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

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 Grill Dining Room

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.”

Backstreet Nachos

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.

Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake

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. 

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! 

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. 

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
LATEST VISIT: 16 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
LATEST VISIT: Duck Tacos, Backstreet Supreme, Backstreet Nachos, Sweet Potato Maple Layered Cheesecake

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

Canvas Artistry – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Canvas Artistry for edible masterpieces

“Edible art” isn’t just some trite phrase pedantic food critics use when food has aesthetic values that delight our senses. Mankind has been been intrigued by the concept of food as art since the dawning of rational thinking. Prehistoric cave paintings such as those in Les Trois Frères in Ariège, in southern France, depict families gathering around the fire to share the foods they had prepared, an event made possible by the discovery of fire.  Fire, it goes without saying, was also the catalyst behind  men first wearing aprons emblazoned with “kiss the cook.”

Moving past prehistoric taggers scrawling graffiti on cave walls, edible art became more urban when Egyptians painted food on the walls of the great pyramids (ostensibly to nourish the dearly departed who had transitioned to the afterlife). During the halcyon days of the Greek and Roman empires, the depiction of food took on a more realistic tone when glass bowls of fruit were painted to denote the delicacies enjoyed by the one-percenters of the day (and some of those paintings still hang on the walls of many a Midwestern grandmother’s home).

Canvas Artistry dining room

The reverence with which mankind esteems food in art has expanded almost as quickly as our waistlines. Today, depictions of food festoon the walls of restaurants, hotels and homes (not to mention fraternity houses) everywhere. We’re also bombarded with images of food on the sacred altars of our living rooms, the hypnotically mesmerizing 70-inch flat screen televisions which render the Big Mac big once more. It’s apparent we find food not only nourishing, but strangely comforting and soothing. If we can’t have it plated in front of us, we’re mollified by paintings, photographs and videos of food, hence the term “food porn.”

In more civilized cultures, edible art has come to mean actual food (what a concept) plated beautifully…and looking good enough to eat. It’s a concept lost on Andy Rooney, the late curmudgeonly commentator on television’s 60 Minutes. Rooney didn’t like food that’s “too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.” Japanese diners, for example, not only enjoy, they expect eye-pleasing, artful plating in which everything is where it should be for optimum harmony, balance and appearance, a sort of plate syzygy. The balance of color, texture and appearance makes diners give pause to reflect on how great everything looks before their taste buds confirm what their eyes already know.

Carne Asada Tacos

Upon learning that a restaurant by the name of “Canvas Artistry” had opened in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District, my first inclination was “just what we need, another pretentious and expensive restaurant with artistically plated highfalutin cuisine.” That notion was quickly dismissed upon discovering that Canvas Artistry’s chef was none other than Saul Paniagua, a creative culinary genius who can cook high-end stuff with the best of them, but prefers making his delicious creations affordable to the masses.

Chef Saul Paniagua, a name many of you will recognize from his stints at 4 Aces Grill and The Standard Diner among others, is a South Valley native who’s twice left the Land of Enchantment to hone his formidable skills. The first time away from home, he managed the galley (that’s kitchen for you landlubbers) for Norwegian Cruise Lines where his ports-of-call included Honolulu, Hawaii. His second out-of-state foray took him to Joplin, Missouri where he helmed the kitchen at a casino operation and learned that in Missouri, local tastes leaned toward basic meat and potatoes. Though he gained significant experience, his heart lies in the Duke City and with the chile-infused home-cooking with which he grew up.

Sriracha Chicharron Tacos

Canvas Artistry, it turns out, is the realization of a vision shared by Chef Paniagua and his business partner Jesus Gomez. With a September, 2015 launch, the passionate pair began showcasing international street food (think New Mexico meets Asia) in an attractive, comfortable milieu where diners are surrounded by the artwork of local artists. Thematically it works: artistic food and artistic mixology in an artistic, but homey and welcoming ambiance. Fittingly the menu is printed on canvas stretched over a wooden frame.

Located next door to B2B Bistronomy in the remaining half of the space where Vivace was a long-time fixture, Canvas Artistry is open for both lunch and dinner (though you’re well advised to call in advance for a daily schedule). The menu, which will change periodically, offers a variety of tacos with an artistic bent as well as such heretofore unseen in Albuquerque offerings as yogurt chicken banh mi, tempura fried Spam musubi and surf-and-turf corn dogs. At face value, it’s a menu adventurous diners will appreciate most though every diner will find something…make that several things to love.

Tempura Fried Spam Musubi

There could be only one logical choice to join me on my initial excursion to Canvas Artistry, my good friend and trusted insurance agent Ryan Scott. Several years ago, Ryan introduced the world to Chef Paniagua’s talents in a compelling interview for his ground-breaking YouTube TV program “Break The Chain.” Not only is Ryan a huge fan of Chef Paniagua’s talents, he’s the only person I know (save for maybe Andrew Zimmern) who can match me for adventurous eating.

So, what do you get when you put a Broncos (Ryan), Raiders (Chef Paniagua) and Cowboys (me) fan in the same restaurant?  A darn good time, for one thing.  Great food for another.  As is a common practice for both me and Ryan, we asked our server to “just have Chef Paniagua” send out whatever he’d like.”  How’s that for adventurous eating?   How’s that for trusting that whatever the Chef sends out will be great and that we’re going to enjoy it?

Chipotle Marinated Shrimp Tacos

11 September 2015: The first item out of the kitchen was an order of three carne asada tacos?  What’s adventurous about carne asada tacos, you ask?  For one thing, the carne is porcini crusted flank steak.  Chef Paniagua employs molecular gastronomy techniques to grind porcini mushrooms into “dust” which he uses to create a very thin crust for the tender, moist, delicious flank steak.  The porcini dust imparts an earthy flavor which melds deliciously with a sweet onion jam, cilantro and the apply-it-yourself smoked salsa verde.  The neon-hued salsa is addictive and it packs a piquant punch New Mexicans will appreciate.

11 September 2015: Our second Chef’s surprise was three Sriracha Chicharron Tacos.  Chef Paniagua renders the fat from pork belly into golden, crispy crackling bits as texturally delightful as they are delicious.  He then introduces just enough incendiary Sriracha sauce to impregnate the chicharrones with a light piquancy.   An even bigger surprise are the tempura fried nopales which are light, crispy and thoroughly delicious.  These tacos are also served with a smoked salsa verde which is wholly unnecessary.  New Mexicans who revere chicharrones as much as other people love popcorn will applaud these tacos.

Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi

11 September 2015: Several menu items attest to Chef Paniagua’s tenure on the high seas.  Among them are an ahi tuna poke and tempura-fried spam musubi.  My previous experiences with “Spam sushi” haven’t been especially favorable courtesy of a pseudo-sushi in dire need of desalinization.  With one bite, both Ryan and I pronounced these Spam “maki rolls” the best Spam sushi we’ve had.  Neither the vinegared rice, Spam, tempura or honey-soy reduction were salty as you might think they’d be.  We also preferred the light tempura to the nori seaweed usually found on musubi.  There’s a reason more and more chefs are incorporating Spam into their menus and it’s exemplified in this surprisingly good entree.

12 September 2015: Attentive readers know how rare it is for me to make back-to-back visits to any restaurant.  It didn’t take much effort for my Kim to convince me that she had to experience Chef Paniagua’s culinary masterpieces once again.  As with Ryan, we shared three entrees, the first of which were also tacos.  The chipotle-marinated shrimp tacos (roasted corn guacamole, jicama slaw) proved every bit as good as the other tacos thanks largely to large, fresh shrimp which snap when you bite into them. The tortillas, redolent with fresh ground corn come from Tortillera Cuauhtemoc where we’ve been buying our tortillas for years. They’re the very best!

Grilled Elotes

12 September 2015: For years pundits have been predicting the proliferation of the banh mi across the fruited plain, but most have believed its nascent popularity would be courtesy of Vietnamese restaurants. While Vietnamese restaurants have been holding fast to traditions, avant-garde American chefs have been plying innovative ingredients and techniques to the Vietnamese sandwich. Count Chef Paniagua among them. Canvas Artistry offers two variations on the banh mi, one made with yogurt chicken and the other with crispy pork belly. Both are served on a hoagie bun with a Thai chili aioli and pickled veggies. If anything, it’s possible that the pork belly banh mi may be too much of a good thing (and we thought it impossible that you could ever have too much pork belly). The pork belly, delicious as it was, dominated the flavor profile. That’s wholly unlike your conventional banh mi in which ingredients coalesce beautifully to create and share a unified flavor profile.

12 September 2015: Having grown up on a farm in which we raised corn, pumpkins, peas and other vegetables, it never dawned on me that corn at a restaurant could be nearly as good as the corn we baked in my grandmother’s horno, a mud adobe -built outdoor oven. Canvas Artistry’s grilled elotes are nearly as good. Unlike elotes served on a cob, golden kernels from roasted corn are gently scraped off the cob and served generously in a bowl. The corn is sweet and moist, a perfect repository for the Cotija cheese, cilantro lime aioli and Chimayo red chile with which the elotes are seasoned. My Kim loves corn (except on my jokes) and certifies the elotes as swoon-worthy.

Truffle Trio and Salted Caramel Coconut Flan

11 September 2015: American writer Thomas Merton believed “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”  It’s rare that any dish has this profound effect on me, but the salted caramel coconut flan did.  Quite simply, it’s the very best dessert of any kind we’ve had this year and one of three flans I’ve ever found to be more than just passable (the other two are at Ben Michael’s Restaurant and Sandiago’s Mexican Grill). Chef Paniagua speaks often and will all sincerity about love being an ingredient in his cooking.  Truly love must taste like this flan, a coalescence of deliciousness that will make sweet, slow love to your taste buds.

11 September 2015: Alas, both Ryan and I had so much love for the flan that we didn’t appreciate the truffle trio as much as we otherwise might have.  The truffle trio was terrific, a triumvirate of deeply flavored and delicious post-prandial treats: mocha honey truffle, white chocolate pistachio and dark chocolate red chile piñon.  The trio’s only fault is that it was served side-by-side with the salted caramel coconut flan so comparisons were natural.  Of the three complex truffles, the mocha honey truffle stood out thanks largely to local honey from the South Valley.

Canvas Artistry returns a true culinary artist to Albuquerque’s burgeoning restaurant scene.  With Chef Saul Paniagua creating beautiful edible masterpieces, artistry is as close as the kitchen.

Canvas Artistry
3120 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 227-6999
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 September 2015
1st VISIT: 11 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Carne Asada Tacos, Sriracha Chicharron Tacos, Chipotle Marinated Shrimp Tacos, Tempura Fried Spam Musubi, Grilled Elotes, Crispy Pork Banh Mi, Truffle Trio, Salted Coconut Flan

Canvas Artistry  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Coyote’s Rooftop Cantina – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Coyote Cafe on Water Street

The Coyote Cafe on Water Street

National Geographic Traveler once described Santa Fe as “a hypercultural hybrid–equal parts Wild West and New Age, Native American and Hispanic, old money and old hippie”…a city “used to mixing things up and still creating an oddly seamless whole.”  It truly is the City Different, a city with  an identity, substance and style all its own.  Is it any wonder it has earned acclaim as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world?

Yet, to many people, Santa Fe is as much an escape as it is a destination.  It is an adobe colored Mecca that preternaturally calls seekers to a spiritual and creative fulfillment they just don’t find elsewhere. Santa Fe draws them with an amalgam of spiritual tranquility, piñon-perfumed air and its accepting, non-judgmental culture.  It holds them captive with its beauty and its cuisine.  One of the defining elements of contemporary “Santa Fe style” has been the howling coyote, an art phenomenon originated by woodcarver Alonzo Jimenez a couple of decades ago.

A popular dining destination

A popular dining destination

While the coyote is prevalent in contemporary Native American mythology and generally represents a cunning, treacherous scourge, to New Mexico artisans he has been a blessing, displayed on every conceivable medium.  The howling coyote became so omnipresent that it became synonymous with Santa Fe style. In the culinary arts, Santa Fe style is most often associated with the Coyote Cafe whose logo is surprisingly not a howling coyote, but a flute-playing (ala Kokopelli) coyote about town with an unusually long, shaggy tail.

The Coyote Cafe, founded in 1987 and going strong more than two decades later, is considered by cognoscenti to have created the template for modern Southwestern cuisine.  At the Coyote Cafe–under the direction of the “High Priest of Southwestern Cuisine” Mark Miller–Southwestern cuisine evolved and reinvented itself time and again, honoring its historical roots while introducing new elements and culinary techniques that both reflect and refine tradition.

Trio of Salsas

The most recent reinvention of the Coyote Cafe is in the form of a new ownership group that includes Eric Distefano, one of the best chefs in the entire southwest. Distefano has been at the helm at Geronimo for many years and from all indications, is restoring the Coyote Cafe back to its halcyon days when it was widely considered one of Santa Fe’s premier dining destinations.

My favorite Coyote Cafe restaurant family member has long been the Rooftop Cantina where seasonal open-air dining between April and late October is so quintessentially Santa Fe.  The atmosphere is casual and the views of Santa Fe’s bustling downtown are ever so cosmopolitan. Thematically, the Rooftop Cantina has the look and feel of Old Mexico.  As much as we enjoyed the Cantina, we somehow let eight years elapse in between visits and when we returned in August, 2015, we discovered a different Coyote Rooftop Cantina.  While the ambiance still resonates with fun and frolic, many of our favorite dishes had either evolved or were no longer on the menu.

Black Sesame Honey White Shrimp Tempura

When pressed, I would admit to the Rooftop Cantina’s fire-roasted salsa as being my very favorite in the Land of Enchantment.  While other salsas were more piquant, the Cantina’s salsa and its subtle citrus influence and tangy sweetness had addictive, capsaicin endowed properties that made it unrivaled for pleasure-inducement. We purchased Miller’s The Great Salsa Book so we could duplicate this salsa during the Cantina’s off-season when we couldn’t get it. 

15 August 2015: Alas, making it at home is henceforth the only way we’re going to be enjoying this wondrous salsa.  While a fire-roasted salsa is still on the Cantina’s menu, it isn’t the fire-roasted salsa we loved so deeply.  It’s now redolent with cumin.  We gleaned some consolation from the fact that the menu now offers a trio of salsas: the aforementioned fire-roasted salsa; a creamy avocado, tomatillo and lime salsa and a pico de gallo.   The avocado-tomatillo-lime salsa is superb, a creamy amalgam of lively flavors that go so well together.  Similarly, the pico de gallo (rooster’s beak) melds fresh ingredients into a pleasantly piquant, freshly flavorful delight.

Fiery Skillet

15 August 2015: The Cantina has long been the type of restaurant in which diners feel comfortable ordering two or six starters instead of a single entree. It’s not necessarily a cost-effective proposition, but the appetizers tend to be very good and are usually large enough to share (not that you’d want to). The starters menu includes a trio of seafood starters including a black sesame honey white shrimp tempura served with two sauces, an incendiary spicy atomic horseradish sauce and a pineapple sweet and sour sauce. Unlike some tempura dishes which are so heavily breaded that you barely discern and taste the sheathed item, this tempura is delightfully light, allowing the shrimp to shine. The shrimp is so fresh and delicious, it renders the sauces almost unnecessary though both enliven the five shrimp.

15 August 2015: Shrimp are also available on the “fiery skillet” entrée which by any name would still be fajitas. Landlubbers can opt instead for chicken and chorizo served with Alicia’s tortillas, fresh peppers, Mexican crema, pico de gallo and a fresh Ranchero sauce with refried beans and green rice on the side. As fajitas go, these are quite good. My Kim especially appreciated that the green and red peppers are sliced into thin strips and grilled to an optimum level, neither al dente nor mushy. The flavors of the chicken and chorizo go very well together. My favorite item on this entrée were the refried beans topped with melted yellow and white Cheddar.

The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger

15 August 2015: If a green chile cheeseburger includes chile, but it isn’t New Mexico green chile grown in the Land of Enchantment, can it still be called a green chile cheeseburger? Apparently not because the Cantina’s sole burger offering features not the pride of New Mexico, but pickled Fresno chile which is grown throughout California. It’s called “The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger” and it’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” burger. In addition to the pickled Fresno chile (in strips), this behemoth includes sharp Cheddar cheese, sliced smoked ham, crispy fried Vidalia onion, greens, tomato and cilantro mayonnaise and pickles with boardwalk fries and Habanero ketchup on the side. To take this burger to another level, you’ve got to smear the Habanero ketchup on heavily. It’s perhaps the tastiest element of a burger replete with ingredients.

15 August 2015:Ice cream used to be my Kim’s fallback dessert, the one to which she would resort if none of the other post-prandial treats enticed her. Over the years she’s happened upon so many excellent ice cream flavors that ice cream has now become her first choice. The Cantina’s ice cream trio validated her stance. A generous bowlful of three creamy, delicious, texturally delightful ice creams—cognac ice cream, canela chocolate ice cream and vanilla—proved swoon-worthy and satisfying to the greatest extent of the word. Only half-gallon sized portions could have made this triumvirate better for her.

Ice Cream Trio

15 August 2015: My preferred desserts lean toward strong flavor profiles, not desserts with cloying tendencies.  It’s one of the rare disagreements my Kim and I have.  For me, the stronger and darker the chocolate the greater the appeal; for her, it’s milk chocolate or it’s too strong.  She didn’t like the Cantina’s Banana Chocolate tart, a semi-sweet chocolate tart topped with caramelized onions and encircled by a tangy citrusy swathe.   There’s a lot going on with this dessert, highlighted by the strong chocolate.    

15 August 2015: On the adobe wall just before the final four steps leading to the Cantina is a metal sculpture depicting coyotes frolicking boisterously at a Cantina.  It’s somewhat reminiscent to a fight scene on a Western movie. One coyote is swinging from a chandelier, there’s a comely coquette coyote on the bar and two members of the Canis Latrans family are ready to come to blows. While the restaurant is never quite this animated, it does radiate fun and is one of the very most fun spots in Santa Fe.

Banana Chocolate Pie

Coyote’s Rooftop Grill is a bit on the pricy side even if you don’t order adult beverages, but sometimes fun times do come at a cost.

Coyote’s Rooftop Grill
132 West Water St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
505 983-1615
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 15 August 2015
# OF VISITS: 14
RATING: 19
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Salsa and Chips, Banana Chocolate Pie, Ice Cream Trio, Fiery Skillet, The Cantina Gold Canyon Beef Burger, Black Sesame Honey White Shrimp Tempura

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Eloisa – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Eloisa Restaurant in Santa Fe’s Drury Plaza Hotel

Expansive views bathed in salubrious, sun-kissed air punctuated by languid breezes. Cerulean skies graduating in depth and brilliance the higher they climb above the horizon. Surreal topography of unnaturally contorted, dappled sandstone formations and juniper laden foothills. Lush, well-tended gardens blessed with an abundance of vegetables, herbs, flowers and shrubs. Such was the idyll Georgia O’Keefe called home.

On Sunday, July 19th, 2015, another transcendent artist–one whose medium is food and whose canvas is the palate—spent the day at the home of the legendary doyenne of American painting. He went there to pick apricots from the Abiquiu property on which she had lovingly doted. It wasn’t John Rivera Sedlar’s first visit. Much of the chef’s upbringing and many of his happiest memories were at his family’s ranch in Abiquiu, not too far from where O’Keefe had lived and where she had painted the stunning macro perspectives of floral sensuality which captivated the world.

Chef John Rivera Sedlar

Chef Sedlar’s aunt, Jerry Newsom, was Georgia O’Keefe’s personal chef for more than a decade, but it was under the nurturing influence of his grandmother Eloisa Martinez Rivera that his interest in cooking was kindled. Not only did she teach him how to prepare traditional New Mexican staples such as posole, sopaipillas and enchiladas, she instilled in him, a spirit of generosity through her alacritous example of feeding the familial multitudes who often gathered at the family ranch for celebrations.

Had Chef Sedlar’s formative development been limited to familial learnings, he might have pursued the culinary culture of New Mexico exclusively, however, he culled a wider expanse of culinary appreciation from living in Spain and France where the Air Force had stationed his father.  When his father retired, Eloisa got the precocious then-fourteen-year-old a job in the hotel kitchen of La Fonda in Santa Fe’s famous Plaza. Not long thereafter, he took a job at the Bull Ring. Even back then, Santa Fe’s restaurants weren’t formulaic and predictable. Because the restaurants in which he worked while still in high school featured haute cuisine on one side of the menu and “Spanish” (traditional New Mexican) food on the other, he quickly added French cuisine to his repertoire.  

A magnificent exhibition kitchen

From Santa Fe, he moved to Los Angeles where, at age 23, he apprenticed under the legendary Jean Bertranou at L’Ermitage.  At L’Ermitage he mastered classic techniques while continuing to evolve his own approach to cooking. By 1980, Chef Sedlar was ready to strike out as a restaurant owner, partnering with Santa Fe native Estevan Garcia to launch Saint Estéphe in Manhattan Beach. Initially offering nouvelle French cuisine, the restaurant evolved to become one of the Los Angeles area’s first fine-dining Southwestern restaurants.

Modern Southwest cuisine as it was executed at Saint Estéphe was such a breath-of-fresh-air concept that Bon Apetit magazine named the pioneering establishment “among the very best in California, or even the west.” In the kitchen Chef Sedlar employed fusion techniques, especially of French and New Mexican ingredients, long before the term “fusion” came into vogue.  At the heart of his culinary pairings were the ingredients on which he had been weaned in New Mexico, ingredients he wisely embraced and lovingly shared with his guests.

Tortillas Florales with Indian Butter

Had he remained in New Mexico, it’s conceivable that the driven chef would have achieved significant acclaim, but it would likely have been the “big fish in a small pond” type of recognition. Instead, he plied his craft in the megalopolis of Los Angeles where diners (and the peripatetic media) tend to be more persnickety and less forgiving. To survive that scrutiny, you’ve got to be good. To stand out and excel in that limelight for forty years, you’ve got to be great. Chef Sedlar’s “big fish in a big pond” greatness placed him in rarefied company, a pantheon of culinary luminescence.

From a culinary perspective, Chef Sedlar’s accomplishments are almost Jeffersonian in their breadth and impact. No less than Gourmet Magazine named him “the father of modern Southwest cuisine.” He was the youngest chef ever to receive the Silver Spoon Award from Food Arts Magazine. In 2011, Esquire Magazine named him “Chef of the Year” and listed Rivera, his restaurant at the time, among the nation’s “Best New Restaurants” for 2011. He was recognized in the Cook’s Magazine feature “Top 50 Who’s Who of Cooking in America” and has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award as Best Chef of the Pacific. Chef Sedlar is the author of several cookbooks and “The Tamale Poster” which still adorns the walls of many restaurants. You may even have seen him on season three of the Top Chef Masters series.

Piquillos Rellenos

One of the Land of Enchantment’s most alluring qualities is how it draws its sons and daughters back home. It’s a pull we can’t resist. After more than forty years in the fast-paced fishbowl that is Los Angeles, Chef Sedlar, too, felt the compelling need to return home. Still too vibrant and energetic to retire, he sold Rivera, his wildly successful Los Angeles restaurant in the shadow of the star-studded Staples Center and signed on to helm the restaurant operation at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Santa Fe. Fittingly, he chose to name his restaurant Eloisa after the grandmother who set him on the path of his passion.

Perhaps no word in the vernacular of Spanish Northern New Mexico evokes such veneration, reverence (and, for those of us who have lost these heaven-sent treasures, a melancholy ache not even time can erase) as “abuelita” or grandmother. Though Eloisa is named specifically for Chef Sedlar’s own grandmother, his restaurant celebrates all Southwestern women—the madres, tias and hermanas—whom he contends “have always formed the foundation of New Mexico’s culinary heritage.”

Duck Enfrijolada

Few grandmothers have had the luxury of such a regally appointed kitchen as the immaculately gleaming kitchen which graces Eloisa. It’s twice the size of the kitchen at Rivera, Chef Sedlar’s last restaurant in Los Angeles. You’ll want to be seated in close proximity so you can lustily ogle the transformation of down-to-earth New Mexican ingredients into exotic creations which both honor and elevate the Land of Enchantment’s culinary traditions. Watching the kitchen staff assiduously go about their prep work with the efficiency and synchronicity of drone bees is almost mesmerizing.

Eloisa’s commodious dining room seats 120 guests inside and weather-permitting, another 65 guests on the patio. The west-facing restaurant is airy and bright, features which inspire Chef Sedlar. The adjoining bar is a sommelier’s dream with an enviable wine list. Walls are festooned with 25 framed photographs on loan from Tamal, the first museum dedicated solely to the celebration of Latin culture as viewed through the lens of food. Tamal is yet another of Chef Sedlar’s dreams reaching fruition, and like a new father, he proudly pointed out photos depicting among other foods and cooking implements: huitlacoche in macro, a molcajete (pestle) and tejolote (mortar) used for grinding ingredients and tortillas adorned with floral designs.

Frito Pie

While impressive under picture frame glass, Tortillas Florales (floral tortillas) will take your breath away when you peel back the hot kitchen towel and release steam redolent with corn. The impact is akin to finding a fossilized fern on the hills backdropping Abiquiu. Pressed into tender comal-cooked disks are fresh and dried edible flowers and herbs. As striking as they are visually, these tortillas are meant to be a holistically sensual experience. Shut your eyes and let your nostrils and taste buds imbibe aromas and flavors which will impress themselves on your senses. Feel the delicate texture of the flowers on the tortilla. Available for both lunch and dinner, the Tortillas Florales are served with a side of “Indian Butter” which is essentially an unctuous, addictive guacamole.

From an esthetic point of view, it may not be possible to top the Tortillas Florales, but edible art is plated with every order. We likened the Piquillos Rellenos to a beautiful sanguine heart. Piquillo, a Spanish term for “little beak” is meant to describe the shape of the pepper, not any generalized level of piquancy. Piquillo peppers are richly flavored with sweet-spicy notes that are enhanced through the roasting process. At Eloisa, the piquillos are roasted then stuffed with Gruyere, chorizo and golden raisins, ingredients which play off one another in a concordant symphony of flavors.

Eloiza’s Bizcochitos

Chef Sedlar was happy I had ordered the Duck Enfrijolada, explaining that just as “enchilada” denotes corn tortillas covered with chile, “enfrijolada” means the corn tortillas are covered in beans. As with all New Mexican frijole fanatics, he understands the subtleties and nuances of beans grown in Estancia, Espanola, Moriarty and other bean-producing communities throughout the Land of Enchantment. After one bite of my entrée, I could have sworn these beans came from Heaven. Blue corn tortillas are the canvas for a masterpiece showcasing duck confit, radicchio, crema and a New Mexico cabernet chile sauce all covered in beans. These ingredients coalesce into a sum even more delicious than its parts.

At first, the notion of a Frito pie at an upscale Southwestern restaurant seemed almost incongruous, like stick figures at the Louvre. We quickly surmised that under Chef Sedlar’s deft hands, this would be no ordinary Frito pie—and it wasn’t. The only Fritos to actually grace this entrée were on the labels of the bag in which it was served. Instead, the bag was engorged with housemade corn chips with a textural semblance to wontons and a pronounced corn flavor. These chips share space on the bag with chile verde chicken, red onion, cilantro and shaved Cotija cheese. My Kim called it the best Frito pie she’s ever had and as proof, offered me only one swoon-worthy bite.

Caramel Brioche

Among the many favorite dishes Chef Sedlar learned to prepare from his beloved Grandma Eloisa are bizcochitos, the first cookie in the fruited plain to be recognized as an official state cookie (House Bill 406, 1989). For a cookie to earn such a distinction, you know it’s got to be good. Eloisa’s traditional anise-laced cookies exemplify everything that’s beloved and wonderful about bizcochitos, then they’re taken to rarefied air with the pairing of popcorn ice cream. Yes, popcorn ice cream, a feat of molecular gastronomy wizardry that pairs salty-savory and sweet-creamy flavor profiles to titillate your taste buds.

Popcorn ice cream also elevates a caramel brioche that by itself is merely outstanding. The top layer of the brioche is caramelized in a crème Brulee fashion. Puncture that sugary brown sheet and you’re rewarded with a custardy, eggy bread akin to a moist, rich bread pudding. Spoon on a bit of the popcorn ice cream and taste bud delirium might ensue. Then for even more sheer contrast, pair the brioche with the musky, tangy Abiquiu apricot half. This dish is as much an adventure in flavor discernment—so many complementary contrasts–as it is a spoil yourself indulgence.

In purposely timing our inaugural visit for lunch on a Saturday, we entertained faint hopes of getting to meet the great chef, if only to express our gratitude for his return to New Mexico.  When we did espy him, my first words were “you’ve broken a lot of hearts in Los Angeles,” recounting my dear friend Sandy Driscoll’s love for all of Chef Sedlar’s restaurants.  It’s easy to see why he was so beloved in Los Angeles.  He’s as kind, gracious, and accommodating a host as his reputation foretold, even introducing us to his proud mother Rose.   I now hope to introduce all of my friends to his phenomenal restaurant.

Eloisa
228 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-0883
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Caramel Brioche with Popcorn Ice Cream, Bizcochitos, Frito Pie, Duck Enfrijolada, Tortillas Florales, Piquillos Rellenos

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Del Charro Saloon – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Del Charro Saloon at the Inn of the Governors

Can it truly be that the more things change, the more they stay the same? In 1776, Fermin de Mendinueta, governor and captain-general of the Spanish province of New Mexico, declared that “Santa Fe settlers are “churlish types” who are “accustomed to live apart from each other, as neither fathers nor sons associate with each other.”  In 2013, Travel & Leisure published a list of America’s “snobbiest cities” and Santa Fe made the list at number five.  The list was based on surveys of the magazine’s readers.

Mayor at the time David Cross attributed the perception of Santa Fe snobbery to the enjoyment of the arts, a point validated by the article which quoted a writer as saying “without a certain appearance or air about yourself, gallery owners barely acknowledge you when you walk in.”  Then there’s the former Santa Fe restaurateurs who had a very strict “no fragrance” (as in no eau de toilette, eau de parfum and even no Old Spice) policy at their splendorific Italian restaurant.  Even some food snobs believed that was taking haughtiness too far.

Outdoor dining with murmurations of starlings

Fortunately Santa Fe has its own version of the place where everybody knows your name…and if they don’t, they’ll still treat you well.  One of the city’s most down-to-earth (or least pretentious, depending on your perspective) venues is the Del Charro Saloon scant blocks south of the Snob Fe Plaza.  Adjacent to the Inn of the Governors, one of the city’s most reasonably priced lodgings, Del Charro is so friendly even murmurations of starlings frequent it or at least they frequent the fireside patio which is covered and heated during cold weather.  The inviting fragrance of woodsmoke permeates the warm, amiable milieu.

Named for the nattily attired Mexican horseman, Del Charro is one of Santa Fe’s most popular watering holes. In 2012, readers of the Santa Fe Reporter voted it Santa Fe’s best bar in its annual “best of” issue.  Del Charro also garnered acclaim as “the most affordable restaurant” in Santa Fe, a tribute to its no-snobbery prices.  The menu’s pub fare is as good as higher priced “cuisine” served at other restaurants in town.

Chips, Salsa and Guacamole

You’ve probably noticed the scarcity of New Mexican restaurants serving complimentary chips and salsa.  Not only do they charge you for something which until recent years has always been free, if you want to make it a triumvirate by adding guacamole, you’ll pay a king’s ransom.  It’s almost shameful how highly some restaurants think (based on ridiculously high charges) of their chips, salsa and especially their guacamole.  While Del Charro’s chips and salsa aren’t gratis, they are inexpensive ($3) and the cost ($1.50) to add guacamole won’t break the bank.  It’s refreshing to pay appetizer prices for appetizers. 

The salsa and guacamole are served in red corn tortilla “bowls.”  The salsa is thick and made from fire-roasted tomatoes.  It’s not especially piquant and is made with just a bit too much Mexican oregano which really changes its flavor profile by making it overly acerbic. The guacamole is infused with a hint of lime and with chopped tomatoes.  It’s creamy and rich with a fresh avocado flavor.  The chips are light, crispy and relatively light in salt.  The chips, salsa and guacamole are quite good, especially considering the pittance you’ll pay for them.

Two Sliders with Housemade Potato Chips

Mustard and ketchup dispensers are positioned next to the salt and pepper on every table.  Order the two sliders plate and you can apply mustard and (or) ketchup to your liking, not as some overzealous dispenser squeezer applies them for you.  In fact, the sliders are served naked–only beef patties on a brioche style bun.  You can ask for other ingredients if you’d like.  A few grilled onions and with more than a little imagination you can almost convince yourself you’re enjoying White Castle sliders.  Given your choice of sides (French Fries, Cole slaw, Potato Salad or Potato Chips) opt for the chips.  They’re housemade, crispy, low in salt and fun to eat.

Over the years, innovative restaurateurs throughout the state have attempted to place their own stamp on New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger.  The avant garde versions–those that deviate most from the delicious simplicity of green chile cheeseburgers–are the most interesting.  Their departure into heretofore untried methods and ingredient combinations don’t always work.  I’d heard tell of a daringly different approach to the green chile cheeseburger at Del Charro and had to try it.

Stuffed Green Chile Cheeseburger with Beer-Battered Fries

Del Charro’s signature burger is a stuffed green chile cheeseburger.  While “stuffed” has been done before, Del Charro’s version has actually drawn praise from respected burger connoisseurs.  The “stuff” in the “stuffed” includes applewood smoked bacon, autumn-roast green chile and Gorgonzola all mixed into the chipotle barbecue sauce-tinged beef before the patty is formed.  Served with crisp lettuce, red onion and a thick, unripened tomato on the side, if you want to taste the stuff, you might want to dispense with the aforementioned sides.  Adorn your burger instead with the contents of the ramekin of green chile relish so wonderfully reminiscent of the fabulous Cajun chow-chow relishes we enjoyed in New Orleans.  The green chile relish is mildly piquant, sweet and tangy.  It’s so good it should be bottled and sold!  Not only was it the highlight of a much-touted burger, it enlivened the accompanying beer-battered fries, too.

With a menu which might best be described as “bar fare with a Southwestern leaning” and not strictly New Mexican, it’s not surprising to see Del Charro’s menu list some items as including “chile” and others being made with “chili.”  Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference in any of the other 49 states, but in New Mexico there’s only one way to spell chile and that’s ending with an “e,” not an “i.”  Just to make sure, we asked if the Frito pie (for which the spelling “chili” is used) is made with New Mexican chile or with Tejano chili. Our server assured us the Frito pie is made with New Mexican chile.  

Frito Pie

Alas, not all chile is created (or seasoned) equal.  The New Mexican red chile, while pleasant enough, doesn’t have much of a bite (perhaps out of deference for tourists who frequent Del Charro).   The Frito Pie, large enough for a small family to share, is a mound of beef chili (SIC; my Mac is chaffing at that spelling), Frito’s corn chips, Cheddar-Jack cheese, chopped onions, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.   Though not especially piquant, Del Charro’s Frito pie is not one you’d kick off your table.  Made with fresh ingredients which go well together, it’s a solid Frito pie.

There are only three desserts on the menu, the most popular of which are the natillas. Served in a “bowl” fashioned from a fried tortilla, the natillas  (a thick, creamy custard-like dessert) are served at just about room temperature and are sprinkled with a generous amount of cinnamon.  With virtually no lumps to distract you, you may want to close your eyes and luxuriate in the smooth, sweet vanilla deliciousness in front of you.  The fried tortilla “bowl” is more utilitarian than it is edible.

Natillas

Del Charro calls itself “Santa Fe’s watering hole” and while adult libations are certainly a popular draw, value-conscious diners who want a quality meal will enjoy one of the best “cheap eats” options in the vicinity of the Plaza.

Del Charro Saloon
101 West Alameda
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 954-0320
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stuffed Green Chile Cheese Burger, Natillas, Frito Pie, Sliders, Salsa, Chips and Guacamole

Del Charro Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Turquoise Room – Winslow, Arizona

The fabulous La Posada

The fabulous La Posada

The concept of “fast food” had a far different connotation during the Southwest’s Frontier days than it does today. This is especially true if one traveled via railroad through hundreds of miles of desolate, open country. In the more densely populated and genteel east there were often several cities between most destinations. This allowed for frequent rest and refreshment stops. Passengers rode in relative comfort in Pullman cars with dining cars.

In the wide open west, only twenty minutes were allowed during each of the infrequent stops. Further, the food was as miserable as the travel conditions. According to Keith L. Bryant’s History of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, “meat was greasy and usually fried, beans were canned, bacon rancid and coffee was fresh once a week.” No doubt it was gastronomic distress that prompted the following ditty documented on the book Hear the Lonesome Whistle Blow by Dee Brown: “The tea tasted as though it was made from the leaves of sagebrush. The biscuit was made without soda, but with plenty of alkali, harmonizing with the great quantity of alkali dust we had already swallowed.”

The welcoming interior of the Turquoise Room

One man, an English emigrant named Fred Harvey was determined to change the deplorable railroad travel conditions in the west. With a background as a restaurateur and later as a railroad employee, he brought good food at reasonable places served in clean, elegant restaurants to the traveling public throughout the Wild West. Historians agree that he also introduced civility and dignity. The Fred Harvey Company’s expansion included hotels, restaurants and lunchrooms throughout the Southwest (Arizona, California and New Mexico) as well as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and eventually anywhere the Santa Fe railroad system had major terminals including Chicago and Saint Louis.  By the late 1880s a Fred Harvey dining facility existed every 100 miles along the Santa Fe line. Meals at a Harvey establishment epitomized the highest standards for cleanliness and fastidiousness. Fine China, crystal, Irish linens, sumptuous portions and great value were hallmarks of a meal at a Harvey facility.

In the 1920s, the Harvey Company decided to build a major hotel in Winslow, the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway. Being centrally located, Winslow was thought to be ideally situated for a resort hotel. No expense was spared. Construction costs for grounds and furnishings have been estimated at $2 million or about $40 million in today’s dollars. La Posada, the resting place, was the finest hotel in the Southwest during the railroad era. Today it remains not so much a re-creation of the great railway era, but an accumulation of memories and treasures in the form of exquisite art, history and beauty. Its opulent flow includes arched doorways, hand-painted glass windows, glittering tin chandeliers, Southwestern hand-hewn furniture and whimsical art. It is a magnificent complex, one of the finest hotels in the entire West.

Heirloom Squash Blossoms

Heirloom Squash Blossoms

It is only fitting that a hotel with the grandeur and splendor of La Posada have an elegant area set aside for the finest in dining. That would be the Turquoise room which has been recreated to reflect the ultimate in stylish railroad dining. The Turquoise Room is indeed a fabulous restaurant, viewed by experts as one of the very best in the Four Corners region. The braintrust behind the restaurant is chef and owner John Sharpe, an Englishman like Fred Harvey with a similar commitment to outstanding food and impeccable service.  That commitment was  recognized in 2011 when Sharpe was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the best chef in the southwest.

Sharpe is committed to using only the finest and freshest ingredients possible, many of them grown locally. An avid gardener, he also grows heirloom vegetables and herbs for the restaurant, including the giant squash blossoms that appear on his menu on occasion. Every once in a while Sharpe also pays tribute to the great days of the Fred Harvey Company with retro dishes from the great railway era, but for the most part his cuisine might best be labeled as regional contemporary Southwestern. An even better label would be fabulous!  Several items are menu mainstays: roast prime rib, grilled steaks, fresh fish, pasta, elk, quail, pork, chicken, lamb and a vegetable platter. Desserts are made in-house on a daily basis.

Porterhouse Steak

The Engineer’s Porterhouse Steak

24 August 2008: Sharpe’s giant squash blossoms are things of beauty! Piped into each beer battered squash flower is a tamale-like concoction of corn meal and two types of cheeses topped with a corn salsa and drizzled with fresh cream. You will savor each bite and mourn the last one. It is one of the best appetizers we’ve had in any Arizona restaurant. An excellent pairing with many Turquoise Room entrees is the Don Juan Sangria cocktail made with red wine, port, sherry, brandy, triple sec and citrus juices served over ice. Sliced oranges, lemons and limes float on the sangria and add to its full-bodied, hearty flavor.

If you’ve ever lamented the lack of game gracing menus at restaurants throughout the Southwest, you’ll be thrilled to see several game favorites featured at the Turquoise Room. Better still, some entrees include more than one game favorite. One sure to please entree for the gaming gastronome is the Native Cassoulet with Churro Lamb, Duck Leg and Elk Sausage. Cassoulets are generally rich, slow-cooked bean casseroles containing meats (typically pork, sausage, mutton or goose), but Sharpe takes some liberties with that definition.

Prime Rib au jus

Prime Rib au jus

8 September 2007: Sharpe’s version starts with Tohono O’odham (a Native American tribe formerly known as the Papago who reside primarily in the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico) grown tepary (a drought-resistant bean grown in the Southwest) beans cooked with locally raised Churro lamb, chilies and spices. The Turquoise Room’s Churro lamb chop is fork tender and absolutely delicious with nary a hint of gaminess or fat. In fact, the meat is very distinctive for lamb with a subtle wild flavor likely resultant from the Churro breed’s diet of shrubs and herbs in the sparse deserts of the Southwest. This is some of the best lamb I’ve had anywhere!  The duck leg confit is similarly wonderful–a duck leg seasoned and slowly cooked in duck fat. The Turquoise Room’s rendition is sinfully tender and moist with a crispy and golden brown skin.  The spicy smoked elk sausage may surprise you because it actually lives up to its billing. The sausage’s pronounced smokiness quickly gives way to a spiciness that will play a concordant tune on your taste buds. It is slightly coarse as sausage goes, but is tender, moist and delicious.

8 September 2007: Another dinner entree featuring game is aptly named the Wild-Wild-Wild-West Sampler Platter. This entree features grilled quail with prickly pear jalapeno glaze, seared elk medallion with blackcurrant sauce and a cup of chunky venison, buffalo, wild boar and scarlet runner bean chili served with sweet corn tamale and fresh vegetables. Every item on this entree is stellar in its own right, but together they put to shame just about every combination meat platter you can think of.  The seared elk with blackcurrant sauce edges out the grilled quail with prickly pear jalapeno glaze as the best of the lot, but not by much. Both are absolutely delicious, prepared to absolute perfection.

Cream of corn and smooth black bean soup

Cream of corn and smooth black bean soup

24 August 2008: If you’re of a carnivorous bent but don’t necessarily desire an entree with multiple meats, the purist in you might prefer The Engineer’s Porterhouse Steak. This is a one-pound Sterling Silver center-cut Porterhouse you can cut with a dinner knife. That’s how tender it is. It is served with a spicy (perhaps chipotle infused) steak sauce that is actually worth using on this slab of meat.  Prepared to your exacting specifications (medium is my recommendation), it is juicy and delicious on both the larger short loin side and the more tender and flavorful tenderloin side. Some restaurants call this cut of meat the T-Bone, but by any name, it is often a challenge to prepare correctly because of the uneven temperature distribution in preparation. The Turquoise Room obviously has mastered the art of preparing this delicious cut.

24 August 2008: Another fine meat option is the Premium Angus Prime Rib Roast Au Jus served with horseradish cream, a medley of fresh vegetables and a choice of baked potato or red caboose mashed potatoes. This cut is available in an eight-ounce or fourteen-ounce cut. Prime rib is not for the faint of heart. For optimum flavor, it’s best served at about medium rare, a degree of “doneness” which may give the appearance of bloodiness that turns off the queasy diner. Preparing prime rib at anything above medium is sacrilege and detracts from this flavorful slab of meat.  Needless to say, the Turquoise Room knows how to prepare prime rib. Cut into it and the succulent juices (albeit a bit red) flow onto your plate. Bite into it and you’re in heaven. A little bit of marbling goes a long way on this cut of beef and that’s what you’ll get–that and a whole lot of flavor. If you’re an aficionado of prime rib, this one will please you.  You might not be as pleased with the baked potatoes which are on the small side and may not be completely heated all the way through. While most of the potato is tender, some is just a bit tough, an indication of inconsistent baking. Still, you add a little butter and a little sour cream and you’ve got a nice dinner accompaniment.

Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two

Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle for Two

24 August 2008: All dinners include your choice of Caesar salad or the restaurant’s signature soup, a cream of corn and smooth black bean soup served side-by-side in one bowl and topped with a red chile signature. As impossible as it may sound, the chef actually managed to keep separate on a bowl two very distinct yet very complementary soups as warming and comforting as the definition “comfort” soup itself. The Caesar salad is magnificent! It includes roasted red peppers, pumpkin seeds and Parmesan crusted tepee of the restaurant’s red chile cracker bread.

24 August 2008: The restaurant’s desserts are decadent and delightful, none quite as much as the Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé for Two. It takes 25 minutes to bake this extravagant treat, but it’s worth the wait. A rich dark chocolate soufflé is baked to order and served with whipped cream, dark chocolate Grand Marnier sauce (poured into a cavity atop the soufflé) and whipped cream. It’s a nice way to finish a meal.

Arizona Green Chile Eggs

Arizona Green Chile Eggs

Portion sizes at the Turquoise Room are generous but you’ll still be tempted to lick your plate so as not to waste a morsel or dribble of your entree or dessert. Fortunately dinner is followed by breakfast only a few hours away and breakfast, though not quite the equal of dinner, is an extraordinary event at this terrific restaurant.

9 September 2007: One of the breakfast entrees that makes it so are the Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles–shredded beef machaca with tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices, scrambled with two eggs, smoky red chile tomato sauce, crispy red and blue corn tortilla chips and jalapeno jack cheese. This entree is topped with crema fresca and roasted corn salsa and served with black beans. What a wonderful wake-up call. For most New Mexicans the smoky red chile tomato sauce would barely register on the piquant scale, but that’s okay because this breakfast entree is so replete with flavors competing for the rapt attention of your taste buds. Every ingredient plays on its partner ingredient and the resultant tune is a masterpiece.

Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles

Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles

9 September 2007: The best part of waking up, however, just might be Arizona Green Chile Eggs— creamy polenta in a pool of green chile, tomatillo sauce topped with two eggs, covered in melted jalapeno jack cheese and garnished with roasted corn salsa and diced fresh tomatoes, black beans and served with warm corn tortillas.  I’m somewhat loathe to credit anything in Arizona that includes salsa or chile, but the Arizona Green Chile Eggs have me issuing an apology to the Grand Canyon State’s use of ingredients New Mexico restaurants do best. This is an outstanding breakfast entree! 

22 June 2014:  Perhaps only in Italy is polenta used on breakfast entrees more than at the Turquoise Room.  Chef Sharpe’s rendition of polenta will remind you it’s so much more than “Italian grits” and can be made more sophisticated and interesting than simple coarse yellow cornmeal.  In addition to the aforementioned Arizona Green Chile Eggs entree, polenta also graces a breakfast entree called The Corn Maiden’s Delight, a bowl of warm yellow corn polenta topped with fire-roasted tomatoes, fresh spinach, two poached eggs, jalapeño jack cheese and fresh roasted corn salsa.  The very best qualities of this dish are showcased in the combination of its individual components, the more the merrier.  Alas, there is so little of the roasted corn salsa (onions, green peppers) that you’ll have to use it sparingly.  My preference would have been to cover the entire dish with this salsa.  All breakfasts save for waffles and pancakes are served your choice of La Posada’s blueberry muffin, bran muffin, cinnamon roll, English muffin or white, wheat or sourdough toast.

The Corn Maiden’s Delight

9 September 2007: Traditionalists might instead order something like the Silver Dollar pancake entree which includes two eggs, three pancakes and your choice of bacon, sausage or ham with spicy green chile breakfast potatoes. Rather than have your pancakes with maple or blueberry syrup, douse them liberally with prickly pear syrup. Prickly pear syrup has a higher fruit to sugar ratio than most syrups which is something you’ve got to appreciate if you don’t want a major sugar rush first thing in the morning.

22 July 2012: The lunch menu includes one of the most unique dishes I’ve seen on a restaurant menu anywhere, piki bread with hopi hummus. It’s a dish you might order for the experience of eating something so authentically Native American and uniquely different, but probaly not because someone has told you it’s a great tasting dish. The most unique aspect of this entree is the piki bread, finely ground blue corn blended with burnt juniper berry ash. Ash, in fact, is texturally what the bread resembles. This bread is crumbly (as in blow away light) and won’t stand up to the lightest portion of the bad-dap-suki, the “Hopi hummus” with which it is served. Hopi hummus is also unique, but its greatest resemblance to hummus is textural.

Piki Bread with Hopi Hummus:

22 July 2012: Much more traditional is the crispy pork carnitas platter, large pieces of crispy pork with red and green salsas, white tortillas, black beans and sweet corn tamale.  The carnitas are tender tendrils of pork perfectly made for the smallish corn tortillas.  Add a bit of the red or green salsa and you’ve got very good tacos.  The sweet corn tamale is essentially two scoops of a sweetened corn masa without any of the pork.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner, one of my favorite items at the Turquoise Room is the Late for the Train Coffee, an organic Turquoise Room blend.  It’s a mellow, rich coffee with a delicate roasted flavor.  Since our first visit to the Turquoise Room in 1997, it’s the only coffee we’ve had at home.

Crispy Pork Carnitas Platter: Large pieces of crispy pork Carnitas, with red and green salsas, white tortillas, black beans and sweet corn tamale

Fred Harvey would undoubtedly be very proud of the La Posada Hotel and the Turquoise Room, its fine, fine-dining restaurant.

The Turqouise Room
303 East 2nd Street (Rte 66)
Winslow, Arizona
(928) 289-4366
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 22 June 2014
1st VISIT: 8 September 2007
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 24
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Silver Dollar Pancakes, Baked Beef Machaca Chilaquiles, Arizona Green Chile Eggs, Native Cassoulet with Churro Lamb, Duck Leg and Elk Sausage, Double Chocolate Grand Marnier Soufflé for Two, Crispy Pork Carnitas Platter, The Corn Maiden’s Delight

Turquoise Room (La Posada Hotel) on Urbanspoon

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