Casa Chimayo – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Casa Chimayo on West Water Street in Santa Fe

Chimayó is one of the most mythologized, misunderstood—
and, some would say, maligned—places in New Mexico.
On one hand, it holds a place in popular imagination as the Lourdes of America,
a reference to the annual Good Friday pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayó,
a nineteenth-century church. New Mexicans and visitors from afar also celebrate
Chimayó’s weaving tradition, the potently flavorful chile grown there,
and the local restaurant, where margaritas compete with the church’s holy dirt as a tourist draw.

~ Postcard From New Mexico: Don Usner’s Chimayo

Named for the Tewa Indian word describing one of four sacred hills overlooking the verdant valley on the foothills of the Sangre De Cristos, Chimayó may be only 26 miles from Santa Fe and 52 miles from Taos, but in some ways seems further removed by time than by distance.  While its aforementioned counterparts have transitioned to artsy and cosmopolitan service and tourism economies, Chimayó has had a harder time moving away from its pastoral-agricultural sustenance roots.  

Where Santa Fe and Taos may be imbued with rustic sophistication and  urbane trappings, Chimayó moves at a slower pace.  At the end of the day, neighbors still meet at the fence for some serious “mitote” time.  Close friends are referred to as “comadre” (female) and “compadre” (male), as familial a Hispanic term for endearment as there is.   Land owners work together to maintain the acequias, the communal-ditch system which irrigates chile fields and apple orchards.  Chimayó is certainly not a village that time has forgotten, but one which beckons for a return to better times.

Casa Chimayo’s Dining Room

That’s the Chimayó in which Roberto Cordova fondly remembers being raised as a boy and for which he named his restaurant, Casa Chimayó.  Long before it was a restaurant, the nearly three-quarter century old adobe structure was a family home, the site of Roberto’s birth.  Though he was born in Santa Fe, Roberto spent his formative years in Chimayó where he learned traditions and culture from a very close extended family and the values of hard work from his grandparents.

Roberto traces his familial lineage back to Zacatecas, Mexico, from where his ancestors set off with other Spanish families to found and colonize the last Spanish frontier, the villages of Northern New Mexico prefacing the Sangre De Cristos.  Those settlers founded the villages of Santa Cruz, Quarteles, La Puebla, Chimayo, Rio Chiquito, Cordova, Cundiyo and Truchas, all still viable today.  These pioneering families also developed and perfected the now famous Chimayó chile.  Their descendants continue to plant and harvest this chile, annually surmounting Chimayó’s hot summer days, cool nights and unpredictable water availability to produce a delicious bounty.

Chile Relleno En Nogada

The edifice housing Casa Chimayó has long served as a restaurant, most recently hosting Los Mayas which shuttered its doors to begin the new year of 2011.  Rather than leasing to another prospective restaurant, the Cordova family decided to share their family’s culinary cultural heritage themselves by opening Casa Chimayó which launchd shortly after Los Mayas closed. 

From the outside, Casa Chimayó can’t help but resemble a long familiar enclave behind adobe walls.  If, however, you were familiar with Los Mayas, you’ll quickly discern the changes within the complex.  The entrance is now to your immediate left as you step into the walled courtyard.  The restaurant, a veritable museum, pays tribute to the community of Chimayó, honoring Roberto’s childhood home with vintage photographs and the incomparable weavings from the village.  The historic Santuario de Chimayó is well represented in art works as is another aspect of the village’s proud culture–the low-rider.

Salsa and Chips

On October 21st, 2013, the Food Network premiered an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives entitled “Aces of Authenticity.”  Casa Chimayó was one of two New Mexico restaurants showcased along with the incomparable Torinos @ Home in Albuquerque.  Host Guy Fieri chronicled the restaurant’s founding after Roberto’s retirement from government when his mamasita advised him to “open up a restaurant, hire some cooks and I’ll teach them how to cook our way.”  Our way is the traditional New Mexican way, the way his ancestors did it.

The menu forewarns that red or green, the chile is hot, apprising that a milder alternative is available in the “ranchero” sauce.  Casa Chimayó proudly serves sun-dried red chile pods and fresh, roasted green chile that is peeled in-house.  Both red and green chiles are grown and harvested by local farmers.  The only item in which cumin is used is the “Mercedes Posole,” described as “prize-winning red chile, hominy and pork stew often served when celebrating life’s blessings.”  You’ll find out quickly that a meal at Casa Chimayó is one of life’s blessings.

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Carne Adovada with an egg over medium, rice and beans

22 April 2018: Jerry Seinfeld quipped “Salsa is the number one condiment in America! You know why? People like to say salsa.” With all due respect to the comedian who eats his salsa in cars, salsa is the number one condiment in America because it’s the best condiment in America. Though most restaurants no longer offer complimentary salsa and chips, for many of us the notion of a New Mexican or Mexican meal without this dynamic duo is unthinkable. Casa Chimayo’s chips and salsa is a four dollar plus indulgence, but it’s money well spent. The salsa has a discernible bite and fresh flavors. It’s served with crispy, thick chips fashioned from fried flour tortillas. You’ll go through at least two bowlfuls of the beloved condiment before you run out of chips.

22 April 2018: As with its predecessor Los Mayas, Casa Chimayó offers chiles rellenos en nogada, which stellar food writer Lesley Tellez describes as “a living piece of Mexican history.”  The dish was invented by nuns in Puebla, Mexico in 1821.  Similar to how the Margherita pizza showcases the colors of the Italian flag, chiles rellenos en nogada feature the colors of the Mexican flag: a green poblano chile stuffed with sundry ingredients such as dry fruits, a creamy walnut sauce (white) atop of which pomegranate seeds (red) are tossed.  Because the flag of Mexico was first unfurled at about the same time, this dish evokes patriotic fervor among Mexicans.

CasaChimayo07

Pollo en Mole Rojo

Among New Mexicans such as my friend Skip Muñoz and I, the dish evokes involuntary salivation.  Made correctly, it’s one of the most spectacularly diverse and delicious dishes you’ll find at any Mexican restaurant.  Casa Chimayó’s rendition, available on the appetizer menu, is one of the very best I’ve had, better even than Los Mayas.  A poblano pepper is engorged with slowly stewed sirloin, apricots, raisins, apple and orange nectar then adorned with cream cheese, cinnamon and walnut sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds and piñon when in season.  There is no one flavor profile.  Instead you’ll enjoy a balance of several flavors playing off one another and providing flavor explosions with every bite.  It’s a dish raved about by the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host  Guy Fieri who visited Casa Chimayó in September, 2013.

27 December 2013: There are six quesadillas on the menu, all served with a side of salsa.  One of the more “New Mexican” of the half-dozen is made with cheese, calabasitas, corn and onions, the three latter ingredients a very popular  combination dish in both households and restaurants.  Interestingly the calabasitas are nearly al dente, retaining a delightfully crispy texture.  The accompanying salsa, made from fire-roasted tomatoes, cilantro, onions and jalapeños is fresh and invigorating.

Nuevo Mejico Lamb Chops

27 December 2013: The carne adovadasucculent pork marinated in a rich red Chimayó chile and spices (including a fresh Mexican oregano) then stewed slowly in its natural juices to a tender finish–is absolutely delicious.  Each tender tendril of porcine perfection is meant to be savored slowly  though it’s hard to hold back and not devour this delicious dish.  The Chimayó chile is piquant, but not overly so.  It’s also rich and earthy with complex notes and a silky, velvety texture.  The carne is accompanied by rice and whole pinto beans, the latter perhaps the best restaurant-made beans in Santa Fe, if not New Mexico.  These are beans made the way abuelitas have been preparing them for generations. 

27 December 2013: “Never the twain shall cross” is an adage which often seems applicable to New Mexican and Mexican restaurants.  It’s not every New Mexican restaurant which can cross over successfully and prepare Mexican food well…and vice versa.  Perhaps because of the family’s Zacatecas roots, the Mexican food is exemplary.  My love for the chiles rellenos en nogada is almost matched by my love for the enchiladas de pollo en mole rojo.  A citrus-marinated chicken breast is hand-shredded then sheathed by blue corn tortillas  covered in a complex mole sauce made with spices, peanuts and Mexican chocolate.  It’s a mole good enough to forgo New Mexican entrees.  That mean’s it’s special!

Natillas

22 April 2018: After the last war to end all wars, lamb chops went from fairly common family fare (at least in the west) to costly fine dining elegance.  Visit any high-end restaurant, particularly those specializing in chops, and you’ll find lamb chops are about as costly as premium cuts of steak.  Many of the lamb chops served in those palaces of prosperity serve lamb imported from New Zealand or Colorado.  For some reason, very scarce are those which offer grass-fed lamb raised in the Land of Enchantment.   Casa Chimayo is one such restaurant where the most beautiful lamb chops are available for dinner and Sunday brunch for about a third less than what you’d pay at a fine dining establishment.

Labeled “Nuevo Mejico (SIC) lamb chops and served two per order, they’re as succulent as any lamb chops anywhere.  Moreover they’re about an inch thick–or about twice the thickness of the “lollipop” version served at most hoity toity eateries.  The chef prepares them at rare though they do have a very nice sear on the outside.  If you can’t stand the sight of blood, you might want to ask for a higher degree of doneness.   They’re made even more red thanks to a red chile demi glace that gives them just a bit of bite. These chops are served with three Northern New Mexico standards–sauteed quelites (lambs quarters), pinto beans and chicos.  The latter are especially popular in Rio Arriba and Taos counties.  Chicos begin as an ear of field corn which is tied into ristras (strings) and hung to dry or alternatively roasted in an horno.   The kernels are then removed and stored until cooking time.  When cooked (boiled in water), they swell up to their former size and taste like freshly smoked corn.  In combination with pinto beans, they are magnificent!

Goat Milk Flan

27 December 2013: Desserts are oh, so New Mexican. Casa Chimayó is one of few New Mexican restaurants which serves sopa, a wonderful dish also known as caplrotada. By any name, sopa is a New Mexican bread pudding whose sweet notes are tempered by cheese, usually Cheddar. Served warm, it’s a very rich dessert, so much so that the natillas seem mildly sweet in comparison. The natillas, a custard dish made with milk and eggs, are slightly thicker than egg nog and sprinkled with cinnamon. 

22 April 2018:  I can count on one hand the restaurants which offer a flan that pleases my pedantic palate.  There’s Chef Estevan Garcia’s organic goat milk flan when he helmed Tabla De Los Santos, the silky smooth flan at Ben Michael’s Restaurant and the chocolate flan at Sandiago’s Mexican Grill.  Casa Chimayo’s goat milk flan makes four…and it might be the best of the lot.  The sugary caramel is lick-your-plate good while the goat milk lends an addictive sweet-sour flavor profile to a flan with the creamiest, dreamiest consistency of any flan ever.

Casa Chimayó is two blocks away from the Santa Fe Plaza and 32 miles from the pastoral village for which it’s named, but after one visit, it’ll be close to your heart.

Casa Chimayó
409 West Water Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 428.0391
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 22 April 2018
1st VISIT: 27 December 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 19
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Chile Relleno en Nogada, Quesadilla (Cheese, Calabasitas, Corn, Onions), Chips and Salsa, Nuevo Mejico Lamb Chops Carne Adovada, Pollo en Mole Rojo, Sopa, Natillas, Goat Milk Flan

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

El Farol – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Farol on Canyon Road in Santa Fe

For over a quarter century, the most popular section in New Mexico Magazine (the nation’s oldest state magazine, by the way) has been a humorous column entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing.” The column features anecdotes submitted by readers worldwide recounting their experiences with fellow American citizens and ill-informed bureaucrats who don’t realize that New Mexico is part of the United States. Some travelers from other states actually believe they’re leaving their nation’s borders when they cross into New Mexico. Others think they need a passport to visit (not that they’d visit considering they’re wary of drinking our water.) Merchants and banks throughout America have been known to reject as “foreign credit cards” American Express and Visa cards issued by New Mexico banking institutions.

Sometimes you have to wonder if “one of our fifty is missing” applies also to American History textbooks. As an unabashedly proud New Mexican of Spanish descent, I always wondered why public schools taught impressionable students that America’s history was the exclusive domain of the thirteen colonies. You would think this great country’s history began when the pilgrims descended on Plymouth Rock. Seemingly unbeknownst to history books was all the history transpiring across the Land of Enchantment decades before the heralded pilgrims. For every “oldest this” or “first that” attributed to one of the thirteen colonies, there was already something significant older or precedent in the Land of Enchantment–with few exceptions, one being restaurants.

Dining Room at El Farol

Unlike the urban east, New Mexico was largely rural and agrarian with farms producing just enough to feed the families that tended to them. Being much more urban, it makes sense that the thirteen colonies are the domain of the quaint colonial restaurants. Seven of the ten oldest restaurants in the fruited plain reside in the states representing the red and white stripes festooning the flag. Among the most venerable is Boston’s legendary Union Oyster House which opened its doors as a restaurant in 1826, almost ninety years before New Mexico joined the union. Even the Union Oyster House, however, is a youngster compared to Newport, Rhode Island’s White Horse Tavern, circa 1673. As for the Land of Enchantment, numerous online sources (including the restaurant itself) will tell you the oldest restaurant in the state is Santa Fe’s El Farol.

In 1835–twenty-six years before the American Civil War and eight-seven years before New Mexico joined the union— La Cantina del Cañon, a saloon dispensing liquor and food, opened its doors on Canyon Road. Instead of the fashionable destination art district it is today, back then Canyon Road was a hard-packed dirt trail flanked by old adobe homes. The cantina was owned and operated by the Vigil family well into the mid-twentieth century. In 1963, it was sold and ultimately rechristened El Farol. Perhaps because of the continuity of having a restaurant at the same spot, it’s been pretty widely accepted that El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico .

Caldereta de Langosta

While it may be debated as to whether or not El Farol is the oldest restaurant in New Mexico, there many things about El Farol that cannot be disputed. It was once described by the New York Times as “one of the best bars on Earth!” MSN heralded El Farol as “one of the 39 most historic restaurants in America.” From 1985 through April, 2017, El Farol was owned and operated by Hernandez (home to Ansel Adams’ most famous photograph) native David Salazar. In the three decades in which Salazar ran the restaurant, thousands of visitors and locals frequented El Farol. Many came to experience the palate-pleasing creations of Chef James Campbell-Caruso, now chef-owner of La Boca, who ran the kitchen from 1999-2006. This may have been the restaurant’s halcyon period as it garnered numerous James Beard Awards and for a while, had the distinction of being one of the few restaurants west of the Mississippi to offer Spanish tapas. In 2017, the restaurant was sold to Richard Freedman who owns the Santa Fe Teahouse almost directly across the street.

After the change in ownership, El Farol underwent an extensive make-over which focused on preserving the legacy of the restaurant while reinvigorating a venerable institution in need of some spit and polish. Several new coats of paint brighten up the dining room to accentuate the iconic murals painted by former patrons, including one over the bar by Alfred Morang, a distinctive Santa Fe figure and founding member of Transcendental Painting Group. The flamenco dinner show, traditional Spanish tapas, good wine, the romantic garden setting…even the bullets on the floor remain though the menu did undergo a transformation of its own.  It’s a menu that reads like a fine novel, one you can’t put down.

Ensalada de Otoño

As you’re perusing the menu, your server will ferry over a plateful of lavosh (Armenian flatbread) and a bowl of olive oil.  For my Kim, olive oil alone doesn’t cut it; she has to mix it with Balsamic vinegar.  At El Farol this is a good thing.  The Balsamic vinegar has the viscosity of motor oil and sweet-tart notes that will delight you.  The olive oil is also of high quality.  The versatility of lavosh is such that it can be served soft like a tortilla or hard like a cracker.  El Farol’s rendition is cracker-like, but it has nicely absorptive properties and picks up the olive oil-Balsamic vinegar very well.

For years, my Kim has eschewed every seafood-based soup I’ve ever encouraged her to try. This includes some terrific cioppino in San Francisco, bounteous bouillabaisse in Boston and even the magnificent seafood bisque at Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho. She loved the caldereta de langosta (a Majorcan lobster stew made with sofrito, onions, tomatoes, garlic, preserved lemon and Marcona almond gremolata) at El Farol!  While sipping this luscious stew, we reviewed the ingredient list and were amazed that we could not only discern each component, but that they all worked so well together in a “no stars all stars” fashion.  This is a soul-satisfying elixir sure to remedy whatever ails you.

Aguacate

The “Starters” menu lists both cold (frio) and hot (caliente) options.  Among the former is a gluten-free autumn salad (ensalada de otoño) which packs some of my favorite all-season salad ingredients into one decoratively appointed plate: caramelized squash, pickled beets, dried blueberries, charred red onion, citrus, toasted pepitas, aged goat cheese, black kale and a goat cheese dressing.  It’s a multi-ingredient, multi-colored, multi-textured, multi-napkin affair, one of the very best salads in the City Different.  Among the stand-out components were the sundry citrus fruits including juicy slices of grapefruit and orange.  The toasted pepitas and dried blueberries lend textural contrasts while the pickled beets and caramelized squash provide interesting flavor counterbalances.

Several items on the menu have simple, one-word names that belie the complexity of the items for which they’re named.  One such example is the Aguacate which translates from Spanish to “avocado.”  A fruit high in healthy fats, avocados are versatile and delicious though all too often not used creatively.  El Farol flash fries a ripe, fat avocado  stuffs it with pico de gallo and drizzles it with a lime crema.  It may sound like a strange combination of ingredients, but they actually go together very well.  The pico (red onion, tomato, green pepper) is lively and fresh while the lime crema lends a citrusy tang to the proceedings, but it’s the flash-fried. lightly battered avocado which shines most.  As with most avocados at their peak of ripeness, it’s buttery, unctuous and rich.  Make sure each forkful has a bit of each component to maximize your enjoyment of this terrific dish.

Cerdo

My Kim’s entree choice was the Cerdo, a one-word descriptor which translates from Spanish to pork.  The Cerdo (pork tenderloin sandwich with bacon, Idiazabal cheese, avocado, arugula and fig mustard on rustic bread), served with pork cracklings and fries is one of the better pork sandwiches in Santa Fe.  Though its unique elements shine, this is one of those sandwiches which is the sum of all its parts.  All those parts work together as if they have always belonged together, but it took a chef genius to figure it out.  You’re probably curious about the Idiazabal cheese and rightfully so.  It’s not often used in these parts.  Idiazabal cheese is a Basque cheese made from sheep’s milk.  It inherits a sweet, aromatic smoke from the way it is stored and has a taste somewhat reminiscent of caramel and burnt caramel.  The fig mustard is both sweet and sharp like a Dijon.  The pork is tender and moist.

With so many other entree options available, I joked with our server about the propriety of ordering a burger at a restaurant such as El Farol. With a wink, he urged me to do so, confidently boasting that El Farol serves the very best burger in Santa Fe. Considering the City Different is home to such peerless purveyors of mouth-watering burger indulgence as Santa Fe Bite, the Counter Culture Cafe and Cowgirl BBQ (to name just a few), that’s a pretty audacious statement. El Farol’s burgers, he explained are eight-ounces of ground beef impregnated with bone marrow and brisket. That must account for just how moist, juicy and absolutely this multi-napkin burger is.

Hamburguesa El Farol

There are actually two burgers on El Farol’s lunch menu–the Hamburguesa El Farol and the Hamburguesa Santa Fe.  The latter is El Farol’s version of a green chile cheeseburger which not only includes Hatch green chile, but green chile toasted buns between which are also nestled avocado, Cheddar and bacon.  Despite these enticing ingredients, my contrarian appetites steered me toward the Hamburguesa El Farol (eight-ounces of ground beef, Balsamic onion jam, Manchego cheese on toasted brioche).  What a great, great choice!  Make no mistake about it, what makes this burger special is the ground beef.  It’s ground steak in all its glory–rich, beefy and a perfect canvas for the sweet-tangy Balsamic onion jam, caramelized onions tinged with velvety, complex sweetness.  The Manchego also has sweet, nutty notes, but they’re wholly different than those of the onion jam.  Worthy accompaniment for this behemoth burger is a field greens salad.

El Farol’s dessert menu is a mix of predictable post-prandial pleasures (such as churros and a selection of artisinal cheeses) and unique creations heretofore unexplored.  In perusing the dessert menu, our eyes quickly fixated upon a dessert reminiscent of the fabulous citrus cake we enjoyed so much at Jake’s in Palm Springs.  The Limon Brazo de Gitano (rolled sponge cake, lemon cake, raspberry meringue, raspberry caramel, candied pistachio) was a real surprise, especially the interplay of the sweet-sour lemon and juicy, slightly sweet taste of raspberry.  The rolled sponge cake is ethereal in its lightness and elevated to greatness with lemony swirl.  The candied pistachios impart flavor and textural contrasts as well as palate cleansing between bites of sweet and citrusy deliciousness.

Limon Brazo de Gitano

El Farol translates from Spanish to “the lantern” and indeed, this landmark restaurant and cantina is a veritable welcoming beacon of warmth and light, a refuge from worldly cares.  It’s what El Farol was destined to be.

El Farol
808 Canyon Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 983-9912
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 3 February 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Caldereta de Langosta, Limon Brazo de Gitano, Hamburguesa El Farol, Cerdo, Aguacate, Ensalada de Otoño
RESTAURANT REVIEW #1024

El Farol Restaurant & Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Counter Culture Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Counter Culture Cafe in Santa Fe

Counterculture.  Growing up in rural Taos County four decades ago, I don’t know how many of us understood that the cultural and political upheaval of the big cities had moved into our isolated corner of the world.  All we knew was that these unkempt and unwashed interlopers preaching free love and practicing it in communes had invaded our idyllic agrarian communities and shocked our quiet, small town sensibilities.

They rode around in psychedelic school buses and wore multi-colored smocks.  The men among them wore their hair as long as their women.  More shocking was how these strangers walked around unabashedly nude in the confines of the communes they christened with such colorful names as the Hog Farm, New Buffalo and Lama.  There were even rumors of rampant drug use.  The Taos News referred to it as “The Hippie Problem.”  Weekly letters to the editor referred to them as “smelly, crazy-eyed pot and LSD ridden draft dodgers” and worse.

Humongous cinnamon roll at Counter Culture

Humongous cinnamon roll at Counter Culture

Considering the rancor between the locals and the scores of hippies which invaded Taos County in the late 1960s, some might consider it ironic–maybe even more than a bit hypocritical–that Taos designated the summer of 2009 as the “Summer of Love.”  The summer-long celebration marked the 40th anniversary of the iconic counterculture movie “Easy Rider,” some of which was filmed in the area.  It also celebrates the influx of the hippie counterculture Taos County actively combated and tried to eliminate.

Much has transpired in the past four decades.  Taos County (and America as a whole) has evolved into a kinder, gentler, more accepting society.  The strange outsiders of the late 60s are well integrated into the fabric of the communities which initially were so unwelcoming toward them.  Some live in the suburbs they eschewed, work in businesses they once denounced.  Some even vote Republican.  Others remain steadfast to their dreams of a Utopian American society.

Middle Eastern Plate

Today no one thinks twice when encountering the Bohemian influences and remnants of the 60s.  The symbols of counterculture once reviled throughout New Mexico are today even celebrated in such stanchions of the “establishment” as El Palacio, the quarterly publication of the Museum of New Mexico.  Vestiges of counterculture-influenced restaurants are prevalent in Taos (Taos Pizza Out Back among others) and Santa Fe, including one whose very name honors the movement: the Counter Culture Cafe on Baca Street.

The Counter Culture Cafe may remind long-timers of Joe’s Place, the first “alternative” restaurant on Bent Street in Taos which became the center of hippie culture throughout the county.  The Counter Culture Cafe  has a similar laissez-faire attitude and like the long defunct Joe’s Place, serves generally excellent food at very reasonable prices.

Counter Culture Burger with Green Chile on the Side

The Counter Culture Cafe is located only a couple miles west of the tourist-laden plaza and is frequented primarily by locals in-the-know (and tourists who visit Yelp or this blog).  It is ensconced in a “rough around the edges” fashionable artists’ haven away from the more well-known denizens of Southwest art.  The restaurant’s setting has been described as “post-modern, industrial warehouse,” an apt description.  Storefront parking is rather limited, but there is a spacious parking lot across the street.

Two outdoor dining areas–one by the parking lot up front and an enclosed area out back–are very popular, but strictly seasonal.  The indoor dining area is a hub of activity.  When you walk in, you’ll place your order at a counter above which are slate boards on which breakfast and lunch menus are scrawled in chalk.  After you place your order, you’ll be given a number to take to your table.  Then you’ll pick up your silverware, napkins and water (if that’s your beverage of choice) and take them to your table.  If you order wine, it will be served in a juice glass.  Your order will be delivered to your table promptly and professionally.

Proscuitto Egg Sandwich on a Hoagie with Swiss Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers

Seating, more functional than comfortable, is on communal tables, the type of which are used for church-sponsored bingo games.  For the dog-lovers among us, the Counter Culture has a capacious dog-friendly patio.  Our debonair dachshund Dude loves the patio’s vibe.  Make sure you have cash on hand as the restaurant does not accept credit cards (though a local check will suffice).  The restaurant has free Wi-Fi for those of us who have to remain connected at all times.  Minimalist decor includes walls festooned with portraits taken by local photographer Anne Sweeney.

28 November 2009: It’s almost unfair that stationed under glass at the top of the counter are baked goods so tempting you’ll eschew any diet no matter how faithful you’ve been to it.  The chocolate cake is reputed to be among the very best in town while the cinnamon rolls are ridiculously large, like frosted bricks.  Those cinnamon rolls are so good, Santa Fean food writer John Vollertsen put them on his “bucket list,” a collection of must try dishes he would plan to devour before “kicking the bucket.”  Vollertsen wrote, “you gotta love a sweet roll that hangs over the edge of a dinner plate, pull-apart tender and dripping with sugar glaze.  Plop this monster in the middle of a table of friends and demolish.”  Counter Culture’s French toast are made from these cinnamon rolls which are sliced horizontally then battered in an egg wash and prepared as any French toast would be.  Just writing about them added to my waistline.

Chicken Tom Yum Soup

8 September 2017: The menu is an eclectic East meets West meets Southwest mix of Asian, European, New Mexican and American gourmet favorites.  The simple sandwich is transformed into a gastronomic masterpiece in the kitchen.  Soup is sublime, especially, according to Sunset.com, the chicken tom yum which the “life in the west” magazine mentioned as one of “five great bowls of soup in Santa Fe.”  Sunset stated the “chicken tom yum warms the belly and ends in a spicy kick: Lemon grass and lime leaves enliven broth filled with chicken, rice noodles and chile.”  Thai inspired soups are standard menu offerings.  If the Thai Coconut Salmon Soup is any indication, that inspiration runs deep.  Pungent curry, as good as made at local Thai restaurants, is punctuated with the sweetness of coconut and the freshness of salmon wholly devoid of any off-putting piscine qualities.  Served hot, it’s as comforting as any soup.

8 September 2017: A number of salads large enough to feed entire families are available including a Greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, red onions and pepperoncini with a red wine vinaigrette).  Better still, order the Middle Eastern platter which includes the aforementioned Greek salad as well as spanikopita, hummus, Kalamata olives and pita bread.  The spanikopita–a Greek appetizer made with pre-cooked spinach, butter, olive oil, feta cheese, green onions and egg in a phyllo dough pastry–is baked to perfection, a flaky and savory warm treat.  A humongous portion of hummus will outlast the two few wedges of pita.

Fall Salad: Roasted Beets, Red Chile Dusted Pecans, Wilted Greens, Blue Cheese and Balsamic Vinegarette

8 September 2017: One of the most popular items on the lunch and dinner menu is the grilled burger, a hamburger prepared to your exacting specifications with grilled red onions on foccacia with lettuce and tomato on the side.  This is simply one of the very best burgers in Santa Fe, a burger on par with what you might find at a high-priced steakhouse.  More than any other burger in the entirety of New Mexico, this one reminds me of the world-famous Ambrosiaburger from the legendary Nepenthe in California’s Big Sur. An enormous hand-formed beef patty is juicy and flavorful while the foccacia canvas is lightly toasted and a refreshing difference from the boring buns served nearly everywhere else.

Ask for green chile for your burger and you’ll be given a small bowl of neon green chile as piquant and flavorful as just about any you’ll find in the City Different.  By piquant, I mean this chile may actually have you reaching for water.  Piquancy isn’t its sole redeeming quality; it’s a fantastic chile.  Condiments, which you’ll have to bus to your table yourself, include Grey Poupon mustard, the gourmet choice.  The haystax fries are about as thin as a spaghetti noodle, or more appropriately shoestring potatoes.  They are perfectly salty, delicious and fun to eat.

Frittata: Pan Fried Eggs, Potatoes, Roasted Red Peppers, Feta Cheese

8 September 2017: Breakfast is served until 5PM every day.  That means at all hours you can enjoy the fabulous proscuitto egg sandwich on a hoagie roll with Swiss cheese and roasted red peppers.  It’s better, if possible, than the American favorite, the ubiquitous bacon and egg sandwich.  The prosciutto has the flavor of a smoked, dry ham while the red peppers are imbued with the slight sweetness that comes from expertly roasting strong, acidic vegetables.  A prosciutto sandwich (grilled prosciutto, provolone cheese, Dijon mustard, roasted peppers with lettuce and tomato on a hoagie roll) is available for lunch, but you’ll miss the egg. 

4 September 2011: Breakfast’s answer to the pizza and the quiche is the Frittata, a dish real men will eat (a reference to a book published in 1982, not a sexist remark).  Frittata is a type of Italian omelet in which cheese and other ingredients are mixed into the eggs and cooked together.  The Counter Culture’s frittata is made with pan-fried eggs, silver dollar potatoes, roasted red peppers and feta cheese. It’s an excellent frittata, second only to the frittata at Torinos @ Home (not on the current menu) as the best I’ve had in New Mexico.  The eggs are fluffy and delicious.  The fillings are in perfect proportion for a balance of flavors.

House Roasted Turkey Sandwich

The Counter Culture Cafe is a throwback to the 60s with a communal feel to it courtesy of having to share your table with strangers (make that people you have yet to meet), busing your table and cleaning up after yourself when you’re done.  There are no interlopers here, only hungry people whose appetites will be sated by some of the best food in town in an atmosphere that feels like the summer of love all year long.

Counter Culture Cafe
930 Baca Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 995-1105
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 8 September 2017
1st VISIT:  28 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING:   23
COST:  $$
BEST BET:  Prosciutto Egg Sandwich, Grilled Burger, Middle Eastern Platter, Cinnamon Roll, Tom Yum Soup, House Roasted Turkey Sandwich, Haystax Fries, Lemonade, Thai Coconut Salmon Soup

Counter Culture Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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