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Finding the Latino heart and soul of Albuquerque in historic Barelas

Before there was an Albuquerque, there was Barelas, now just a neighborhood south of downtown. Barelas, a former Spanish colony that dates to 1662, sits along the Rio Grande at what was once a strategic crossing point. The neighborhood's Latin roots are very deep; the first homes were built here decades before California's first mission was established in 1769 in San Diego. For much of the 20th century, Route 66 traffic motored along South 4th Street. The street is now part of the Barelas-South Fourth Street Historic District (www.lat.ms/1MnyAiw) anchored by the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The tab for two: $159 for a studio room at the Hotel Andaluz and $14 for lunch at El Modelo.

The bed

Hotel Andaluz (125 2nd St. N.W., Albuquerque; [505] 242-9090, www.hotelandaluz.com), downtown and just a mile from Barelas, reeks of history. The property, built in 1939 by hotel magnate (and New Mexico native) Conrad Hilton, once was the tallest building in Albuquerque and the first in New Mexico to have air conditioning and an elevator. A major renovation a few years ago included restoring the lobby's stunning murals. The smallish rooms, which reflect the hotel's age, start at $159 a night on weekends.

The meal

Locals often stand a dozen deep waiting to order lunch at El Modelo (1715 2nd St. S.W., Albuquerque; [505] 242-1843, www.elmodelomexicanfoods.com), a carry-out restaurant best known for its chile relleno burrito ($4.55). Other traditional specialties include pork tamales ($2.50) and sopaipillas ($3) stuffed with refried beans, cheese, tomato, lettuce and chile chorizo sauce. There's no indoor seating except for a couple of benches; in good weather, the picnic tables beside the parking lot fill up quickly.

The find

The heart and soul of Barelas is found at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 4th St. S.W., Albuquerque; [505] 246-2261, www.nationalhispaniccenter.org), which is celebrating its quinceañera this fall. The center's art museum is a modern building showcasing the work of New Mexicans. People of Mexican or Spanish descent can trace their roots in the history center in a striking, Depression-era school. Across a courtyard featuring a working aqueduct are a restaurant and a performing arts center that regularly hosts Latin-themed cultural activities that include films, opera and salsa dancing.

The lesson learned

Although some of the neighborhood's adobe homes are hundreds of years old, it's difficult to find other physical reminders of Barelas' history. But B. Ruppe Drugs (807 4th St. S.W., Albuquerque; [505] 243-6719), now a purveyor of natural remedies, has been in business for more than a century.

travel@latimes.com

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