Señor Lucky’s – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Senor Lucky’s closed in February 2006.

A thriving gambling hall, bordello and saloon once occupied the space in which Señor Lucky’s is now situated. It was operated by 19th-century matriarch, Gertrudes Barcelo (better known as Doña Tules) who entertained guests with dances, drink and cards, amassing a fortune as one of Santa Fe’s most infamous and enterprising citizens. Historians believe she collaborated with the U.S. Army, loaning money to its officers money so they could pay the American soldiers occupying Santa Fe around the time of the American takeover. Local lore also indicates she not only got paid back by the government, but also got back most of her original loan via the gambling losses of soldiers who frequented her popular establishment.

Doña Tules has long since passed away, but her establishment has continued to thrive, albeit not as a sala of questionable repute. It has served as a formal restaurant since 1961 when the Victorian stylings of The Palace began showcasing one of the city’s most leisurely and romantic ambiences, one that hearkened back to a San Francisco restaurant of 100 years ago. Replete with starched linen tablecloths, dim lighting, fresh flowers and a sophisticated menu, it was also a popular restaurant for “power” dining and was frequented by government movers and shakers.

In 2005, the venerable Palace was transformed from an elegant, upscale dining establishment into a western themed restaurant called Señor Lucky’s. Gone is the garish wallpaper of the bordello it once was and in its place are several cliché western photographic murals. A multi-colored chandelier fashioned from glassware provides an interesting eye-catcher while a spacious patio gives diners the option of imbibing fresh mountain air as they dine.

The restaurant’s management triumvirate includes chef nonpareil Eric DiStefano and Cliff Skoglund of Geronimo fame.

DiStefano has crafted an imaginative menu replete with high-end comfort food of a sophisticated southwest western bent skewed toward less affluent patrons than would frequent the stunning but expensive Geronimo.

Several starters options decorate the menu with promises of enticing tastes. The New Mexican tortilla chips with pico de gallo, Yucatan tomatillo and roasted red pepper salsas are an excellent precursor to a memorable meal. Blue corn and yellow corn tortilla chips scoop up some of the most flavorful (albeit only mildly piquant) salsas in town. With sweet, salty, piquant and noticeably fresh tastes, the chunky roasted red pepper salsa may be the standout from among three wonderful salsas. It compares favorably to the fire roasted salsa at the Coyote Cafe, a salsa I consider one of the best in the state.

Señor Lucky’s Mac and Cheese,” an adult version of the popular comfort food may be the best of its genre you’ll ever have. Kraft dinner it certainly is not! Creamy green chile cheese rigatoni noodles are adorned with grilled peppers, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and what appears to be several kinds of Cheddar cheese of varying sharpness. The blending of flavors is sensational.

You might not be quite as enamored of the grilled lime and garlic marinated flank steak basted with honey and chipotle. The prevalent taste is honey sweetness with any of the lime’s tartness or the chipotle’s heat being subjugated by an all too sweet honey taste. The steak itself was tender and grilled to perfection. It is accompanied by a sweet corn and grilled onion salad whose prevalent taste is freshness. It is absolutely delicious.

If our inaugural visit is any indication, many diners opt for a side of the rustic russet “boardwalk” fries with malt vinegar and sea salt. It’s easy to see why. Instead of the crispy, cardboard rigid fried potatoes commonly served at restaurants, these russets resembled the wonderful semi-flaccid “chips” served with fish throughout Great Britain. They were even served in a conical shaped paper wrapper. As we did during our years in England, we drenched these chips in malt vinegar and reminisced about our days in the mother country.

Not surprisingly, the dessert options are tempting enough to elicit effusive salivation. One of the more intriguing choices is Lucky’s roasted banana split with banana ice cream, tequila chocolate sauce and fresh mango, an option offering contrasting and conflicting tastes which work surprisingly well together. This was a dessert of genius inspiration, as refreshing a taste treat as you can find in Santa Fe.

Señor Lucky’s
142 West Palace
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 September 2005
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Mac and Cheese; Rustic Russet “Boardwalk” Fries

One thought on “Señor Lucky’s – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

  1. The Palace was very special in it’s day. When they trashed this venerable old establishment in favor of more of the same New Mexican swill available everywhere around here, Santa Fe lost something special. As of January 2009 the old place is still empty, boarded up, and sad. Thanks for nothing, Skoglund.

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