Emmanuel Dunand, Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., meets with people while making a stop at the Range Cafe in Bernalillo, N.M., on Thursday morning.

BERNALILLO, N.M. — When Barack Obama walked into The Range Cafe on Thursday, the dining room was mostly empty. "This is the state of our economy. No customers," said waitress Sherry Bryson.

Not for long.

The restaurant started filling up as word spread through this small community outside of Albuquerque that the Democratic presidential candidate was making a surprise stop. The fact that he showed shortly after 11 a.m. may have been a factor in the sparse crowd.

Obama went to the counter and said he had heard the restaurant was famous for its enchiladas. He shouted to his staff — who wanted what — and he ordered four to go, two chicken, two beef, a slice of coconut pie, a slice of pecan pie and a chocolate-chip cookie.

Then he walked around the dining room from table to table greeting customers, shaking hands and resting his hand on people's shoulders as they talked. Moving around the room, he chatted with a small-business owner, a couple of working moms, a group of fishermen and a massage therapist.

"I've been on the road a long time," he told the therapist, pointing to the top of his back. "I've got some stuff right here."

The restaurant began filling up as people sought a glimpse of Obama.

He shook hands with Michelle Brown-Yazzie, 37, a member of the Navajo Nation and an attorney who specializes in American Indian issues. She began to cry as she told Obama about poor health-care conditions for American Indians and how her 2 1/2-year-old son, who was disabled, had died last October after receiving poor prenatal care.

Obama hugged the woman and said, "We're going to work on that."

Back at the counter, Obama insisted on paying for his food. "Ring me up."

He gave the waitress a $50 for a $45.25 bill, and he then added a wad of bills for the tip. "I've got my pie, I've got to pay for it." He checked several times to make sure he had his pie.

"You know I'm going to come back if I don't get it," he said.