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
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.

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
COST: $$
BEST BET: Oyster Po’ Boy, French Fries, Bite Burger

Bang Bite Food Trailer 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
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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