Backstreet Grill – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Behind this Entrance to Old Town is the Backstreet Grill and its Capacious Patio

Old Town Albuquerque.  Locals love it.   We appreciate its unique architecture and have tremendous affection for its character and personality.  We hold its religious celebrations in reverence and admire the passion with which its secular fiestas are celebrated.   We delight in reminding “colonists” that it’s older than many New England cities which dominate history books.  Old Town is where we take all our friends and family who visit us.  Much as we love it…and we do love it, many of us don’t visit Old Town as much as its proximity and charm might warrant.

Ask locals why they don’t frequent Old Town and the more “honest” ones will likely tell you it’s because it’s no longer solely ours.  We have to share it.  While we don’t consider Old Town a “tourist trap,” we feel “trapped by visitors” when we can’t find convenient parking and when maneuvering around a shop is akin to an obstacle course with the primary obstacle being visitors walking around with mouths agape and eyes distracted by our local culture.  It’s a real quandary because we love visitors, too.  We’re very proud that they’ve chosen to spend a little bit of time (and hopefully a lot of their money) in this little paradise we call home.

Backstreet Nachos

The Old Town Merchants Association recognizes the value of local residents who visit and recommend Old Town throughout the year.  In 2015, the Association announced a “We Love Locals” promotion, a tangible way (that includes gift baskets, hotel stays, dining certificates, shopping sprees, guided tours and more) to show their appreciation.  Ever the proud gastronome, the emphasis of my promotional efforts would have centered on all the great restaurants in the Old Town area.  Yes, there are great restaurants in the Old Town area, several of which rank among the city’s most highly esteemed.

If its been years since you last visited Old Town for the sheer pleasure of dining in one of its esteemed eateries, it’s time to get reacquainted with dining at one of the city’s greatest treasures.  Perhaps you might want to take the love of your life to Restaurant Antiquity, named in 2015 as “one of the thirteen most romantic restaurants in America” by TABELog, a highly regarded online foodie community.  Two Old Town area restaurants–La Crepe Michele and Duran’s Central Pharmacy–were touted in 2015 by national real estate resource Moveto as among “15 Albuquerque Restaurants Will Blow Your Taste Buds Out Of Your Mouth.”

Cup of New Mexican Gumbo

There’s probably no better way for locals and visitors alike to immerse themselves in culture than by partaking of our incendiary and incomparably delicious cuisine.  Old Town’s New Mexican restaurants include long established standards such as Monica’s El Portal, Ben Michael’s Restaurant, and La Placita Dining Rooms. There are a number of “new kids on the block,” too.  Recent restaurant additions (perhaps since your last visit) to the Old Town area include the Quesadilla Grille (2010), Vinaigrette (2012), Central Grill & Coffee House (2014) and Backstreet Grill (2012).

After our inaugural visit, my Kim was so impressed that she chided me for not having taken her to the Backstreet Grill before.  My pathetic and pitiful excuse was that I’d been tortured for nearly a decade with songs from the Backstreet Boys, one of the most popular boy bands of the 1990s.  Knowing full well that I actually liked “I Want It That Way,” (forgive the earworm) she didn’t buy my excuse.  Truth is, I’d wanted to try the Backstreet Grill for more than a couple of years, but didn’t want the commotion and hullabaloo of  teeming masses in an all too confining space (seating for fewer than 20 guests).

The Backstreet Supreme

When the Backstreet Grill moved from its Lilliputian location to a more capacious venue in June, 2014, my excuses started to make even less sense than some Backstreet Boys lyrics.  It wasn’t until discovering there’s a “back way” to get to the Backstreet that we finally made it.  The back way involves parking not in the Old Town Plaza (and good luck finding a spot there), but in the commodious parking lot south of the Albuquerque Museum.  From a parking lot space close to Old Town Road, you’ll espy an archway with a viga on which the Backstreet Grill name is scrawled.  It’s literally feet from the parking lot to the restaurant though the noisy world seems further and you’ll hardly notice the parked cars with an east-facing view that includes the verdant Tiguex Park.

The Backstreet Grill has grown up and out since its initial launch in 2012.  Now situated in Old Town Plaza’s former carriage house building, it can accommodate nearly 200 diners.  Weather permitting, many of them opt to dine al fresco in a spacious patio shielded from the sun by towering trees.    The interior dining room is resplendent in dark, masculine woods with a matching ceiling.  Both booth and table seating are available, the latter offering more personal space.  Walls are festooned with vintage black-and-white photographs of Old Town when the area was much more pastoral and certainly would not have been considered a tourist draw.

Duck Tacos

It didn’t take long for us to realize the amiable and extremely knowledgeable server attending to us was chef-manager Christopher “Chris” James. When we peppered him with our usual litany of questions (i.e., does the chile contain cumin) about the menu, his answers were a give-away.  With a rare precision, in-depth knowledge and passion, he explained nuances of the dishes which interested us.  More importantly, not only does he understand his dishes, he can “sell” them.   Chef James is a friendly and peripatetic presence at his restaurant, simultaneously overseeing the kitchen operation while lending a hand wherever it’s needed.  

Peruse the menu and you’ll quickly discern what while it’s got elements of both, it’s neither New Mexican nor Mexican cuisine.  Chef James calls it “an innovative hybrid” that showcases ingredients, dishes and techniques from throughout the Southwest as well as Baja California and coastal Mexico.  Call it a hybrid if you’d like, but in short order, you’ll be calling it delicious.  The menu is segmented into several distinctive categories: breakfast, starters, soups and salads, tacos and burritos, burgers and sandwiches, the Mexican pizza and sides.  Read solely the names of each dish and you might be inclined to think “been there, done that,” but study the composition of each dish and you’ll fully gain an appreciation for the chef’s creativity.

Tenderloin Steak

16 October 2015: The triple-layered Backstreet Nachos, for example, are a wide departure from the gloppy cheese and vapid jalapeño-based nachos found at ballparks and bad restaurants. Think chile con queso, smoked pork shoulder, Hatch green chile and corn and black bean relish garnished with queso fresco, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and cool ranch sour cream.  All nachos should aspire to such deliciousness, such innovation, such sheer bravado.  Every ingredient lends something to the plate, a melding of tried and true flavors that go very well together both texturally and flavor-wise.  The cool ranch sour cream tempers the fiery Hatch green chile while the toasted pumpkin seeds and corn and black bean relish lend delightful textural properties. 

26 March 2017: In 2015, an Albuquerque man craved his mom’s posole so much that he ignored her commands to stay away from her posole, broke into her home and stole it. The posole pilferer was later arrested on a residential burglary charge. Perhaps someone should warn the Backstreet Grill to keep its New Mexico Gumbo under lock and key. It’s good enough to risk breaking and entering. So what does gumbo have to do with posole? The Backstreet Grill’s signature New Mexican gumbo is chock full of Andouille sausage, chicken, rice, okra, Hatch green chile and posole. The posole and green chile no only make this gumbo uniquely New Mexican, but they elevate it in flavor. The posole imparts its corn-imbued savory, hearty qualities to what would be a very good gumbo.

Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos

16 October 2015: Several years ago uber chef Dennis Apodaca showed Albuquerque the delicious possibilities of incorporating rich, fatty duck into New Mexican and Mexican dishes at his pioneering restaurant Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place).  Perhaps the most popular dish at the Backstreet Grill also utilizes delectable duck in an innovative way.  Three duck tacos (red chile braised duck legs, topped with corn and black bean relish, mango mole sauce, Cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds stuffed into three corn tortillas) may have you craving canard for your next meal.  The mango mole sauce performs some sort of magic on the shredded thin shards of duck deliciousness, imparting that magic on your happy taste buds.  The cool element that seems to define contemporary tacos is provided by the ubiquitous corn and black bean relish.

16 October 2015: Some of those ingredients make their way onto one of the most innovative pizzas in the city. The Backstreet Supreme, described as “the original that started it all – fully loaded and awesome” earns its name. The canvas for this masterpiece is a fourteen-inch flour tortilla with a base of mozzarella and Menonita cheese topped with smoked pork shoulder, corn and black bean relish, pineapple pico de gallo, Hatch green chile, toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro and Cotija cheese. The cheesy triumvirate lends elements of creaminess and saltiness in nice proportion to other flavor profiles. When the pineapple pico de gallo makes its presence known, it’s a perfect foil for the Hatch green chile. Now, a flour tortilla “pizza crust” means some dry, brittle edges, but they won’t get in your way of enjoying this delicious orb. Supreme seems to be a common descriptor for pizzas. This one earns it!

Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake

26 March 2017: Because of my indifference to steak, my Kim has threatened to take away my “man card.” Having been born and raised in Chicago, the “Hog Butcher for the World,” she loves meat and pork in all their forms while my tastes are far more eclectic. Her initial shock when I ordered the tenderloin steak at the Backstreet Grill was replaced by the realization that I would only order the steak if it’s served with a phalanx of “meat disguisers.” True enough, the nine-ounce portion of lean, juicy tenderloin steak is seasoned with smoked Spanish paprika and topped with a roasted pineapple demi-glace. The Spanish paprika (pimento) imparts not only a pleasant piquancy, but a slightly woodsy flavor that tempers the tangy-sweetness of the roasted pineapple. The combination is a steak sauce several orders of magnitude superior to what you’ll find at most restaurants (especially those who rely on commercially bottled sauces). Tenderloin, of course, is a juicy, tender and tasty cut of beef that needs no amelioration (unless you’re not of a pronounced carnivorous bent). On the side is a brick of thyme-grana scalloped potatoes and warm, seasonal vegetables.

26 March 2017: As is her custom, my Kim had her Baja Shrimp burrito “de-constructed,” meaning she wanted the tortilla on the side. She cuts the tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” which she uses to scoop up as much of the burrito ingredients as she wants. Don’t ask me how this makes sense to her? Just trust that it does. The Baja Shrimp burrito is prepared “California style” with sautéed tequila-garlic shrimp, lettuce, rice, pineapple pico, cilantro and sour cream ranch sauce served with tomatillo salsa verde. What my Kim enjoyed most were the pineapple pico and sour cream ranch. What she didn’t like (especially the cumin-infused rice), she pushed to the side.

16 October 2015: Desserts are limited, but interesting, especially the Spanish red chile flan.  Alas, sometimes seasonality trumps interesting–as in the case of a sweet potato maple layered cheesecake.   This wedge-shaped cheesecake is ultra-rich and decadent.  It’s not meant for one person alone.  As with so many cheesecakes served at so many restaurants in Albuquerque, this one isn’t baked on the premises, but comes from a restaurant supplier. 

The Backstreet Grill may just be the restaurant that brings locals back to Old Town and once there, it’s a good bet you’ll be back.

Backstreet Grill
1919 Old Town Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 842-5434
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 March 2017
1st VISIT: 16 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Duck Tacos, Backstreet Supreme, Backstreet Nachos, Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake, Tenderloin Steak, Deconstructed Shrimp Tacos, New Mexico Gumbo

Back Street Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Taco – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Casa Taco on Academy

“Nowadays, hoy en día, with our world full of war and violence and lack of love, a world full of greed
A world of domination, grasping power, venal stupidity, real evil.  Don’t get me started.
It’s good to know that a conversation about tacos will always engender a sense of comfort and happiness.
If only we could sit down at a big round world table and eat tacos in a spirit of love we might begin to work on world peace!”
~
Denise Chavez
New Mexican Author

Not even the beloved taco was excluded from the divisiveness of 2016’s contentious presidential campaign. Marco Gutierrez, founder of the group Latinos for Trump warned MSNBC that without tighter immigration policies…”you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” While taco trucks may not yet be parked on every corner, tacos have become a ubiquitous favorite across the fruited plain, as American as apple pie, hot dogs, pizza and egg rolls.  Their popularity is unparalleled with a market segment outpacing competitors in the quick service restaurant category.  Despite a near cult status, analysts believe tacos have yet to reach their peak in popularity–and not solely because their portability and deliciousness make them such a desirable dining option.  Culinary anthropologists attribute much of their increasing popularity to their diversity–the adaptation to a wide variety of ingredients across culinary cultures–agreeing that these are not your mom’s tacos.

The invention of tacos is largely credited to eighteenth century Mexican silver miners.  Largely considered working-class food, tacos made their way north of the border in 1905 when Mexican migrants were brought in to work the mines and railroads of the burgeoning States. From being constructed with offal or shredded beef (when available) in Mexico to being made with hamburger (along with the widely available Cheddar cheese, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce) in the United States, the taco began to evolve.  Credit Taco Bell and its proliferation of the pre-fried hard shell with the next significant evolution of the taco.  Further adoption, adaptation and transformation can be imputed to other immigrant cultures (such as the Lebanese who introduced the taco al pastor).

John Wayne Loved Tacos

While many of us are quick to criticize Millennials, Elizabeth Johnson, a Latin Cuisine Specialist at the Culinary Institute of America credits the most recent–and maybe most profound–evolution of the taco to “the next greatest generation.” “Millennials are very multi-ethnic…and very interested in cuisine from around the world,” she posits, adding that “we are becoming more and more casual.”   Coining the term “tacofication” of foods, she points out the fusion of various ethnic foods with tacos: Korean barbecue, Belgian waffles, Chinese dim-sum, Vietnamese banh mi and more, explaining that “this is happening because the United States is changing, especially the younger generation.”  That tacofication of foods is evident even in the Duke City where diners are indulging in taco adventures of which our abuelitas could not have conceived.

In its Fall Food and Wine Issue for 2016, Albuquerque The Magazine (ATM) crunched the numbers and told us that in 2015, Americans ate more than 4.5 billion tacos (so it wasn’t just me).  That’s more than 490,000 miles of tacos or roughly the equivalent of circling the globe nineteen times.  In terms of tonnage, the totality of tacos consumed across the fruited plain is the equivalent of two Empire State Buildings (730,000 tons).  In its “Taco the Town” feature, ATM indicated Albuquerque has “nearly 170 restaurants that create and serve some of the tastiest tacos of every ilk–from New Mexican to gourmet; seafood to veggie.”  The Magazine sampled and presented several examples of the city’s “unique, unusual, and undeniably savory taco types.”

Salsa Bar

With nary a nod to Taco Bell and its  own contributions to the revolutionary-evolutionary diversity of tacos (Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos, Breakfast Waffle Tacos), ATM’s feature  on unique, unusual, and undeniably savory taco types across the Duke City celebrated several exemplars of cultural taco fusion.  One of the best illustrations cited is the Jerk Chicken Taco, a specialty of Casa Taco on Academy.  If you’re not yet acquainted with this purveyor of taco innovation, lake-lovers among you might recognize its elder sibling of the same name in Elephant Butte.  The popularity of the latter, serving the popular reservoir vacation area since 2002, is one of the reasons the former launched in the Duke City in July, 2015.

Founder James Pecherski is a  Detroit native who fell in love with the Southwest while vacationing with family as a child.  He later attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Phoenix where his passion for the region’s culinary traditions were further inculcated.   It was never his intention to replicate Mexican or New Mexican style tacos, but to honor them with innovative concepts and ingredients.  He characterizes  Casa Taco as a “Southwestern, contemporary restaurant with New Mexican and central Mexico influences, with a tropical twist.”  Those influences are very much in evidence throughout the menu.

Jerk Chicken Burrito Plate

If you love tacos and can relate to the culinary adventurousness of a Millennial, you’ll love Casa Taco’s menu where tacos are more than just corn or flour tortillas stuffed with sundry deliciousness.  Three categories of tacos festoon the menu: Signature Tacos, Specialty Tacos and Grande Tacos.  Strewn throughout that menu are familiar options–ground beef tacos, carne asada tacos, calabasitas tacos–you can find elsewhere.  Seek instead those taco options with which you might not be familiar, those innovative creations, tacos unique to the Land of Enchantment.  Options such as the aforementioned Jamaican Jerk Chicken tacos were the impetus for our inaugural visit.  Not in the mood for tacos?  The accommodating staff can create a burrito, wrap, sandwich or salad from any of the ingredient combinations used to build tacos.

That’s precisely what they did for me.  Rather than order the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Taco plate (spicy jerked chicken breast and a fiery habañero pineapple-mango salsa), I asked for and received a Jamaican Jerk Chicken Burrito plate (with beans and rice).  As if the sweet-fiery qualities of the habañero pineapple-mango salsa and the incendiary properties of assertively seasoned Jamaican Jerk chicken aren’t enough, the amenable waitstaff will top your burrito with your choice of red chile, green chile (both laden with cumin) or con queso.  Combustible and delicious, it’s a terrific way to enjoy a burrito.  There’s only one drawback–the burrito is served with plastic utensils which make cutting into the soft, pliable flour tortilla a challenge.  The accompanying beans are quite good, but the rice is on the boring side (something that can be said about most “Spanish” rice).

Yucatan Pork Tacos

When we espied “Yucatan Pork Tacos” on the menu, we envisioned tacos engorged with the myriad of exotic tropical fruits and vegetables found in abundance throughout the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.  Instead we were rewarded with two tacos engorged with lean chile-crusted pork loin, a spicy cucumber salsa and sweet pickled onions.  The spicy cucumber salsa is very much reminiscent of the sweet cucumber relish served in Thai restaurants with dishes such as satay.  It’s a wonderful complement to the lean, chile crusted pork loin which is plentiful in bite-sized pieces.  You can alter the flavor profile of these (or any) tacos with the addition of any one of the lively salsas found on the salsa bar.

For a more “conventional” (term used lightly) taco evocative of Old Mexico, try the La Puerto Steak tacos (cilantro and garlic “mojo” marinated steak with guacamole and cilantro).  Lest some lexicologist surmises “mojo” means these tacos are imbued with some magical voodoo charm or infused with libido, in this case mojo is also what several types of Mexican sauces are called.  The mojo penetrates deeply into the steak, infusing it with a lightly spicy personality.  The steak marries well with the invigorating freshness of the cilantro and the astringency of garlic.   This a great taco for experimenting with the various salsas.

La Puerto Steak Tacos

There was a time “con queso” was better known by its full name “chile con queso.”  At Casa Taco, it’s still called “chile con queso.”  By any name, it’s the perfect vehicle for crispy fried tortilla chips.  Picture a heaping bowl (or Styrofoam vessel) of hot, velvety cheese festooned with fiery chiles and chips sprinkled with red chile.  If you frequently crave chile con queso, this one will quell your ardor and possibly make an addict out of you.  It’s some of the very best chile con queso in the Duke City area.  Remember, you can have your burrito smothered in this liquid gold, too.

As if tacos, burritos, wraps, sandwiches and salads weren’t already enough to make your mouth water, Casa Taco’s menu also includes huevos rancheros, a third-pound Angus cheeseburger, chimichangas and two nacho platters.  Dessert options include caramel-filled churros with vanilla ice cream, a warm brownie sundae, apple flautas, strawberry nachos or old-fashioned milkshakes or malts.  There ae plenty of interesting and delicious options sure to inspire return visits a plenty.  Bottled Mexican Coke or Fanta are available to wash down your meal.

Con Queso

In 2016, Casa Taco earned TripAdvisor’s coveted “Certificate of Excellence.”  One visit and you’ll discover why so many Yelp reviews are peppered with the adjective “excellent.”

Casa Taco
5801 Academy Road, N.E., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 821-TACO
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 25 November 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Con Queso, Jerk Chicken Burrito, La Puerto Steak Tacos, Yucatan Pork Tacos, Chocolate Milk Shakes

Casa Taco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Plaza Cafe Southside – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Plaza Cafe Southside

Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant (circa 1918), the Plaza Cafe is so popular that long waits to be seated are commonplace. Compound that with the hassle of trying to find a parking spot that isn’t a marathon’s length to walk to and from the Cafe then having to navigate through throngs of awestruck tourists and it’s a restaurant we don’t visit as often as we’d like.  Our visits might become even more infrequent thanks to the 2003 launch of the Plaza Cafe’s sister restaurant (albeit a sister that’s 84 years younger) on Santa Fe’s south side.

Neon Spangled Interior Festooned with Colorful Art

The Plaza Cafe Southside, situated in San Isidro Plaza on Zafarano Drive, is a welcome respite from the challenges inherent with trying to dine in the teeming tourist traversed Plaza area. It’s one of an increasing number of excellent restaurants situated well outside Santa Fe’s well beaten, well eatin’ Plaza area.  It’s also one of several very good restaurants within easy walking distance of the Regal Cinemas 14.  It’s the Plaza Cafe Southside’s second home.  For its first six years, the Cafe occupied cozy, but cramped confines within a motel off Cerrillos.

You Can’t Help But Smile

The Plaza Cafe Southside is the brainchild of Leonard Razatos who “wanted to bring a little of the old Santa Fe to the new Santa Fe.” A “new” Santa Fe can certainly describe the burgeoning south side which has shown tremendous growth over the past decade. “Old” Santa Fe begins and ends with the famous Santa Fe Plaza, fittingly home to the Plaza Cafe, the city’s oldest restaurant. In 1947, Greek immigrant Dionysi “Danny” Razatos, purchased the restaurant and together with his wife and six children has fed Santa Fe ever since. Leonard upholds the family tradition within the trappings of a modern edifice which might not work well in the architectural restricted plaza area.

Karen Webb, One of Santa Fe’s Most Famous (And Beloved) Waitresses

Where the Cafe’s first digs were cramped and cozy, its new home is capacious and comfortable. Despite the modernity of high ceilings, industrial-style ductwork and steel girders, the Cafe retains the appearance of an old-fashioned diner. Undulating neon festoons the service area where an industrious wait staff delivers and picks up orders. Suspended from the ceiling is a colorful four-sided mural depicting the culture of Santa Fe, not so much in an idyllic fashion, but in a mode which might best describe the things that make it the “City Different.” The bar soffit mural painted by local artist Robb Rael depicts the Zozobra, skeletal images from el Dia de los Muertos, pueblo-style architectural homes and more, all in the artist’s unique interpretive style. It, too, is festooned by 1950s style neon.

The first thing you notice when you walk in to the Plaza Cafe Southside is a dessert case that’s wider than it is tall. Behind glass are some of the most sumptuous, calorie-laden confections ever crafted. It’s a wonder there aren’t tongue trails on the glass because behind it, just waiting for hungry diners, are the Plaza Cafe’s famous cajeta apple pecan pie, served in huge slabs with or without ice cream. There’s also the fabulous coconut cream pie (in a macaroon shell), pastel tres leches and other mouth-watering desserts.

In The Event of An Emergency

Step into the restaurant on a lazy Sunday morning and it’s a good bet you’ll be cheerfully greeted by Karen Webb, one of the city’s most famous and beloved hostesses. Karen gained a modicum of fame on the terrific documentary American Waitresses: New Mexico, a feature film that examines the lives, attitudes, perceptions and experiences of waitresses. Karen came across as the very effusive and warm soul she is. A mainstay at the Plaza Cafe Southside, she greets guests with an endearing “darling” or “baby,” eliciting hearty hugs from many of them. She’s a true ambassador for the Cafe, pointing out the historical photographs on the wall and inviting guests to make themselves at home. When I asked if I could photograph her, she joked with another guest about “posing for a nudie.”

The Dessert Case

Their classic American diner showcases traditional cooking methods and time-honored ingredients that would make many a New Mexican abuelita proud indeed.  In addition to excellent New Mexican  and Mexican food, the restaurant features a few Greek entrees as well as American diner favorites and blue-plate specials.  The menu is a veritable compendium of home-style diner cuisine New Mexico style with something for everyone.  Some time-honored recipes have been “improved upon” with inventive ingredients in exciting combinations.  Other recipes haven’t been “tampered” with and might remind you of the home cooking you got at home as a child. 

Peruse the menu and quality-conscious diners will certainly appreciate reading “A Few Things We’re Proud of.”   “We use local New Mexico heritage ranch, grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef.  We use only cage-free eggs.  We bake all our pastries and desserts from scratch daily using only the highest quality ingredients.  All our breads are from scratch using only the highest quality ingredients.  Our corn and flour tortillas are from a local tortillera and are free of preservatives and artificial ingredients.”  How can you not love that if you care about quality?

Three salsas with red, yellow and blue corn chips

Three salsas with red, yellow and blue corn chips

The Southside Cafe shares most of the same menu with its sister restaurant. There are a few notable exceptions, one being the absence of the elder sibling’s roasted garlic and carnitas quesadillas, an appetizer for which you’d brave the teeming throngs.  Similar to the Plaza Cafe, the Southside Cafe features oversized plastic menus emblazoned with a round image of the heavily trafficked Santa Fe plaza at the height of bustling activity. The menu is several pages long and reads like a great novel; it’s very hard to put down and even harder to make a decision as to what to order.

That menu includes several “aguas frescas,” the refreshing at any time beverages becoming increasingly popular in New Mexico. The Cafe has its own interesting twists on traditional aguas frescas.  That includes a prickly pear lemonade made with tangy prickly pear puree and even prickly pear horchata, an exotic blend of almond, cinnamon and rice water with tangy prickly pear puree. The latter is an interesting departure from what can be a cloying beverage and will amaze you at how well two unique flavors meld together.  For those cold mornings in which your belly needs some anti-freeze, the Ibarra Mexican hot chocolate has your number.  It’s a strong hot chocolate with a rich flavor.

Side salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing

Side salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing

The appetizer section features New Mexican, Mexican, Greek and American options.  If in the mood for something Greek, hummus and pita are available. The hummus, a puree of tahini, lemon, garlic, onion and garbanzo beans is oh so garlicky delicious. This terrific appetizer is served with warm pita bread.  Typical of the surprising inventiveness of the menu is the fried calamari with jalapeños, tender calamari dusted with flour, flash-fried and garnished with salt, pepper and jalapeños then served with a habanero dipping sauce that’s positively piquant.

28 July 2007: If a more traditional Mexican appetizer is what you’re after,  the Cafe’s housemade blue, yellow and red corn tortilla chips and three salsas (Chipotle, tomatillo and pico de gallo) is a terrific triumvirate. All three salsas are sensational and all have capsaicin enriched potency (translation: they bite back). The Chipotle salsa has a wonderfully smoky taste and is perhaps the most piquant of the three. It may also be the most addicting and will probably be the first one you finish. Guacamole and chips are also available as is a mountainous plate of nachos (tortilla chips, beans, chipotle salsa, chile con queso, chorizo, jalapeños, lettuce and tomato).

Cilantro Salmon with Tomato Habanero Lasagna

Cilantro Salmon with Tomato Habanero Lasagna

28 July 2007: The “Specials” section includes several items in which the chef’s artistic interpretations crossed into the realm of non-traditional mixing of cultures. That would apply to the Cilantro Salmon with Tomato-Habañero lasagna.  The salmon filet is entree sized in and of itself. It’s a flame-grilled six-ounce slab of salmon marinated in garlic, cilantro and olive oil. It is fork-tender and surprisingly moist as well as imbued with discernable smokiness courtesy of the grill.  See the word “Habañero” attached to any entree and you’re bound to think incendiary, pain-inducing, eye-watering, mouth-scalding, too hot to handle, torturous pepper.

At the Cafe, the Tomato-Habañero Lasagna is surprisingly scaled down heat-wise. In fact, the hotter-than-Hell pepper’s most discernable quality is the fruitiness with which it imbues the lasagna. It complements the acidic tomatoes and rich ricotta cheese very well. This is an excellent lasagna.  As with other Italian inspired entrees at the Cafe, the tomato sauce is applied lightly so that it ameliorates, not dominates, the flavor profile.  The sauce has a flavor quite like fresh tomatoes seasoned with garlic and basil.  It’s an excellent sauce for lasagna or any other Italian pasta.

New Mexico Meatloaf, a specialty of the house

New Mexico Meatloaf, a specialty of the house

28 July 2007: What best defines comfort food?  Many surveys will tell you it’s meatloaf and that just happens to be the Cafe’s specialty. Appropriately, it used to be found on the menu’s Blue Plate section; now it’s  the special of the day on Tuesdays. This isn’t your mama’s meatloaf, unless you’re from New Mexico. This is New Mexico meatloaf stuffed with vegetables (sweet corn nibblets stand out), cheese and green chile.  Unlike the meatloaf at many a diner, the Cafe’s version doesn’t have that annoying crust you have to cut through to get to the moist part. This is one of the most moist meatloaves you’ll find anywhere…and the green chile, vegetable and cheese combination imbues it with qualities that render it sublime. The meatloaf is served with mashed potatoes and gravy as well as sautéed broccoli and carrots.

23 January 2011: From the blue-plate special comes a spaghetti and meatballs entree which might have you saying “That’s amore!” with every bite.  It’s the Plaza Cafe’s spaghetti with meatballs served with a tomato-marjoram sauce, bacon and Parmesan cheese.  Bacon, as everyone knows, makes everything better and the Cafe’s menu boasts of “Santa Fe’s best bacon.”  You won’t find bacon in every bite, but oh those spoonfuls blessed with bacon are special.  The tomato-marjoram sauce is light and thin, emphasizing the flavor of tomatoes and not some thick tomato paste.  Marjoram, by the way, is a member of the oregano-mint family.  It’s similar to oregano, but somewhat milder.  The spaghetti noodles are perfectly al dente.

Spaghetti & Meatballs with Bacon Tomato Sauce: Meatballs, tomato-marjoram sauce, spaghetti, bacon + parmesan cheese, grilled focaccia

23 January 2011: Yet another blue plate special which takes off where ordinary fish and chips leave off is a spicy rendition made from beer-battered cod served with a habanero tartar sauce and jalapeño malt vinegar.  It’s the type of fish and chips the irascible Captain Quint from the movie Jaws would eat while daring the scholarly Matt Hooper to follow suit.   Just as the two tried to out-macho one another by showing off their “battle” scars, it’s easy to imagine the two dousing their beer-battered cod filets in the jalapeño malt vinegar then chasing them down with the habanero tartar sauce all the while daring the other to spice it up even more.

To be honest, neither the jalapeño malt vinegar nor the habanero tartar sauce are that piquant, but it makes for a good story to tell.  It also makes for a very good, very different fish and chips dish.  The cod filets are light and flaky with a beer-batter that’s light enough to allow the superb malt vinegar to impregnate the filets with a terrific tartness.  The “chips” are red chile fries, actually just fries lightly dusted with red chile.  They’re great fries.  Instead of some insipid salad cream, the slaw is made with an apple cider vinegar-like sauce that makes the slaw lip-pursing tangy.

Spicy Fish & Chips: beer-battered cod fillet with habanero tartar sauce, jalapeño malt vinegar and red chile fries, slaw

28 July 2007: For just a pittance, you can add a dinner salad to any entree. As is the case with every item on the menu, this isn’t a blasé and boring salad. It’s mixed greens, strips of jicama, julienne carrots, wedges of tomato, garbanzo beans and more. Ask for the citrus vinaigrette to enliven the salad even further.  If a satisfying salad is what you crave for your entree, consider the menu’s six salads which include a Greek Chicken Souvlaki salad and an inspired Middle Eastern salad (mixed greens, roasted beets and carrots, red cabbage, toasted almonds, cumin seeds, hummus, falafel, pita bread served with a cumin-lemon vinaigrette).

It may be entirely possible that breakfast, served day and night, is even better than lunch and dinner. The menu lists five early morning themes–eggs & omelets, pancakes & French toast, breakfast specialties, bakeshop offerings and platos nativos–and it will be a challenge to figure out what eye-opening entree to have.  One certainty is the thick-cut, sugar-cured bacon which surely must be the best bacon in Santa Fe.  It’s a must have.

Blue corn enchiladas Christmas style

Blue corn enchiladas Christmas style

5 August 2007: The platos nativos (native plates) section features traditional New Mexican entrees such as blue corn enchiladas. Layers of blue corn tortillas, Cheddar cheese and eggs are slathered with the Plaza Cafe’s dark red chile and served with hashed browns and beans.  Because the red and green chile are equally wonderful, ask for your enchiladas “Christmas” style and each mouthful will be a treat. Neither chile is mild.  Red and green chile are available at medium-hot or extra hot and if you’re not certain as to your tolerance level, ask for a sample or order your chile on the side.  The menu’s disclaimer reads “We cannot be responsible for chile that is too hot.” 

14 August 2016: For some strange reason, my Kim prefers her breakfast burritos “deconstructed,” that is with the tortilla on the side. She prefers folding bits of tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” and loading them up with the burrito’s constituents in the proportions and combinations she wants. Usually that means I inherit at least half the frijoles. Whether served the way New Mexico’s chile gods intended or deconstructed, the Plaza Cafe’s breakfast burritos are the bomb! Credit much of that to the piquancy and deliciousness of the chile. The green chile, in particular, not only bites back but has a fruitiness that’ll open your eyes (and nasal passages).

Breakfast Tacos

A word about the hashed browns–they’re amazing! Most hashed browns look and taste like confetti, but not at the Plaza Cafe. These shredded tubers are prepared with onion and are just slightly crispy. Best of all, they actually taste like potatoes and not some paper derivative. You won’t leave any on your plate. The beans are also terrific.  They’re the type of means your abuelita might have prepared years ago. 

14 August 2016Breakfast tacos are oft-attempted, but rarely imbued with the eye-opening deliciousness you crave first thing in the morning.  Plaza Cafe Southside’s version are the best, by far, we’ve ever had.  Picture two soft corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and calabasitas with your choice of meat (Santa Fe’s best bacon, of course) or veggie sausage as well as avocado, cheese, cilantro, onion, chipotle salsa and a side of pinto beans and hash browns.  Individual ingredients coalesce into a mouth-watering whole with several flavor stand-outs.   Among them are the al dente calabasitas, as fresh and delicious as you’ll find anywhere.  The chipotle salsa is so good we requested a second ramekin which we spooned directly into our eagerly awaiting mouths.   The accompanying frijoles, blanketed by molten white Cheddar, and hash browns are wonderful.

“Deconstructed” Breakfast Burrito

14 August 2016: For some reason my Kim prefers her breakfast burritos “deconstructed,” that is with the tortilla on the side.  She folds pieces of tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” into which she piles on the other ingredients in the proportions and combinations she wants (meaning fewer frijoles).  Whether in the form New Mexico’s culinary gods intended or deconstructed, the Plaza Cafe’s breakfast burrito is a paragon of deliciousness.  Credit much of that to an incendiary chile that’s not only piquant, but oh, so flavorful.  It’s impossible for me to chide her for her non-traditional approach to burritos because I usually inherit most of the beans on her plate.

5 August 2007: If your sweet tooth is acting up in the morning, the lemon ricotta pancakes will take care of it. Topped with fresh blueberries, these magnificent orbs are so sweet you might not even need syrup. An equal pronouncement of tanginess and sweetness make these pancakes dessert-like and absolutely delicious. The pancakes are available in quantities of one or two per order.  The Plaza’s pancake line-up also includes made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes and blue corn pancakes with orange butter and cinnamon syrup.  It’s a terrific triumvirate.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

Lemon ricotta pancakes

14 August 2016: Perhaps better than the pancakes, amazing as they are, are the restaurant’s signature French toast made from a thick-cut crunchy coated (with Kellog’s Corn Flakes) Challah bread.  Challah bread, a traditional Hebrew bread makes the best French toast, especially when sliced thick.  It has a pillowy-soft texture and an rich, egg enhanced flavor.  Challah bread also absorbs syrup (or honey, if you prefer).  The French toast are served in half (pictured below) or full-sized portions.

Challah Bread French Toast

14 August 2016: No matter how good your entrees might be, you absolutely must save room for desserts.  Make that a lot of room.  The desserts are humongous!  The green chile apple pie with a Cheddar crust, for example, is a huge slab of pie with about seven layers of stacked apples.  The Cheddar crust bottom and the crunchy top crust provide textural and flavor contrasts.  Ask for the pie to be served warm and for a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side, an unbeatable combination.

The other apple pie dish, the one made famous at the original Plaza cafe, is topped with cajeta, a Mexican caramel made from goat’s and cow’s milk.  It’s fully addictive, a far better caramel than the squeeze bottle variety.  The pie, of course, is delicious with sweet-tart apples.  A la mode is the best way to experience it because the Plaza Cafe uses a premium vanilla ice cream in which flecks of vanilla bean are prominent.

Green Chile Apple Pie with a Cheddar Crust

The Plaza Cafe Southside Cafe is so good it should be considered a dining destination in its own right, not a consolation prize for not wanting to face the challenges of eating at the Plaza. A reasonable bill of fare, excellent food, accommodating service and almost as important, easy parking make this an excellent choice at any time.

Plaza Cafe Southside
3466 Zafarano Drive (San Isidro Plaza)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 424-0755
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, New Mexico Meatloaf, Cilantro Salmon with Tomato-Habañero Lasagna, Prickly Pear Horchata, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Blue Corn Enchiladas, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Challah French Toast, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spicy Fish & Chips, Breakfast Tacos, Chipotle Salsa, “Deconstructed” Breakfast Burrito

Plaza Cafe Southside Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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