You don’t have to be Patsy Montana to have a rip-roaring good time or great meal at Cowgirl BBQ & Western Grill, a jumping joint renown for its festive ambience and raucous nighttime entertainment. True to its name, this quaint restaurant does celebrate Cowgirls in its decorum. 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. A pulchritudinous wait staff is nattily attired in tight-fitting jeans and western accoutrements that have both cowboys and carpet-dwellers doing a double-take.
If you want to catch the nightly entertainment, the outdoor patio 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 and grunge clothing 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 vinegary sauce is applied too generously.
We actually enjoyed the BBQ beef on a bun much more than we did the platter. This sandwich features shredded smoked beef brisket marinated in the aforementioned sassy sauce, but not so liberally applied. It was 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 chipotle BBQ sauce 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.
New Mexican entrees are “hit and miss” in the ways New Mexican food in Santa Fe sometimes tends to be. The chicken fajitas, for example, don’t arrive at your table sizzling on a cast iron plate. Instead, these fajitas are comprised of very well seasoned sliced chicken served with grilled yellow, green and red peppers, grilled onion, sour cream and shredded cheese. Sure they’re unconventional, but they’re also quite good.
On the other hand, a chicken short stack (flat chicken enchiladas with blue corn tortillas layered with smoked chicken, black beans, jack cheese and chile) is an entree we won’t order again. The chile is tepid, leaving the other ingredients to fend for themselves and they weren’t up to the task.
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, the Wall Street Journal named among the fifteen best nachos in America. El Pinto’s in Albuquerque was the only other New Mexico restaurant on this exclusive list.
Another excellent starter is the cabeza de ajo, a head of roasted garlic planted in the middle of a plate of melted jack cheese with tomatillo salsa and toasted baguette. Extricating the garlic cloves from the steaming hot garlic head is a chore, but the results are heavenly.
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 dryness somewhat.
Cowgirl BBQ & Western Grill
312 South Guadalupe
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2006
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: BBQ Beef, BBQ Sampler, Chicken Fajitas, Nachos