The Cowgirl BBQ – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Cowgirl BBQ & Smokehouse

The Cowgirl BBQ

You don’t have to be Patsy Montana to have a rip-roaring good time or great meal at Cowgirl BBQ, a jumping joint in the Bohemian Guadalupe District renowned for its festive ambiance, raucous nighttime entertainment and inviting summertime patio.  Launched on June 1, 1993 as The Cowgirl Hall of Fame, this bustling restaurant quickly became a popular good time venue, garnering a reputation for its margaritas, nachos, barbecue and more.  It’s still going strong more than twenty years later. 

Known today solely as Cowgirl BBQ, this quaint restaurant celebrates Cowgirls thematically and attitudinally. A portrait library is replete with photographs of National Cowgirl Hall of Fame honorees while the walls feature memorabilia which celebrates the Great American west and the cowgirl. The female wait staff is nattily attired in tight-fitting jeans and western accoutrements such as bandanas and high-crowned, wide-brimmed straw hats. In an episode of $40 A Day on the Food Network, Rachael Ray called it “Girl Power.”

One of the dining rooms in the sprawling Cowgirl BBQ

One of the dining rooms in the sprawling Cowgirl BBQ

If you want to catch the nightly musical entertainment, the outdoor patio, weather permitted, is your best bet, but whether you dine indoors or out, you’re bound to catch some of the “City Different’s” different characters. Cowgirl’s is one of the city’s best “people watching” restaurants, a milieu in which office attire, grunge clothing, skiing ensemble and western regalia seem equally in fashion.

As for the cuisine, Cowboys and Indians magazine once proclaimed Cowgirl’s barbecue the “best barbecue west of the Mississippi.” After twice being underwhelmed by the barbecue sampler platter (ribs, chicken, brisket, potato salad, coleslaw), we wouldn’t go nearly that far. While the meats have a pronounced smoky taste and are terrifically tender, the lip-pursing vinegar-based sauce is applied too generously.

Salsa Diablo

Salsa Diablo, the habanero-based sauce which proved too much for the Food Network’s “Heat Seekers”

We’ve actually enjoyed the BBQ beef on a bun much more than we have the platter. This sandwich features shredded smoked beef brisket marinated in the aforementioned sassy sauce, but not quite so liberally applied.  It’s one of the better barbecue sandwiches we’ve enjoyed in Santa Fe, but hardly the most incendiary.  That honor would go to a pulled pork BBQ sandwich simmered in a spicy Salsa Diablo BBQ sauce made with incendiary habanero peppers and piled into a Kaiser roll.  In an episode of the Food Network’s “Heat Seekers” program, hosts Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking tested their masochistic mettle by sampling some of the city’s most piquant plates.  The pulled pork BBQ sandwich proved too much for the celebrity chef stars.  Fire-eating New Mexicans will fare better with this salsa.

Cowgirl’s menu has something for everyone including several excellent starters. The nachos are inventive and delicious–with generous dollops of sour cream, guacamole and salsa, two kinds of melted cheese (a white Mexican queso and an American longhorn) and black olives atop blue- and yellow-corn tortilla chips. You can also ask for shredded barbecue beef as a topper to this mountainous mélange, which in February, 2006 was named by the Wall Street Journal as among the fifteen best nachos in America. El Pinto’s in Albuquerque was the only other New Mexico restaurant on this exclusive list.  In 2015, the Food Network’s “Best…Ever” program accorded “best barbecue nachos ever!” honors to these nachos.

Cabeza de Ajo

Cabeza de Ajo

Another excellent starter is the cabeza de ajo, two heads of roasted garlic planted beside an island of melted jack cheese with tomatillo salsa and toasted baguettes. Extricating the garlic cloves from the steaming hot garlic head is a chore, but the results are quite good.  Top a toasted baguette with a dollop of cheese, a sweet garlic clove or two and some of the tangy tomatillo and you’ve got three potent flavors competing for your rapt attention.  Add a little of the Salsa Diablo to kick it up a notch or ten.

In commemoration of its 20th anniversary, Cowgirl BBQ created a green chile cheeseburger which by its very name implies (according to Wikipedia) “the largest or most significant example of a class, which completely overshadows all other cases in the class.” Called “The Mother of all Green Chile Cheeseburgers,” it’s a pricy behemoth just north of ten dollars. The burger is crafted from a “top secret” blend of black Angus, antibiotic and hormone-free, grass-fed, grain-finished, custom-ground beef, locally raised buffalo and applewood smoked bacon grilled to your exacting specifications and served in a pretzel bun with melted brie, chopped green chile, a slice of heirloom tomato and a drizzle of truffle oil. Just ask for “Mother!”

The Mother of all Green Chile Cheeseburgers with Truffle Oil Fries

The Mother of all Green Chile Cheeseburgers with Truffle Oil Fries

This burger is aptly named.  It is surprisingly good, one of the few green chile cheeseburgers to truly distinguish itself from so many other great ones.  One of the difference-makers is the pretzel bun baked on the premises as are other sandwich breads and buns.  The pretzel bun is both soft and chewy as well as savory and sweet and an excellent canvas for moist ingredients.  The beef is magnificent.  You won’t want it prepared at any more than medium to maximize its moistness.  The green chile includes a smattering of roasted red chile which has an entirely different flavor profile altogether.  The burger is served with hand-cut truffle oil fries.  Forget ketchup and dip them in the Salsa Diablo. 

Red, orange and yellow flames denote items–such as chiles and the jerk sauce–on the menu which are spicy…or at least they are for tourists.  For New Mexicans, those items are pleasantly piquant plus–hot enough to get our attention, but not so piquant that they water our eyes.  One of the most surprising entrees on Cowgirl’s spicy-hot scale is the Jerk Chicken Platter, two char-grilled chicken breasts marinated in a spicy-hot Jamaican Jerk BBQ sauce and served with rice and beans (the accommodating wait staff may allow substitutions such as a loaded (chives, shredded cheese, sour cream, butter and salsa) baked potato.

Jerk Chicken Platter

Jerk Chicken Platter

The chicken breasts are thin, but perfectly char-grilled with lovely grill stripes running vertically.  My Chicago born-and-bred Kim isn’t quite as enamored of esophagus eating spices and heat, so she asks for the jerk sauce on the side (which leaves plenty of side for me to use as a dip for everything else I can get my hands on).  Jerk, by the way doesn’t refer to an obnoxious person or member of Congress, but is a derivative of “jerky,” a preserved meat.   The sauce includes a melding of flavorful and piquant spices including Scotch bonnet peppers (among the most piquant in the world), allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and more.  The sauce has a spicy kick with an offset of sweetness.  This is a very good rendition of Jerk Chicken.

Dessert offerings include pastel tres leches, the wonderful Mexican tort made with three types of milk. Cowgirl’s version isn’t quite as moist as other tres leches cake we’ve had, but is served with a rich cream and tart strawberries that made up for its lack of moistness somewhat.  A better option is the flourless chocolate cake with chile served with a side of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of housemade whipped cream and a drizzle of chile-infused chocolate sauce.  The combination of adult chocolate and red chile is one of life’s great pleasures, a dessert that doesn’t have the cloying qualities that rot your teeth at the mere mention.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chile and Vanilla Ice Cream

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chile and Vanilla Ice Cream

Restaurants come and go and trends change with the times, but with two decades of making Santa Fe customers happy, the Cowgirl BBQ appears to have staying power.  Moreover, it’s got a very interesting and diverse menu that makes every dining experience seem like the first time you dined there.

Cowgirl BBQ
312 South Guadalupe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-2565
Web Site 

LATEST VISIT: 22 June 2013
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: BBQ Beef, BBQ Sampler, Chicken Fajitas, Nachos, The Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Jerk Chicken Platter, Cabeza De Ajo, Salsa Diablo, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Chile, Pastel Tres Leches

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Rooftop Pizzeria – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Rooftop Pizzeria in Santa Fe: Located on the top floor of the Santa Fe Arcade facing Water Street

When I come home feelin’ tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof (up on the roof)
The Drifters: Up On The Roof

In the early 1990s, Fortune magazine named Santa Fe one of America’s top ten dining destinations. The City Different has earned and solidified that reputation over the years with cutting edge restaurants that have culled worldwide acclaim. One of the cuisine types for which Santa Fe (and New Mexico for that matter) is not highly regarded on a national stage is pizza. Launched in March, 2006, the Rooftop Pizzeria appears to have made it its mission to prove that the inventiveness for which Santa Fe’s chefs are renown can extend to one of America’s favorite culinary obsessions–pizza.

The Rooftop Pizzeria is a sister restaurant to Santa Fe restaurants La Casa Sena, Rio Chama Steakhouse and the Blue Corn Cafe as well as the Chama River Brewing Company in Albuquerque, all properties of Santa Fe Dining, the restaurant company owned by Santa Fe art dealer and developer Gerald Peters. It seems every few years, Peters introduces a new concept restaurant and now has as impressive a restaurant repertoire as there is in the state.

Prosciutto Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms

True to its name, the Rooftop Pizzeria is located on the top floor of the Santa Fe Arcade. Dining outdoors, especially on a clear and slightly breezy spring day lets you breathe in New Mexico’s salubrious mountain air and gaze reverently at the incomparable blue skies that no Santa Fe painter has ever been able to fully duplicate. Gaze lower down and your view is of the Water Street parking lot and nearby rooftops.

The restaurant’s appealing antipasti selection is served with house-made breads and crackers as well as herb-infused oil. You may feel the siren’s call of warm roasted garlic cloves with lemon, oregano and cracked pepper. The marriage of seemingly disparate ingredients will play four-part harmony on your taste buds. After all the garlic cloves are gone, dipping the remaining bread (if any) into the lemony broth will remind you just how great an appetizer you just had.

Wire basket of bread

You might opt instead for an appetizer of Prosciutto Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms, four mushroom caps engorged with prosciutto covered with melted mozzarella and drizzled with truffle oil.  It’s served with sweet picked red onions and aged balsamic vinegar.  The crimini mushrooms are meaty and moist, a perfect repository for the slightly salty prosciutto.  The aged balsamic vinegar and its sweet tanginess provides a nice counterbalance to the savory strengths of the mushrooms and prosciutto.

The menu includes five different salad options including a smoked duck salad with roasted peppers, pistachios and mixed greens doused with Balsamic sesame vinaigrette. If you don’t order a salad, you’ll lustily ogle the salads destined for other tables. They appear to be an exciting array of leafy creations.  A soup of the day, available in cup or bowl sizes, offering is an alternative starter option.

Could this be New Mexico’s very best pizza?  Food Network Magazine thinks so. It’s a pizza constructed of grilled chicken, green chile, cotija and Asadero cheeses and toasted piñon with Alfredo sauce on a blue corn crust.

The restaurant features eleven house specialty pizzas as well as “build your own” options served on either of two premium house-made pizza doughs–a traditional “Artisan Crust” and a locally inspired “Blue Corn Crust.” The gourmet ingredients topping the specialty pies will have you doing a double-take. If the air wasn’t so crispy and clean, you might think you’re in Los Angeles where pizza toppings range from the sublime to the frou-frou. Of course, to gastronomes such ingredients as lobster, shrimp, apple-smoked bacon and smoked duck fall under the category of sublime. What makes it challenging is whether to order a specialty pizza or build your own masterpiece, limited only by your imagination.

Ultimately you might settle on a house specialty crafted with smoked duck, roasted garlic spread, spinach, basil, peppercorns and four cheeses on artisan crust. Wow! This will provide a lot of competition for your rapt attention thanks to ingredients that go together like bread and butter. The crust is thin and just slightly crispy while the sauce is subdued, letting other ingredients do the talking. There is more smoked duck in a 12-inch pie than you might have on entire duck meals and it is delicious, albeit slightly dry.

Half of this pizza is made with Smoked Duck, Green Pepper Corns, Spinach, Basil, Roast Garlic Spread, and Four Cheeses on Artisan Crust; the other half is a BLT Pizza: Apple-Smoked Bacon, Ripe Tomato, Mozzarella, Provolone & Bleu Cheese topped with Avocado and Lettuce with Red Sauce on Artisan Crust

Sure Americans have long had a love affair with bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwiches, but who’s ever heard of a BLT pizza. The pizza artisans at the Rooftop have and they’ve perfected it. This unlikely pie features apple-smoked bacon, ripe tomato and three cheeses (provolone, mozzarella and bleu cheese) topped with avocado and lettuce with a red sauce on an artisan crust. The real star of this outstanding orb (as it is on the BLT sandwich) is the applewood smoked bacon which is always first in name and first in the hearts of savvy diners.

If your tastes lean toward the Mediterranean, Rooftop will craft a flat bread beauty replete with Mediterranean roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives with a basil pesto on an artisan crust. Surprisingly, Feta cheese isn’t a standard on this pie, but the restaurant will substitute goat cheese if you request (and you should).

In the August, 2010 edition of the Food Network Magazine, an article entitled “50 States, 50 Pizzas” named the “best pizza” in each state. The Land of Enchantment’s representative on this list was a pizza called the “Santa Fe” and fittingly, it can only be found in our state capital’s Rooftop Pizzeria.  This award-winning pizza, available by the slice or whole pizza, is crafted with grilled chicken, green chile, cotija and Asadero cheeses and toasted piñon with Alfredo sauce on a blue corn crust.  While my Kim absolutely loved it and agreed with the Food Network’s assessment, this hard-liner found the chicken just a bit dry (as it almost always is on pizza), but the other ingredients worked quite well together. 

Defining “the best ever” for any food category is an audacious premise, but one the Food Network took on when in 2015, it launched a series of “best ever” programs.  In its inaugural episode which aired on January 5th, “The Best Pizza Ever” named the eleven best pizzas across the fruited plain.  Chef-restaurateur Roger Mooking  made a a case for the chicken green chile and cheese pizza at Santa Fe’s Rooftop Pizzeria being “the best spicy slice ever.”  Its corn meal canvas is topped with Alfredo sauce; onions; garlic; Pecorino, Asadero and Cotija cheeses; roasted chicken and spoonfuls of roasted, chopped green chile.   When the pizza comes out of the oven, it’s topped with piñon and fresh herbs.  Sounds like a “best of” to me.

Several other pizzas are intriguing enough to warrant many visits to the top of the roof where the top pizza in Santa Fe has a home with a view.

Rooftop Pizzeria
600 East San Francisco Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-0008
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 August 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Warm Roast Garlic Cloves with Lemon, Oregano and Cracked Pepper; Smoked Duck, Roast Garlic Spread, Spinach, Basil, Peppercorns and Four Cheeses on Artisan Crust Pizza; Grilled Chicken, Green Chile, Cotija and Asadero Cheeses and Toasted Pinon with Alfredo Sauce on Blue Corn Crust Pizza; BLT – Apple-Smoked Bacon, Ripe Tomato, Mozzarella, Provolone & Bleu Cheese topped with Avocado and Lettuce with Red Sauce on Artisan Crust Pizza; Prosciutto Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms

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