Tecolote Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The World Famous Tecalote Café

Everyone knows the most sagacious of all creatures in nature is the owl. The owl is to whom all other creatures go to get some of life’s most pondered questions answered–questions such as “how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”  After having posed the question to a cow, a fox and a turtle, a young boy decides to ask the wise owl. “Good question, let’s find out,” the owl retorts. “A One…A two-hoo…A three (crunch sound effect). Three!”  It took three licks for the erudite owl to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie roll, prompting the boy to declare, “if there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a smart owl.”

Three is also the number of visits to New Mexico restaurants made in December, 2007 by Guy Fieri while filming episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives for the Food Network. Fieri was wise enough to make one of those visits to Santa Fe’s own owl, the famous and fabulous Tecolote Cafe.  Tecolote is the Nahuatl (Aztec) word for “owl,” but founding proprietors Bill and Alice Jamison actually named their restaurant for an all-but-deserted Northern New Mexican village alongside the railroad tracks just south of Las Vegas, New Mexico about 55 miles east of Santa Fe.

One of the restaurant’s sprawling dining rooms

Throughout history, the owl has played a significant role in the myths and legends of many cultures. Just as in Old Mexico, in northern New Mexico the owl often represents “la bruja” or the witch–either the malevolent or benevolent kind (as masterfully represented by the title character in the outstanding Rudolfo Anaya novel Bless Me Ultima). As such, to many the owl is either to be feared or revered.  The attribution of wisdom to the owl actually started with Ancient Athenians who called the owl the bird of wisdom. It’s conventional wisdom for Santa Fe residents to start their days with breakfast at the Tecolote Cafe, one of the city’s most popular dining destinations. It became even more popular after the Food Network first aired the episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives featuring the restaurant.

The December filming occurred shortly after the staff had decorated the restaurant for Christmas. Because the Food Network airs each episode several times throughout the year, the Tecolote staff had to take down the Christmas decorations so that the restaurant would appear seasonally agnostic.The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew spent about 23 hours over a two-day period in the restaurant. Host Guy Fieri’s focus was on the Tecolote’s famous red and green chile which he helped prepare under the watchful eye of former general manager Chris Valdez (who now owns and operates the fabulous Chris’ Cafe), one of the coolest and down-to-earth restaurant personalities we’ve met–an excellent foil for the effervescent Fieri.

Bakery Basket with Strawberry Preserves and Whipped Butter

The Tecolote received the coveted third segment on the program, meaning it the segment was bisected by a commercial. The segment lasted little more than six minutes, but it reintroduced America to a Santa Fe treasure which was named one of Santa Fe’s ten best dining destinations by Fortune magazine in the early 1990s  Since it opened in June, 1980, the Tecolote Cafe has earned a bevy of accolades. It is a perennial winner of “best breakfast” awards from local and national publications. Quite simply, it’s one of the best reasons to get up in the morning in Santa Fe.  In fact, you’d better get up early and get to the Tecolote shortly after it opens at 7AM because within an hour after opening, you might just have to wait for a seat. 

In the 2011 season premier of the Sundance Channel’s Ludo Bites America show which first aired on July 19th, nomadic chef Ludo LeFebvre transformed the Tecolote Cafe into Ludo Bites Tecolote.  The premise of the show is that the eccentric chef travels across the country and creates a “pop-up” restaurant on an existing restaurant premises.  Only New Mexico’s piquant peppers were a match for Ludo’s tempestuous nature in this entertaining half hour.  Interesting though they were, the liberties Ludo took in crafting a New Mexico meets Ludo menu pale in comparison with Tecolote’s standard menu.

Chips and salsa with chile piquin

Chips and salsa with chile piquin

When Alice and Bill Jennison first opened Tecolote Cafe in 1980, their mission was to serve excellent food at a reasonable price while making their guests feel at home. Over three decades later the family still strives for these qualities.   Bill passed away in May, 2010 and Alice followed suit two and a half years later.  Today, their daughter Katie and her husband Matt own and operate the Tecolote, pleasing Santa Fe’s palate now for more than three decades.  The restaurant’s staff is among the most accommodating and friendly in the City Different.  Our favorite is Mela whose broad smile and buoyant sense of humor make early mornings easier to take.

One of the cafe’s mottos is “Great Breakfast–No Toast.” That’s okay because you won’t miss toast in the least. Breakfast entrees are accompanied by your choice of a bakery basket or a tortilla. In its July-August, 2010 issue, Food Network magazine celebrated the “most important meal of the day” in a feature entitled “50 States, 50 Breakfasts.”  The magazine featured “the best breakfast” in every state in the union.  The New Mexico selection was the Tecolote Cafe’s atole piñon pancakes (more on these gems later).  Apparently even after five years, the Food Network couldn’t find any better breakfast in the Land Of Enchantment as it named those atole piñon pancakes New Mexico’s best breakfast choice in 2015, too. 

Huevos Yucatecos

Huevos Yucatecos

6 December 2015: The bakery basket includes a variety of muffins, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, strawberry preserves and whipped butter. It arrives at your table shortly after you place your order and it arrives just out of the oven fresh, hot and delicious. If the basket doesn’t fill you up, it’ll put a dent on your appetite.  The strawberry preserves are homemade and are as good as you’ll find anywhere in New Mexico. 

Save room for the Tecolote’s chips and salsa. Although New Mexico is the world capital for chile, many of our restaurants don’t use chile on their salsa, heating it up instead with jalapenos. That’s a shame because red and (or) green chile can really liven up salsa.  Red chile piquin is discernible in the Tecolote Cafe’s salsa which is the rich red color of invigorating freshness and piquancy. This salsa packs a punch as it should, but where it stands out is in its chile enriched flavor.

Atole-pinon hotcakes

Atole-pinon hotcakes

The cafe’s other motto as sported on the shirts worn by the staff is “Get Your Chile Fix at the Tecolote Cafe.” That’s an appropriate motto for a cafe which serves up some of the best chile in northern New Mexico. In Santa Fe the only green chile to compare with this one comes from the legendary Horseman’s Haven.  It is quite simply outstanding!  That green chile is showcased in several of the restaurant’s signature dishes, but may shine most brightly on the Huevos Yucatecos. Initially offered as a special, it became so popular it just had to be added to the menu.

Huevos Yucatecos feature corn tortillas layered with black beans, two eggs any style, green chile, Swiss and feta cheese, pico de gallo, and surrounded with fried bananas. It is served with your choice of beans, posole, or potatoes (ask for all three). It is one of the dishes featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  It stands to reason that host Guy Fieri would relate to an entree which melds seemingly disparate ingredients. Several years ago Fieri launched Tex Wasabi, a restaurant serving Southwestern barbecue and California-style sushi, as innovative a fusion of disparate cuisine as you’ll find anywhere. Fieri appreciated the Huevos Yucatecos.

Carne Adovada Breakfast with Potatoes and Two Eggs

This dish arrives at your table piping hot with the aroma of piquant green chile steaming toward your nostrils. It’s an aroma every New Mexican finds as alluring and irresistible as a siren’s call. The Tecolote Cafe’s green chile is absolutely wonderful (though I’ve already stated this, it bears repeating), epitomizing the high standards for which our state vegetable is beloved.  At over easy, the yoke from the fried eggs runs onto the green chile to add another flavor dimension. For absolute contrast, however, slice up the fried bananas and use your fork to dip them into the green chile, egg yolk mix. Think Bananas Foster New Mexico style. 

The fried potatoes are crispy and low in salt, a commonality among many menu items. The chile and beans, in fact, are prepared in pure soy oil with very little salt. They contain no meat or cholesterol.  Back to the fried potatoes. They’re sliced almost potato chip thin, but have a great flavor. The pinto beans are not your run-of-the-mill soupy, just-off-the-stove pintos nor are they the often dreaded and desiccated refried beans. These beans have obviously simmered on a stove and are served at the peak of flavor.

Huevos Rancheros with Posole

Huevos Rancheros with Posole

6 December 2015: Another popular breakfast entree is carne y huevos. The carne is adovada, a heaping serving of lean pork loin cooked in a blend of chiles (including chile piquin), chopped garlic, cracked pepper and Mexican oregano. The pork is both cubed and shredded with the obvious low and slow preparation style which makes it tender.  The best carne adovada tends to have a very smooth and mellow flavor profile.  Tecolote’s rendition is a bit heavy-handed with the oregano, rendering an otherwise excellent adovada more than a bit on the astringent side.   This entree is served with two eggs any style and the Tecolote Cafe’s famous potatoes.  

Aside from the chile, the one dish which seemed to capture Fieri’s imagination was the atole blue corn-piñon pancakes which he described as having “real texture, not just light fluffy nothing.” He called them “some of the best.”  Forty years ago the word “atole” was among the most dreaded in the vernacular of northern New Mexico for this native. Atole then represented a thick cornmeal cereal which my abuelitas swore had curative properties. They never succeeded in getting me to eat it. Maybe they should have used it to craft pancakes.  The secret to these pancakes is the blue, ground cornmeal which is the chief ingredient in the atole I dreaded so many years ago. Toss in piñon evenly throughout the pancakes, serve them with hot maple syrup and whipped batter and you’ve got just about the best medicine for the morning blues.

The Kitchen Sink

6 December 2015: The special of the day, scrawled on a slate board near the restaurant entrance, sported the rather interesting name “The Kitchen Sink,” a term which implies an entrée made with everything in the kitchen and then some.  Alas, when it came time to place our orders, I had forgotten the name and called it the “Garbage Pail.”  It took Mela a few seconds to figure out what I wanted.  The Kitchen Sink starts off with two fluffy biscuits, one topped with green chile and the other with carne adovada, both of which are blanketed by two eggs.  This is a terrific dish, especially the biscuit half topped with the green chile.  As we joked with Mela, there’s no way a dish this good could possibly be named for refuse.

You may have noticed from the photograph at the start of this review depicts a different Tecolote Café than one you may have visited in the past.  For almost 34 years, the Tecolote Café served the City Different on heavily trafficked Cerrillos.  On April 20th, 2014, the fabled and fabulous restaurant closed its original restaurant, reopening in much more capacious and modern digs on July 14th, 2015 at the Village West Shopping Center on Saint Michael’s.  As with its previous location, getting seated at the Tecolote Cafe may take a while, but once you’re seated, the staff is quick to deliver some of the very best breakfast in New Mexico. To avoid a lengthy wait, get there when the restaurant opens promptly at 7AM and you’ll beat the crowds of owl-wise diners who love the Tecolote Cafe.

Tecolote Cafe
1616 Saint Michael’s Drive
Santa Fe, New Mexico

(505) 988-1362
Web Site | Facebook Page

LATEST VISIT: 06 December 2015
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Huevos Yucatecos, Carne Y Huevos, Atolé Piñon Pancakes, Salsa and Chips, Bakery Basket, Huevos Rancheros with Posole, The Kitchen Sink

Tecolote Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posa’s El Merendero – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Posa’s El Merendero in Santa Fe

When we phoned our friend Carlos to ask where the best tamales in Santa Fe were to be found, he waxed enthusiastic about a tamale factory and restaurant on Rodeo Road just west of Saint Francis.  He told us the restaurant was once owned by a professional wrestler and is Santa Fe’s equivalent of Albuquerque’s legendary El Modelo.  After we hung up with Carlos, neither my Kim nor I could remember the restaurant’s name or exact address.  We’d both assumed the other one would remember.  I seemed to recall the restaurant’s name being “El Mero Mero,” a name which made a lot of sense to me because it can translate from Spanish to “the main one,” “the top dog,” “the head honcho” or other terms of that ilk.  Needless to say, we couldn’t find El Mero Mero.

Because El Mero Mero didn’t work out, my second brilliant hypothesis was “El Maromero,” or “the somersaulter.”  That name didn’t even make sense to me (much less to my brilliant better half), but considering the uniquely wacky names (not to mention costumes) used by Mexican luchadores, maybe El Maromero wasn’t that outlandish.  After not being able to El Maromero, we turned into a parking lot to call Carlos again.  There in front of us was Posa’s El Merendero, the tamale factory and restaurant of which he had spoken so highly.

El Merendero Dining Room

Merendero is a Spanish word for an open-air cafe or bar, typically in the country or on the beach.  While a restaurant by that name being in Santa Fe made just a little more sense to us as “El Maromero” did, it must have made sense to the Posa family who launched their tamale-making operation  on Galisteo Street in 1955.  Today El Merendero has two locations in Santa Fe, the tamale factory and restaurant on Rodeo Road (the one whose name and address we couldn’t remember) and a newer one on Zafarano Drive.  

El Merendero has been owned and operated from the beginning by the Posa family.  Among the Posa proprietors were Antonio and Carmen Posa, the former being the professional wrestler of which Carlos spoke.  Antonio Posa wrestled for several decades, once holding the world middleweight title.  Today the operation is owned by Jeff Posa, a third-generation owner who values continuity and quality so much that he still uses his grandmother’s original recipes.  Why mess with perfection…or at least a very good thing?

Posa’s Tamale Pie

Who says those recipes touch perfection? Not only generations of Santa Feans esteem Posa’s El Merendero that highly, but so do Americans from coast-to-coast to whom tantalizing tamales are shipped…and if you’re wondering where some of the Land of Enchantment’s most popular New Mexican restaurants obtain their tamales, wonder no further. El Merendero has been provisioning restaurants with tamales for years. Not surprisingly, the tamale factory’s busiest tamale-making time of year is around the Christmas holidays when as many as 14,000 handmade tamales per day are made each day, using only Hatch chile.

For many restaurants and cooks at home, tamales begin and end with pork, leaving many of us to wonder what tamales would be like if constructed with something else.  El Merendero has actualized that foodie fantasy, offering not only a green chile-chicken tamale, but a vegetarian option (a combination of mozzarella and asadero cheeses and green chile) and even a hard-core vegan version (squash, black beans, corn and green chile). No longer are tamales solely for carnivores. No longer do we have to wonder what tamales taste like when green chile isn’t added after-the-fact.

Carne Adovada with Calabasitas

Lest you remain in suspense, you should know that the tamales–both the red chile pork and the green chile chicken–are terrific.  We took home a half-dozen of each and wiped them out over the course of two meals.  They’re not quite as sizable as the tamales at El Modelo nor are they as piquant, but they’ve got all the qualities great tamales share.  The ratio of masa to pork or chicken allows for the flavor profile of each to be easily discerned.  The masa has the pronounced flavor of corn with sweet and savor notes.  Both the pork and the chicken are tender and impregnated with chile, not so much that it overwhelms the delicate flavors of the meat, but just enough to complement both.  Ever the traditionalists, we enjoyed the red chile pork tamales most, but would partake of the green chile chicken tamales any time we can get them.

El Merendero is no one-trick-pony, offering a full menu of New Mexican food favorites you can enjoy in the dining room or as take-out, the latter being an extremely popular choice.  You’ll place your order at a counter above which is posted an oversized six-panel menu that includes appetizers, hand-held burritos, Mexican plates, “local favorites,” tamales (of course) and Mexican grill items.  A number of sides are also available for your in-house or to-go enjoyment.  If there’s one item you should try during your inaugural visit, it’s the tamales and as you’ve read, there are several ways to enjoy them.

Frito Pie

One unique way to enjoy El Merendero’s tamales is in the form of Posas tamale pie (two tamales, red chile beef with beans, cheese, lettuce, diced tomato and onion).  It’s a deep bowl of comfort food goodness New Mexican style.  As much as possible, you’ll want each bite to include a little bit of every ingredient on the dish.  The one stand-out on this savory pie is, of course, the two tamales which enhance the flavor of everything else on the plate.  Alas, because the tamales are rather small, you’ll run out of tamale before you run out of beans, cheese, etc. 

For my Kim, it wouldn’t be a visit to a New Mexican restaurant without carne adovada (marinated red chile pork served with your choice of beans, rice or calabasitas as well as garnish and either a tortilla or a sopaipilla).  A generous amount of carne rewards you with tender tendrils and cubes of porcine perfection ameliorated with a pleasantly piquant red chile.  The calabasitas (green and yellow squash and zucchini with corn) have a fresh, in-season texture and deliciousness. 

Instead of the usual salsa and chips, consider Frito Pie (Fritos corn chips, red chile beef with beans, cheese, lettuce, diced tomato and onions) a viable and absolutely delicious appetizer option.  Good as it is, two things would make it even better–less lettuce and tomatoes to cool what is already a barely warm enough dish.  In fact, dishes served warm and not hot was a commonality of all three dishes we ate.  The other commonality was lack of piquancy.  When my Kim complains of a New Mexican dish being “gringo hot,” you can bet the chile is somewhat on the wimpy side. 

For one-hundred percent handmade tamales and so much more, Posa’s El Merendero is an excellent choice.

Posa’s El Merendero
1514 Rodeo Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 820-7672
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 24 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Posa’s Tamale Pie, Carne Adovada, Frito Pie, Watermelon Agua Fresca

Posa's El Merendero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bang Bite Filling Station – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Bang Bite Filling Station in Santa Fe

“When people pile seven things onto one burger, it drives me nuts!”
~Bobby Flay

Seven ingredients? That’s not a burger! It’s a hodgepodge, a medley, a potpourri! It’s everything including the kitchen sink. Perhaps other regions in America need the Iron Chef’s sage advice, but New Mexicans certainly don’t. For us, a burger with minimal ingredients is just common sense. That’s because we’ve got green chile and when you’ve got green chile, who needs anything else? In the Land of Enchantment, our green chile cheeseburger is sacrosanct, a celebrated cultural tradition and an iconic food. The very best green chile cheeseburgers are made with no more than three to five ingredients (including the green chile and cheese) and those ingredients are intended to complement the green chile, not mask it.

In the Land of Enchantment, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that almost every restaurant, drive-in, diner, dive, joint, cafe, roadside stand, eatery, greasy spoon, lunch counter and bowling alley slinging burgers is going to brag about its green chile cheeseburger being the best to be found anywhere. That is everyone but Santa Fe’s Bang Bite Filling Station which gregarious owner-chef Enrique Guerrero contends doesn’t even offer a green chile cheeseburger. Instead, he defers to the number two, the “Bite Burger,” a mix of jalapeno, poblano, green chile, Serrano and chipotle peppers blended right into the meat.

Award-Winning
Bite Burger with French Fries

In a fit of delicious irony that can happen only in New Mexico (or an early episode of MASH), that “not a green chile cheeseburger” earned the distinction of being selected Santa Fe’s very best green chile cheeseburger during the third annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown in 2015. Aside from five different chiles, the number two that earned number one honors is constructed with bacon, avocado, pepper Jack and jalapeno aioli. Not including the chiles and the cheese, that’s three ingredients. Bobby Flay would be proud.

So is Chef Guerrero, perhaps Santa Fe’s most accomplished vagabond chef, an impresario with very impressive culinary pedigree that includes presiding over the kitchens of some of most highly acclaimed restaurants during their halcyon periods. That includes the now defunct La Mancha at Galisteo Inn when it garnered recognition from Bon Appetit as among “ten of our favorite dining spots in vacation destinations around the country.” Under his watch, La Mancha was also named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the nation’s 26 “Hot Tables.” More recently, Chef Guerrero was the founding executive chef for the O Eating House in Pojoaque, Mangiamo Pronto in Santa Fe and Ancient Spirits in Bernalillo.

Oyster Po’ Boy with French Fries

A food truck isn’t a step down for the uber-talented chef. It’s a change in direction and in the fashion of his celebrated culinary career, that direction is up, up and up. In 2014, Bang Bite was selected by readers of Edible for a “Local Hero Award,” an honor which celebrates the region’s best loved food leaders, proving leadership isn’t always exercised in fine-dining kitchens. Santa Fe’s 10Best expert, the fabulous Billie Frank likened Chef Guerrero’s efforts to “right out of Jon Favreau’s hit film Chef,” citing him as “a man with an impressive culinary CV” who “traded his chef’s coat for a tee-shirt.” It’s the proverbial “toque to baseball cap” story and it’s playing out just as Chef Guerrero likes it.

Situated on an otherwise nearly vacant graveled lot off Old Santa Fe Trail (directly across the street from Kaune’s Market), the bright orange Bang Bite might be mistaken for one of the New Mexico Highway Department’s storage bins were it not for the pervasive bouquet emanating from its gleaming stainless interior. That bouquet wafts onto your motorized conveyance like a smoky, appetite-arousing siren beckoning you to stop and uncover its source. That source is an ambitious menu belying the relative Lilliputian size of the food truck. The menu lists ten burgers, eight “sammies,” six “things with cheese” and a number of sides.  Specials round out one of the most interesting menus in town (and that’s saying something). 

Despite all the possibilities, for aficionados of the fabled green chile cheeseburger, there’s only one choice.  That’s the Bite Burger, the number two that’s number one in the hearts of Smackdown judges.  At just south of eleven dollars, it’s a rather expensive burger you might expect would be gargantuan in size and flavor.  From a flavor standpoint, it hits the mark.  It’s a moist, juicy and delicious burger.  Alas, and I paraphrase fellow burgerphile Dr. Sheldon Cooper, its meat to bun to condiment ratio wasn’t satisfactory in that the meat did not extend across the circumference of the bun.  When you get your hands on a good burger, you don’t want to be shortchanged in any way. 

When we lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we enjoyed oyster po’ boys by the boatful.  In fact, we may have had nearly as many oyster po’ boys in New Orleans as we’ve had green chile cheeseburgers in Santa Fe.  It seemed to make sense we should have an oyster po’ boy in Santa Fe.  With a sandwich architect such as Chef Guerrero, you’re ensured of a next best to just-off-the-boat oyster po’ boy.  Bang Bite’s version is served on a burger-type bun instead of on a standard po’ boy roll, but other than that it’s as good as many a po’ boy we had–even in New Orleans.  In addition to a healthy amount of crispy fried oysters, the sandwich is overfilled with crispy applewood bacon, trailer-made pickles, avocado and a smear of spicy bayou aioli.  The oyster po’ boy isn’t on the everyday menu, but it should well be. 

Both the Bite Burger and the Oyster Po’ Boy are served with trailer fries, maybe the best fries in Santa Fe.  They’re hand-cut and texturally perfect–light and crisp on the outside and soft and tender on the inside.  Fries this great deserve better than those annoying packets of ketchup which my ham-sized hands can’t seem to open. 

The Bang Bite Filling Station may not have a green chile cheeseburger on its menu, but it’s got just about everything else burger, sandwich and cheese lovers will love.  It’s also got the cachet of a legendary, down-to-earth chef plying his inimitable skills of his own volition in a food truck that’s elevating dining in the City Different.

Bang Bite Filling Station
502 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 469-2345
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 10 October 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Oyster Po’ Boy, French Fries, Bite Burger

Bang Bite Food Trailer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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