Just as with people, a city is best defined by its heart. For Santa Fe, that would be its historic Plaza which has been, for much of four centuries, the city’s hub of commerce, culture and government. The Plaza is at the confluence of El Camino Real (the Spanish Royal Road from Mexico City), The Old Pecos Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. These historic transportation routes made settlement possible and facilitated trade and commerce.
Today the Plaza is comprised of numerous shops, museums and restaurants surrounding a central park lined with towering shade trees. Because many of its buildings have changed little since Spanish colonial times, the Plaza is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The city’s oldest restaurant, the Plaza Cafe which has been serving Santa Fe since 1918, is on the southwestern side of the quadrant which comprises the Plaza. As it approaches its centennial, the Plaza Cafe remains one of the city’s most popular dining destinations, sought out by locals and tourists alike.
The 2006 edition of the New Mexico Blue Book published by the Secretary of State’s office documents that in 1947, the Plaza Cafe was purchased by Dionysi Razatos, a Greek immigrant who married a local girl from the Vaughn, New Mexico area. The Razatos family, which grew to include six children continues to operate the restaurant. Andy, the youngest son currently serves as chef. The Plaza Cafe remains a charming dining destination and is largely unchanged over the years. It is one of New Mexico’s most authentic examples of a traditional American diner, albeit one in which the menu features American conform food favorites as well as New Mexican specialties prepared exceptionally well and even a few Greek standards from Razatos’ ancestral homeland.
Framed posters on the wall depict vintage Santa Fe back when it was a more innocent frontier town yet to be discovered by new-agers and counter culturalists. Cowboy legend Randolph Scott graces other posters of movies made in the Santa Fe area when sound was a cinematic novelty. Near the entrance to the kitchen is a unique piece of functional artwork. It’s a map of the southwest in which the state of New Mexico is framed by blue neon. The map shows only the the states major towns, city’s and roadways.
For years the Plaza Cafe was a mainstay on Chile Pepper magazine’s “Best of Zest” categorization of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. A half hour wait for a seat isn’t atypical. When locals have to wait too long to get a seat, you might the impression that their willingness to share this restaurant with tourists is done so begrudgingly. Santa Feans are too polite to really say anything that would be impolite, but when stomachs growl they might not be that welcoming either.
Your mood for the day will also dictate what you’ll have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are so many sublime options, any one of which is bound to improve the disposition of anyone suffering the pangs of hunger. The greatest challenge will be in deciding what to have; there are so many options. A great way to start your dining excursion is with roasted garlic and carnitas quesadillas which explode with flavor. Thin tortillas with a nice amount of char from the grill enwrap tender grilled beef, roasted garlic and a white Mexican cheese. It’s hard to contain so much flavor in between tortillas so you can expect excess “flavor” to drip onto your plate and if you’re not careful, down your arms.
It’s surprising non-traditional combinations that make some of the entrees so uniquely wonderful. Take for example, an entree called enchiladas placeras featuring the unlikely but surprisingly savory amalgam of griddled Guajillo cheese enchiladas topped with crema, grilled zucchini, Mexican cheese, cabbage and onions. For vegetarians who still eat cheese and cream, it’s a feast. Heck, even the most ardent of carnivores will enjoy this delicious enchilada plate.
The Plaza Cafe’s mouth-watering cashew mole blends Mexican chocolate, mole, cashews, chicken, onions, beans and sour cream into a savory entree you won’t find anywhere else. Many New Mexicans shun mole because outwardly it has some semblance to red chile, but doesn’t taste like their favorite piquant sauce. The Plaza Cafe’s cashew mole may make converts out of those diehards.
The carne adovada plate leaves a wonderfully different aftertaste because the chile most certainly includes a bit of achiote, a seasoning which imbues food with a rich, earthy flavor with just a residual hit of sweetness. The tender pork shards are absolutely delicious.
The Plaza Cafe’s desserts are to die for and include the cajeta apple pecan pie, a huge slab in the finest tradition of America, mother and baseball.
54 Lincoln Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 20 July 2004
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Cajeta Apple Pecan Pie, Enchiladas