Tortilla Flats – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tortilla Flats New Mexican Restaurant in Santa Fe

Beans are a warm cloak against economic cold.”
~John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat

In his 1935 novel Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck introduced the literary world to the downtrodden denizens of Tortilla Flat, an impoverished barrio on the shabby hillside just outside the respectable city of Monterey, California. The quirky inhabitants of the ramshackle community were a dichotomous lot–hedonistic drunks, adulterers and thieves on one hand; on the other, paisanos with surprisingly kind-hearts who asked nothing more from life than loyal friends and a little wine. Unlike their stodgy, orthodox counterparts in Monterey, the men of Tortilla Flat defied social mores, conventions and expectations. They rebuffed the notion of holding down steady employment or paying rent. They had no qualms about cadging for food or purloining it from neighbors or restaurants. The paisanos of Tortilla Flat were carnal beings, happiest when their appetites (food, drink, women, music) were sated. They cared nothing for accumulating material possessions or the responsibilities inherent with ownership.

Though Santa Fe’s touristy-artsy Plaza area and the city’s western fringes along Cerrillos are hardly Monterey and Tortilla Flats, there is a clear demarcation between the two, a distinctness that bespeaks of vast socioeconomic differences. My friend Carlos would argue that despite the gentrification of the Plaza area, the expansive west-side more accurately represents the “real” Santa Fe where real people—the locals–transact their daily commerce. Given his druthers as to where to spend his hard-earned dollars, he’ll take Santa Fe’s burgeoning west-side every time. He happily avoids the Plaza’s maddening crowds and eschews its anointed restaurants to partake of eateries which may not be as well-trafficked, but offer excellent food prepared and served from the heart. For years he’s been trying to get me to one of those restaurants, the quaintly named Tortilla Flats.

Chips and Salsa

If there’s one similarity between Steinbeck’s magnus opus and the New Mexican restaurant on Cerrillos, it’s the kindness and joie d’ vivre of the bussers and servers. The glowing terms Steinbeck used to describe the paisanos of Tortilla Flat—“good people of laughter and kindness” could have been written about the people we encountered at Tortilla Flats. Even on an unseasonably hot July day, perfunctory pleasantries were more than warm and cordial. The perky woman bussing tables at the dog-friendly patio was very happy to hear my “como un nativo” (like a native) Spanish, but responded in English which she hopes to master so she could move up to waitress. Our server was similarly engaging, applauding our selections and admiring our debonair dachshund, The Dude.

Tortilla Flats has operated for more than three decades about halfway between the Plaza and the terminus of Cerrillos.  Its tag line–where the locals eat–seems to confirm Carlos’s contention.  It’s not just locals who appreciate Tortilla Flats, however.  Such print and online media powerhouses as Conde Naste, Sunset Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Money Magazine and Zagat have sung the praises of this popular restaurant, hence its “nationally acclaimed” boast.  As we circled a very crowded parking lot, we espied license plates from several states and not just those in close proximity to the Land of Enchantment.  The restaurant was packed, but because the noontime temperatures were already flirting with 95, we had the cozy patio all to ourselves.

Red Chile Pork Ribs with Smashed Pinto Beans

Tortilla Flats has distinct Breakfast-Lunch and Dinner menus.  Breakfast is served daily until 5PM with specials every day of the week (including menudo on Saturday and Sunday when this popular hangover cure is most needed).  There are a number of vegetarian items, too.  As you peruse the menu, salsa and chips are ferried to your table.  They must have seen me coming because two portions of salsa flanked an uncommonly large amount of chips.  The jalapeño-based salsa has a pleasant piquancy with sweet tomatoey notes and a hint of fresh cilantro.  The chips are on the thin side, but still formidable enough to hold up against Gil-sized scoops.  Even with two portions of salsa, we (or more accurately, me) had to request another portion.  It’s no wonder salsa flows through my veins.

Despite all the red and green chile specialties, the menu item beckoning most seductively were the red chile pork ribs which the menu labeled as a “local favorite.”  For once in my life, it didn’t matter that the red chile was tinged with cumin, that foul despoiler of New Mexico’s chile.  I craved meaty, tender, moist and delicious pork ribs and that’s exactly what Tortilla Flats delivered: a half-rack with eight bones covered in pork and slathered in a sweet red chile sauce served with a side of smashed pinto beans under a blanket of molten cheese.  Despite my aversion to cumin, these ribs were so good no “choking them down” was necessary.  We extricated tender tendrils of moist pork from each bone, pausing only to wipe our chile-stained fingers.

Green Chile Chops

My Kim also ordered an unconventional New Mexican dish, the green chile chop (an eight-ounce, bone-in, lean, center-cut pork chop smothered with green chile and topped with grilled tomatoes and onions).    The pork chop was easily half an inch thick, grilled and seasoned very well.  Still it was just a pork chop, not elevated until covered in a green chile with a sweet roasted flavor which reminds you that chile is actually a fruit.  There was plenty of it, too.  Instead of pinto or black beans, Kim asked for the posole, always a reliable choice.

Both our entrees were accompanied by our choice of a tortilla or sopaipilla.  Being smarter than her husband, my Kim asked for both.  The tortillas are on the thin side, but not tissue thin as some restaurants serve.  We used them as “New Mexican spoons,” fashioning them into scoop shapes into which we spooned beans and posole.  The sopaipilla is a puffy exemplar of its “sofa pillow” sobriquet.  Tear it open and wisps of steam waft upward toward your eager nostrils.  Alas, the sopaipilla is served with honey-flavored syrup as fake as the news.  This sopaipilla is worthy of real honey.

Soipailla and Two Tortillas

One of my favorite of Steinbeck’s quotes from Tortilla Flat posits that “The good story lay in half-told things which must be filled in out of the hearer’s own experience.”   Visit Tortilla Flats to create your own story of good food served by good people.

Tortilla Flats
3139 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-8685
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 21 July 2018
COST: $$
BEST BET: Red Chile Pork Ribs, Green Chile Pork Chop, Sopaipilla, Tortilla, Chips and Salsa
REVIEW #1052

Tortilla Flats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 thoughts on “Tortilla Flats – Santa Fe, New Mexico

  1. Hmm, I could have sworn you’ve reviewed TF before. Your Kim is a smart woman (her choice in dining companions not with-standing…:-)). The green chile chop is my go-to plate at TF.
    They have good menudo too. Not on par with my fave’s in ABQ, but a worthy competitor.
    As a side note, let them know, and they can validate your receipt so that you can get 20% (or something like that) discount on admission to Meow Wolf (just across the street).

  2. Why in the world would someone from ABQ come to SF looking to eat good NM food??? Yeah, OK, SF has a few good/decent spots but ABQ has several excellent spots (as you know better than I). There are a whole list of semi-mediocre Mexican/New Mexican restaurants of this ilk in the City Different: Tortilla Flats, Valentinas, Maria’s, ect ect …. why waste your time?

    Please try out the Red Enchilada (it’s even cheaper than TF) but it has (much) better cooks. They are from El Salvador and have a selection of dishes from there also. You ever been to the Sunrise? This is a SF institution and much much better than TF. There are a couple of new BBQ food trucks …. one of them (which?) is pretty darn good. You’ve never written a review of El Nido in Tesuque (for instance) …. this is a seriously good Italian restaurant.

    Look, if I had to compare the restaurants in SF with those in ABQ, it’s not even close. ABQ is waaay better, but you’re really making SF look bad by going to and reviewing places like TF.

    1. Señor Verdadero

      Estoy muy agradecido por sus recomendaciónes. You’ve certainly spurred my interest in Red Enchilada, Sunrise and El Nido. We’ll try to visit them by year’s end.



    2. El Verdadero, it’s simple really. While New Mexico has it’s own culinary category, it is most definitely broken up into two (maybe even 3) sub-genres. Northern New Mexican, Southern New Mexican (leaning towards Mexican), and just New Mexican. Santa Fe is about where you start to get the northern NM cuisine. I MUCH prefer northern NM cuisine. One could say I was raised on it!!! Española doesn’t do much right, but damn, I love eating there!

  3. SENOR!!! While I am aware of the possibility of wryness in your characterising the Fanta Se Plaza, I take umbrage and ask your pardon lest some tourists reading that might read absoluteness therein and miss some interesting interests therein.
    Admittedly, I haven’t been in years to the Plaza. Also, my one experience at what many consider as fantabulous, The Shed, was gruesome per being put in a decorless room with drab yellow walls to be served some New Mexican dish…maybe Huevos…that I could have gotten in ABQ. Alas, the “service” was what some might say was authentic Mexican ala perfunctorily welcoming as well as dining in TJ…”Plates hot!”…(am busy with other customers; tip well even tho we’ll never see one another again.) Ok Ok…maybe a bad time….pre 5 pm, and only one visit!
    Lest I’m told otherwise, I’ll continue to suggest Folks visit the Plaza to hike upstairs to the Thunderbird (formerly The Ore House) to sit on its balcony to sip Margaritas and munch Chips/Salsa while looking down on peons frantically spending more pesos than possibly in ABQ…albeit artistry is excellent in SF.
    Folks might find the Haagen Dasz across the street of historical interest learning it was Zook’s Pharmacy where the assasination of Leon Trotsky was planned and a KGB guy….doing espionage RE Los Alamos…seduced the pharmacist’s daughter (no pun intended)!
    Next door at the 5&10, Tourists could sample what many fall all over themselves as being iconic Anthony Bourdain who was taken to task for , by having a colostomy bag.
    A few doors toward La Fonda, I suggest Folks visit a native NM Folk Artist at #66 who attempts to preserve things New Mexican and Mexican that, IMHO, go beyond “touristy-artsy”… .
    Speaking of La Fonda: besides its unique inner decor to meander around, there is a streetside bakery that offers, if need be, a respite from NM cuisine via a quiche or crepe or sweet roll that’s been there for eons!

    Alas, yes I know it is gone being known, jestingly or not, amongst the ABQ locals as Tortilla Flats (being now El Bruno’s), but thankfully for some of us, many fond memories of two-somes or family gatherings persist be it inside or on the patio judiciously/adobely walled off from 4th St. traffic during what was a new era of dining “expanding” in ABQ, that being New Mexican ala the original Garduno’s!!!
    – “One of my (Gil’s) favorite of Steinbeck’s quotes from Tortilla Flat posits that “The good story lay in half-told things which must be filled in out of the hearer’s own experience.”” ………….Salud!

    1. Point well taken, Roberto. The truth is Santa Fe, like most cities, is a multi-faceted dichotomy. It wasn’t my intention to paint Santa Fe…or more specifically, the Plaza, in an unfavorable light. I hoped to paint it as a city with diverse personalities and characters, much like Tortilla Flat and Monterey. While my friend Carlos may not frequent the Plaza, it’s one of my favorite areas of the city for dining and diversions.

    2. Bob, I always enjoy your commentary but with all due respect, I think you strayed a bit from the point Gil was making which – a la Jonathan Gold – or Anthony Bourdain – was “excellent food prepared and served from the heart.” In other words, check out the locals and the mom and pop eateries, too.

      For a broader perspective, I ask you to consider this excerpt from the New York Times, 7/21/18, which addressed the recent passing of Jonathan Gold:

      In more than a thousand reviews published since the 1980s, Mr. Gold chronicled his city’s pupuserias, bistros, diners, nomadic taco trucks, soot-caked outdoor rib and brisket smokers, sweaty indoor xiao long bao steamers, postmodern pizzerias, vintage delicatessens, strictly omakase sushi-yas, Roman gelaterias, Korean porridge parlors, Lanzhou hand-pulled noodle vendors, Iranian tongue-sandwich shops, vegan hot dog griddles, cloistered French-leaning hyper-seasonal tasting counters and wood-paneled Hollywood grills with chicken potpie and martinis on every other table.
      Unlike some critics, Mr. Gold never saw expensive, rarefied restaurants as the peak of the terrain he surveyed, although he reviewed his share of them. Shiki Beverly Hills, Noma and Alinea all took turns under his critical loupe. He was in his element, though, when he championed small, family-run establishments where publicists and wine lists were unheard-of and English was often a second language, if it was spoken at all.

      “Before Tony Bourdain, before reality TV and ‘Parts Unknown’ and people really being into ethnic food in a serious way, it was Jonathan who got it, completely,” the writer and editor Ruth Reichl said. “He really got that food was a gateway into the people, and that food could really define a community. He was really writing about the people more than the food.”

      1. Yo Chica Becky….Kudos for your insights: Lest my blathering may have been seen as scolding of Gil: Alas, while not trying to evade specifying such, there was just some undefined something “I read/misread(?) into” his opening paragraphs, that I was concerned might mislead tourists RE The Fanta Se Plaza. As you may have read, I give out tourist info RE ABQ and Statewide from a site that happens to be in ABQ’s Old Town. Lo, for the past 10ish years, I’ve watched shoppe owners happily come and sadly go and was being presumptive RE Santa Fe. Indeed, it is a hoot when tourists almost sidle up to me to ask “Say, where doThe Locals go for real “Mexican” food?” and I delight in ‘splaining the difference between Mexican and New Mexican and “neo-rogues” (LOL) such as Back Street Grille. Do I mention La Placita? Church St. Cafe? Mary and Tito’s? Cecilia’s? The Range(s)? Cocina Azul per opening its 3rd venue? Casa de Benavidez? Garcia’s? LOL
        – Alas, with due respect to your Senor Oro: Admittedly, Blush, I don’t get down into the weeds RE such Folk as many Folk do. Lest I misread him/you, I agree, its the people often rather than the food. As such, “today”, Waitstaff are often so fleeting…what can I say about my Bartender-Servers of 8-10 years Mike/Dave who shine me on these many years by “sliding” me Kids Claws at Red Lobster, or Denise at El P’s or Chrissy at Casa de Benavidez who give me hugs on my somewhat infrequent visits?!
        Alas, be all that as it may (whatever that means), you have given no hint of your next visit so that we may meet up at The Dog House, to see if your sense is that the iconic Footlong, (NM Red) ChileCheese Dog con onions paired with an Orange Drink is the same as in days gone by.
        OMG Becky, I now espy El Verdadero, for Reals!, lest s/he be seen as counterpointing! If he be who I think he might be….No and Santa Maria, I do not know if he has anything to do with being
        Hasta que comemos un perro caliente con chile rojo!

        1. Hey Bob! I think it’s wonderful that you make such a huge effort to assist tourists to the Land of Enchantment. From a “foodie perspective” it certainly is important to educate them on the difference between Mexican and New Mexico food (I might add the differentiation of Tex-Mex into the mix) and direct them to great places to eat. I wish I could say that I’d be visiting New Mexico in the near future – a trip to the Doghouse would most definitely be on the agenda – but I’m pretty much “tundra bound” right now because I have elderly pets with health issues. Keep up the good work – I’m sure that you’re a major credit to New Mexico’s tourism department.

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