HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Sinclair Restaurant Offers Authentic New Mexican Food for Over Three Decades

Su Casa Café manager Shianne Schuele (left) stands with chef Meleiso Perez Valenzuela, who has worked at the Sinclair restaurant for 30 years. (Wyoming Truth photo by Carrie Haderlie) 

By Carrie Haderlie

Special to the Wyoming Truth

SINCLAIR, Wyo. — Just off of I-80 in the small town of Sinclair (population 374) sits a surprise: Authentic, homemade New Mexican food served fresh, warm and made from treasured family recipes.

Su Casa Café opened in May 1988, and in the decades since, it has seen loyal regular customers and travelers come through its door time and again. The cuisine is distinct from Tex-Mex or Mexican-style cooking, but still packs a kick.

“The food is all made from my wife’s [Neoma] and her mother’s recipes,” said co-owner John Maes, who has lived in Rawlins since the 1950s and began his career in the coal mines. “When we’d stop to eat lunch, the guys would trade me a half a steak sandwich for a taco or a burrito.”

The churro sundae is made with a base of creamy vanilla ice cream in a crispy cinnamon shell, drizzled with honey. (Wyoming Truth photo by Carrie Haderlie) 

In 1987, Maes went to work for the oil refinery in Sinclair, and his coworkers were equally enthusiastic about his lunches.

“Guys would trade me a sandwich for fried chicken, a taco,” he recalled. “I told my wife, ‘These guys seem to like your food. We should open up a small restaurant.’”

The pair looked around Rawlins for a suitable location, but couldn’t find one. They did, however, find a little house in Sinclair, and Maes realized it was the perfect spot, because there was no “taco shop in Sinclair.” The restaurant sits on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and North Eighth Street. Colorful and bright inside with red walls and brick accents, it’s both cozy and fun.

Founded in 1924, Sinclair has a rich history. The groundbreaking for the first oil refinery took place in October of 1922, and while officials stayed in hotels in nearby Rawlins, the construction workers lived in shacks, tents or bunkhouses near the refinery, according to the Parco/Sinclair Museum. Originally named Parco, the town was renamed Sinclair when the refinery was bought by Sinclair Oil.

Consistency is key  

Chips and salsa are crucial at a good Mexican restaurant, and Su Casa Café’s hearty salsa does not disappoint. (Wyoming Truth photo by Carrie Haderlie) 

I’ve been to Su Casa Café several times over the years, and the complimentary warm chips and salsa — a hearty sauce with grated cheese inside, also served warm — are always delicious.

On my recent visit, I branched out from my usual order of a taco combination plate ($11) and tried a Bandido Sopapilla ($8.90), smothered in green chili ($1.50), at the recommendation of Maes’ granddaughter, Su Casa Café Manager Shianne Schuele. The green chili had just enough kick, and the sopapilla was fluffy and light. Filled with beef and topped with crisp lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes and olives, this was the perfect lunch.

Su Casa Café’s manager Shianne Schuele recommends trying the Bandido Sopapilla smothered in green chili, topped with melted cheese and crisp lettuce. 
(Wyoming Truth photo by Carrie Haderlie)

The restaurant offers specialties like chili fries ($9.15) and menudo ($6.30 for a large, $5.30 for a small) on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as huevos rancheros ($10.60), chili relleno ($13.65) and chicken fried steak ($14.65). There are taco salads and side orders, and even American fare like a cheeseburger ($10.25) or corn dog with chips ($5).

For dessert, my mother-in-law and I shared a churro sundae ($5), featuring a generous scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream inside a crispy cinnamon churro shell, all drizzled with honey.

Su Casa Café is truly a family-run business, which Schuele has managed for six years.

“They used to have a little playpen in the back for me,” she remembered with a smile.

The Maes family can trace its roots back to Mora, New Mexico, Schuele said, where all the recipes originated.

Su Casa Café, which opened in May of 1988, is located in the town of Sinclair off Interstate 80 in Carbon County. (Wyoming Truth photo by Carrie Haderlie) 

Part of Su Casa Café’s success, Maes said, is its consistency. “I have had people tell us that they’d been here years ago, they had moved out of state and came back. They say, ‘Twenty years ago, I ate here, and it hasn’t changed at all,’” he said.

The now-named HF Sinclair Oil Refinery provides steady clientele, but the restaurant also attracts diners from Casper, Lander and Colorado, as well as travelers who stop in on much longer trips.

“I used to have a book at the front for people to sign, and we’d have people from Sweden, Germany, Spain, England, from all over,” Maes said.

And everyone, Schuele said, loves the restaurant’s sopapillas.

“If you come, you have to have something smothered in green chili, and you have to try the sopapillas,” she said.

Su Casa Café, 705 West Lincoln Avenue; Sinclair, Wyoming; 307-328-1745. Open Friday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed on Wednesday and Thursday.

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