Located fifteen miles north of Santa Fe, just south of Pojoaque and within minutes of two garish native American casinos, Gabriel’s is a culinary oasis back-dropped by nearby cedar and pine tree laden hills and the Santa Fe mountains further to the southeast. Gabriel’s entrance is flanked by unpeeled latillas, a precursor to one of the best restaurant settings in the Santa Fe area. In the early spring and fall, weather permitting, the sprawling dining room and its Spanish colonial theme are often rebuffed in favor of an outdoor dining experience.
Whether on the large flower-filled courtyard, spacious portal (porch) or light-bathed sunrooms, the aforementioned views are spectacular. If you’re so inclined, you can partake of a man-made view–that of having your waiter prepare guacamole at your table. It’s an $10 plus thrill you might want to do without even though the guacamole is a real treat–meaty ripe avocados, fresh lime, cilantro, minced garlic fused with other ingredients before your eyes.
Gabriel’s specializes in the foods of the great Southwest and of Old Mexico. The predominantly Mexican wait staff is attired in black trousers and white shirts. Service is unfailingly polite and formal.
During our inaugural visit in June, 1999, I opted for fish tacos, which may be the rage in Southern California, but in many New Mexico restaurants they should throw the fish (and any chef who prepares them) back. That’s because there are so many better meal options.
For instance, there are Gabriel’s Lone Star barbecue ribs which are absolutely fall-off-the-bone tender and as succulent as any beef ribs we’ve had in New Mexico. They are prepared with a tangy citrus sauce that gives the ribs plenty of zing without overwhelming them. The ribs are accompanied by sliced fried potatoes and gaucho beans, both of which are first-rate.
The flavorful and piquant jalapeno based salsa is served in a generous faux molcajete (unfortunately, bureaucrats decided the authentic molcajete made from lava rock pose health risks) with plenty of lightly salted chips. There salsa packs plenty of cilantro and garlic, but it’s the jalapenos that will impress themselves upon your taste buds. Friends swear they were unable to taste anything else after having their taste buds seared by salsa they considered “too good to stop eating” delicious, but tongue-scorching.
Another Texas treat, tender skirt steak fajitas arrive sizzling at your table and invariably draw the eyes and nostrils of all other patrons. Supplementing those fajitas is a pico de gallo as colorful (with red, green and yellow peppers and sweet white onions) as it is delicious. If mariscos are more to your liking, seafood fajitas (tender scallops, tiger prawns and red snapper) are also available and equally delicious. Both corn and flour tortillas are first-rate.
Perhaps even better than the fajitas is a plato de carnitas, a sizzling combination of pico de gallo and Jalisco shredded pork. The formidable portion size means you’ll have left-overs for the following day’s lunch. To wash down your meal, try the inspired lemonade, a lively and sparking version.
The Combinacione appetizer plate is a popular starter option. A platter of nachos covered in a ranchero sauce and melted cheese competes for your rapt attention with cheese quesadillas and blue-corn tortilla taquitos all kissed by a generous dollop of the restaurant’s signature guacamole.
For dessert, you’ll be besotted by the tres leches cake with chocolate frosting. Served in a plate sprinkled liberally with cinnamon, it is one of the very best and most moist tres leches cake we’ve ever had. I’d drive the 75 miles from Albuquerque just for a slice.
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 13 August 2006
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BET: Lone Star Ribs, Fajitas, Salsa, Tres Leches Cake