Traditional Techie hangouts


Where can students eat the best huevos rancheros in town (even at 1 a.m.), drink unlimited cups of coffee while studying undisturbed for hours, or lounge on a comfy couch and indulge in homemade sweet treats during Sunday afternoon review sessions – and all they while surf the net for free?

Where can students eat the best huevos rancheros in town (even at 1 a.m.), drink unlimited cups of coffee while studying undisturbed for hours, or lounge on a comfy couch and indulge in homemade sweet treats during Sunday afternoon review sessions – and all they while surf the net for free?

For years, Tech undergrads have gravitated to three iconic Socorro locales for answers to these arcane academic questions – El Camino Restaurant and Denny’s on California Street and the coffee shop on Manzanares Avenue just east of the plaza.

Bodega Burger Co. and Lounge on California Street is a popular over-21 hangout poised to become undergrad friendly.

El Camino has been a Socorro landmark since 1959, and a traditional Techie hangout for the past 23 years. The waitresses are friendly, the Wi-Fi is free, the tasty food is cheap and plentiful and the hours suit a 24/7 study schedule. Throw in a 10 percent discount on food and all non-alcoholic beverages, and you’ve got the perfect student-friendly hangout.

Owner Mehrdad Moradi is himself a Tech graduate, with a degree in petroleum engineering. After a stint in the oil fields, he was laid off and returned to his college hometown to operate El Camino as a student-friendly café.

“When I was a student, I worked in restaurants in town,” he said. “In 1990, El Camino was closed. I reopened it as a 24-hour restaurant, mostly as a place for students.”

A few years ago, Moradi added free Wi-Fi and had electrical outlets installed at each table. Students are encouraged to plug in their devices and stick around.

“They can sit here all night and study,” he said. “We give free refills on coffee, tea and sodas.”

“We never close,” said El Camino waitress Wanita Jones with a smile. “We’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

At a Monday lunch hour, diners were chowing down on enchiladas with all the trimmings, pancakes, huevos rancheros (fried eggs on corn tortillas smothered in red or green chile sauce), green chile cheese fries and cheeseburgers. Some patrons were locals, some tourists and one a Tech student perusing his smart phone as he dug into his red chile enchiladas topped with an egg over easy.

If you don’t like New Mexican cuisine, there’s Greek feta salad and a host of American-style dishes, including hand-cut steaks and grilled fish.

“Breakfast is served all day, every day,” Jones said, as she balanced several plates on her way to a booth by the window.

The chain diner in the Smith’s grocery store parking lot on California Street has gone through some changes over the years – it started out as Hobo Joe’s in the 1970s. For the past 34 years Denny’s has taken over that spot and become the mainstay of student budget eaters and night owls.

Denny’s offers the deepest student discount, 15 percent off all food and beverages, as well as free refills on sodas, coffee and tea.

Manager Tom McGoven said students are welcome even if they don’t spend a penny.

“To tell you the truth, they can order some water, sit down and study.”

For the dollar deprived, that’s as good as it gets. But for only four bucks, students can eat all the pancakes they can while surfing the net for free or socializing.

“Stay here to study, chow down on pancakes and hang out with your friends,” McGoven said.

Even though the popular coffee shop on Manzanares Street just east of the historic Socorro plaza doesn’t offer student discounts anymore, M Mountain Coffee is sure to remain a favorite hang-out spot for Techies. The coffee, the space, the Wi-Fi and the food are sure to please.

Let’s start with the critical element of student success: plenty of a good, strong caffeinated beverage. M Mountain’s coffee is rich, fresh and properly brewed. Washington-state based Batdorf and Bronson coffee is shipped in weekly within three days of roasting, and the beans are ground just before each pot is brewed, according to owner Warren Marts.

“Our coffee is flat-out much better than Starbuck’s,” he said. “And we’re a locally owned, locally-run business.”

What’s more, M Mountain offers free refills, and has no minimum order requirement. Students can sit at the high-boy bar, the sofas or the tables for as little or as long as they want on just one cup of coffee. But that’s hard to do when a cooler stocked with frozen treats and a case filled with tempting cookies, cakes, pies and pastries beckon.

All the baked goods – pies, scones, Danishes, cookies and cakes – are homemade in Socorro as are the gelatos and sorbets.

“Manager Kristal Kent bakes most of the baked goods at the shop,” Marts said. “All are made from scratch.” Local baker Allie Mazan contributes a few of her specialties.

Breakfast granola parfaits and oatmeal, omelets, homemade soups, salads and sandwiches featuring Albuquerque-based Fano Bakery breads provide more substantial fare.

Kent tries hard to make the café a relaxing alternative.

“This place has a hometown feel,” she said. “If you need to take a break, you can nap on the sofa. A guitar is waiting for someone to play. This is a free-expression place.”

A bottomless coffee cup, tasty treats, comfy couches and spacious bar seating– what more does a student need? “Our Wi-Fi is much faster now than ever,” Marts said. “We’ve doubled our speed. We now have 20 megabytes per second Internet service, four times as fast as Century Link. When I have something really big to download, I go to the coffee shop to do it.”

A performance space and guitar add to the coffee house atmosphere. Acoustic groups play occasionally on Sunday afternoons; patrons are encouraged to pick up the guitar and play anytime they want.

The café is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. when Tech is in session, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. otherwise.

Even though most of the action is in the lounge – which is off-limits to the under-21 crowd – Bodega Burger Co. offers a 10 percent discount on all food every day for Tech students. And there’s free Wi-Fi.

For the price of a cup of coffee (free refills), a student can study undisturbed all day, said owner Deborah Dean.

The popular over-21 Geeks Who Drink Tuesday night trivia contest, now held in the lounge, could be converted to an all-ages-welcome event, if there’s enough demand.

“If we had enough interest from the under-21 crowd, we could move it to the ballroom,” she said.

The event attracts trivia nerds who compete to answer esoteric questions in areas such as music or science.

Teams can participate, each vying for prizes like T-shirts, food discounts and more.

There’s a core group of trivia fanatics meeting in the lounge every Tuesday – it’s not for the raucous, nor the faint minded.

“We have some serious geeks,” Dean said. “Because they’re serious, they want it quiet.”

Students can contact the restaurant directly about the trivia event or talk to the Bodega Burger staff at the college’s Community Day event to be held in Fidel Center on Aug. 25.