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Cafe Pasqual’s – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cafe Pasqual

Cafe Pasqual, a Santa Fe Institution

Pasqual Baylon’s devotion to the Mass and the Holy Eucharist was so fervent that when assigned kitchen duty, angels had to stir the pots to keep them from burning.  It’s ironic therefore that San Pasqual is the recognized patron saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens, a beloved saint whose smiling countenance in the form of various art forms graces many a kitchen, including Katharine Kagel’s kitchen in the world famous Cafe Pasqual, one of Santa Fe’s most popular restaurants.

Cafe Pasqual is a very small cafe with seating for only 50 patrons sitting in very close quarters. Prospective diners place their names on a waiting list then typically wait half an hour or more to be seated, usually longer if they want a “private” table (where you’re still elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors). Quicker seating is usually available if you’re willing to share space in the large community table where you can break bread with diners from all walks of life.

Located one block southwest of the plaza in the heart of downtown, the split-level dining room is one of the most colorful venues in the City Different with a festive ambience that includes multi-hued, hand-painted Mexican tiles and murals. The hurried (but never harried) wait staff somehow manages to navigate the cramped quarters without spilling food all over the floor. Sometimes attired in tee-shirts depicting the Virgen De Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas, they remain accommodating and friendly despite having to keep a nearly frenetic pace.

The colorful interior at Cafe Pasqual

The colorful interior at Cafe Pasqual

In 1999, Cafe Pasqual was accorded the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classics Award,” an honor bestowed to only four recipients a year. This prestigious honor recognizes locally owned and operated restaurants in operation for ten years or more that are beloved in their communities for their unique food and ambiance and which exhibit timeless appeal. Proprietor and chef Kagel was also nominated that year as the Best Chef in the Southwest, not her only nomination for this honor.

Cafe Pasqual is indeed an American classic, celebrating for more than three decades, culinary traditions inspired by New Mexico, Old Mexico and Asia (especially Thailand) with a pronounced dedication to fresh, seasonal, organic and naturally raised foods. In 2003, writing for Epicurious.com, authors Jane and Michael Stern declared Cafe Pasqual one of America’s top ten restaurants for breakfast. The restaurant was also a perpetual mainstay on Chile Pepper magazine’s “best of zest” listing of the best in Southwest restaurants.

The bustling corner cafe in the ever-familiar pueblo style building first opened in 1979 and has experienced overflow crowds for years.  Katharine Kagel’s philosophy, one which has guided her restaurant for years is to “gather together the best possible staff and ingredients to synergize unforgettable flavors in the most interesting and inspired way, with an eye to healthful preparation methods.”  As with so many other excellent Santa Fe restaurants she has cultivated relationships with suppliers, the growers of native and exotic fruits and vegetables used in the restaurant.  It makes a difference!

Huevos Motulenos

Huevos Motulenos

All the visits to Cafe Pasqual chronicled on this blog have been on Sundays when brunch is the featured fare. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day then the best way to greet an enchanting Sunday morning is by starting off with Mexican hot chocolate at Cafe Pasqual. Served in a glass instead of a mug, it is garnished with freshly grated cinnamon and packs a distinct, rich taste with addictive properties. It is easily the best Mexican hot chocolate we’ve ever had.

What makes Mexican hot chocolate so vastly superior to the usual cocoa power mixture is the Mexican chocolate itself.  Cafe Pasqual uses one and a half ounces of Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate in each frothy glass.  It is so rich and flavorful that true chocoholics will never return to the inferior powdered variety.  You can purchase Ibarra brand chocolate at the restaurant, by the way.

I read somewhere that your brain is most productive in the morning, but trying to decide what to order from an array of sumptuous sounding brunch entrees is a dizzying challenge–you literally want to order one of each. The good thing is you can’t go wrong with whatever you order; it’s all wonderful.

MM PAPAS FRITAS – home fries with red chile, green chile, or tomatillo d’arbol salsa, scallions, melted jack cheese and sour cream with a tortilla

MM Papas Fritas – home fries with red chile, green chile, or tomatillo d’arbol salsa, scallions, melted jack cheese and sour cream with a tortilla

Take for example the Huevos Motuleños, eggs-over-easy on corn tortillas with black beans, sautéed bananas (the things simians like, not banana peppers), feta cheese, peas, salsa fresca and green chile or tomatillo d’arbol salsa. There’s a special treat in every bite as complementary and contrasting ingredients meld together wonderfully to compete subtly for the rapt attention of your taste buds.

While Huevos Motulenos may sound like a motley assortment of disparate (complementary if you have an imagination) ingredients, its genesis is the Yucatan peninsula in a village named Motul.  A similar breakfast entree going by the name Huevos Yucatecos is available at the Tecolote Cafe a couple of miles west of Cafe Pasqual.  Both versions are outstanding, an excellent way to start the day.  What makes this dish unique–what makes this dish–are the sauteed bananas.  You’ll marvel at the sweet and savory flavor combinations, even better the sweet and piquant flavor melding. 

In an August, 2011 episode of the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” renown New York City chef Chris Santos declared Cafe Pasqual’s Huevos Barbacoa Con Chile D’Arbol the very best egg dish he’s ever eaten.  Chef Kagel’s eggstraordinary dish starts with corn tortillas which are then topped with refried beans, marinated beef cheeks pulled and shredded, eggs and the Chile D’Arbol garnished with cheese and cilantro.  Chef Santos declared the dish “amazing.”

The breakfast quesadilla is a similarly eye-opening, mouth-watering morning delicacy. A griddled spelt (a type of wheat) flour tortilla envelops jack cheese, guacamole, scrambled eggs and salsa fresca, ingredients joined together in perfect harmony to make early morning love to your mouth. At Cafe Pasqual, eggs are invariably prepared to perfection. It’s an art form not all restaurants have mastered.

Pecan-Coffee Tart with Apricot Compote and Chantilly Cream

Pecan-Coffee Tart with Apricot Compote and Chantilly Cream

Cafe Pasqual is renown for its breakfast and brunch entrees.  Using real eggs, real butter and real potatoes, it relies on nothing commercial or frozen.  Everything is absolutely fresh.  The sausage and chorizo is made on the premises as is the bread for the fabulous toast and sandwiches.  Breakfast is served all day long in the tradition of fine cafes throughout the world.  Breakfast lovers love this practice though it does challenge the kitchen to manage two divergent menus at once.  Cafe Pasqual has been doing it so long, they excel at it.

In cafes throughout France, we enjoyed fried potatoes for breakfast and have been dismayed when restaurants serve out-of-the-bag hashed browns that sometimes look and taste like fried rubber bands.  Cafe Pasqual specializes in fried potatoes, offering a brunch entree called MM Papas Fritas, home fries with red chile, green chile or tomatillo d’arbol salsa, scallions, melted Jack cheese and sour cream with a corn or flour tortilla.  Ask for a couple of eggs on top of this concoction and you’ll have a New Mexico take on something we loved in cafes throughout France.

A grilled free-range chicken breast sandwich is yet another lively, titivated marriage of fresh ingredients that combine wonderfully to tantalize your taste buds. Homemade toasted green chile corn bread is the canvas on which marvelously mellow Manchego cheese; sweet, caramelized onions and roasted jalapeños form a preternaturally wonderful breakfast sandwich in which sweet, savory and piquant flavors are in seemingly equal proportion to one another.

Toasted Pinon Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

Toasted Pinon Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

Every table includes orange and raspberry marmalade, both of which epitomize the highest standards of their respective genres. Naturally you’ll have to order the restaurant’s freshly baked and intoxicatingly aromatic bread to take advantage of those fruity bread spreads.

The breakfast and brunch menus include several sweet-tooth sating entrees.  You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with one of the restaurant’s fabulous desserts.  Desserts change daily, but they’re all so good think of it as an excuse to try something other than the one you fall most in love with.  For me, it’s the pecan-coffee tart with apricot compote and Chantilly cream.  It’s akin to a richer, more flavorful, more adult-like and not as sweet pecan pie.

My consolation prize when the pecan-coffee tart isn’t available is the toasted piñon ice cream with caramel sauce.  Being the restaurant’s best-selling and most requested dessert, the toasted piñon ice cream has made it onto the daily menu.  You won’t find this ice cream at any grocery store.  It’s made on the premises and it’s fabulous.  Not even the bone-chilling cold of the ice cream can obfuscate the wonderful woodsy taste of piñon, the little nut New Mexicans love like no other.

Cafe Pasqual is so good we’ve theorized that the patron saint of New Mexico’s kitchens himself is crafting the wondrous kitchen concoctions. Its wondrous food will make a morning person out of anyone.

Cafe Pasqual’s
121 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM
983-9340
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 8 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Salmon Burrito, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Huevos Motulenos, MM Papas Fritas, Pecan-Coffee Tart with Apricot Compote and Chantilly Cream, Pinon Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce, Toast with Jam

Cafe Pasqual's on Urbanspoon

  • Eating The Road says:

    Wow, wow and wow…that’s all I can say. I had this on my list but I ended up skipping it….shame on me. Those desserts look outstanding!

    November 9, 2009 at 9:13 AM
  • lobo59 says:

    I don’t like eggs, my doc says I am probably allergic to them. So I don’t get to eat some of Gil’s wonderfully described meals. I do still ask for all sorts of breakfast stuff at Pasqual’s—but without the eggs. It still all tastes fine to me; as does the oatmeal, hot chocolate, etc.

    My favorite thing at Pasqual’s, however, is their Squash and Red Onion Enchilada. Having just read Gil’s review, I suspect I will venture to Pasqual’s in the next couple of days to have one of these delights. November is a great time to go to Pasqual’s as it is “shoulder” season for tourists, and therefore relatively little waiting. Anyway, the above mentioned, non-traditional enchilada is fantastic. Everything is absolutely fresh, the ingredients complement each other perfectly and the red chile is very tasty, though of only medium piquancy. It comes with an excellent side of cilantro rice. Just thinking of this makes my mouth water! I agree fully with Gil’s rating of “24″ for this cafe.

    November 9, 2009 at 5:06 PM
  • Sr Plata says:

    Senorena and I had a weekend to remember up in Santa Fe, an opportunity to get away and spend time on us. As we wondered around the Santa Fe Plaza towards lunch time, we came across Cafe Pasqual’s and had some very interesting food. First, we had a mug of this very healthy green drink they call Amy’s Hippie Dippie Green Drink that consists of the following: Apple Juice, Ginger, Lemon, Parsley, Cilantro and Kale; well, it was very good and citrusy and enjoyed it very much. Glad I didnt stop at the shot and got the full thing. We shared a ‘GRILLED FREE-RANGE CHICKEN BREAST SANDWICH’ as we ate a lot at the hotel, this consisted of Manchego Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Jalapeños, and Mayonnaise on our Toasted Chile-Cornbread. I asked them to try some Mole since I was torn on what to order, put some of that on my half, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The sandwich came with potatoes but we order a Kale salad that contained pommagranites and other intesting cheeses and nuts and was surprisely really good. I think we made a great choice. The servers were all nice to us, let us sample stuff like the Mole and gave us time to enjoy our meal even though there were a ton of people waiting. Look forward to returning. Served with Choice of Field Greens OR Kale Salad

    December 3, 2012 at 1:37 PM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Pardon, but for those not into Kitchen Chic, STOP. Others into restaurant and/or into doing your own Cocina creations, San Pasqual is the’Patron Saint” thereof!. This Local gal, http://www.victoriadealmeida.com/ArtistBio.html, who I aver no speck of liaison with, captures the vibrancy…or might we say the piquancy…. of coloration (of e.g. Amado Pena and the folksiness of Jewish tranplant Diana Bryer)and thus brings (unwittingly?) together New Mexican Eye-Candy to be hung in your own Cocina….or maybe as a gift this Season?
    Check options here http://tinyurl.com/bwn6seb I personally have a hankering for prints on easy hanging aluminum per the vibrancy.
    “Chow!” and Feliz el Dia de Fiesta sin un Nombre!!

    December 3, 2012 at 6:15 PM
  • Bruce Schor says:

    My wife and I knew Cafe Pasqual’s opened at 8AM and got there at 7:55 and were number 12 and 13 on line waiting for the doors to open.
    Liked the description of several items but we both settled on Corned Beef Hash and eggs with breakfast potatoes.
    I like corned beef in any fashion, especially in a good hash.
    What we got was not very good. Everything tasted as if it was half cooked the night before and refrigerated, then finished being cooked in time for their opening.. Even the texture felt like it was reheated. And it was bland.
    My wife and I were disappointed in our choice.
    We had heard and read very good things about Cafe Pasqual’s, tried once before and didn’t want to wait on what looked like a long line.
    It’s important to say I think the service was terrific.. Attentive, prompt and user friendly, and that’s amazing in itself considering the cramped quarters in which they work.
    Would I go back? There are so many fine eateries in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque I’m not so sure it’s worth the trip, the wait, and the small quarters for breakfast.

    March 19, 2013 at 4:44 PM

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