day. 3571 Cerillos Rd.; (505) 471-3224.