The late Fray Angelico Chavez, New Mexico’s preeminent historian once wrote about Santa Fe’s growth, “The only threat to her own distinctive glory, and something to guard against these days, is the kind of hurried “progress” which has, not history or humanity, but only money as its sole aim and purpose.” Perhaps nowhere in Santa Fe has that hurried progress been more in evidence than in the plaza. One of the bastions against progress had been the Woolworth’s department store, in place for several generations, but which finally gave up the ghost just before the turn of the 21st century.
In its place stands the Five & Dime General Store which retains much of the charm that made Woolworth’s a throwback to better times. Best of all, the Five & Dime retained the lunch counter in which the Frito Pie was invented nearly 50 years ago. Few, if any, do it better. The Frito Pie is served the old fashioned way, in an open bag of Fritos smothered with meaty red chile and shredded cheese.
While filming “Parts Unknown” for CNN celebrity glitterati Anthony Bourdain rankled the feathers of proud Santa Feans who have loved the Five & Dime’s Frito pies for generations. Bourdain claimed the dish was made with canned Hormel chili and a “DayGlo orange cheese-like substance.” Worse, the acerbic one claimed the Frito pie is a Texas creation, adding that “New Mexico, you have many wonderful things. I think, let Texas have this one.”
The Food Network’s popular “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” program gave New Mexico much more love. The premise of this show is that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat. It answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.” Chef Rahm Fama returned to his hometown of Santa Fe for a “Best Thing…” episode entitled “Childhood Favorites.” In the episode, he recalled the joys of noshing on Frito pie from the original Five & Dime General Store.
The menu includes several other items, but you rarely see anyone order anything but the Frito Pie which made Woolworth’s a Santa Fe institution. The lunch counter doesn’t have much counter space and there are very few tables, so you just might have to walk around the plaza with your Frito Pie in hand, but you might never have a better one.
Five & Dime General Store
58 E. San Francisco
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 3 August 2003
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Frito Pie