FX on Hulu’s comedy-drama television series The Bear chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a James Beard Award-winning-chef who returns home to Chicago to run his family’s Italian beef sandwich shop after his older brother’s suicide. Unbeknown to the Chef, his brother left behind mountainous debts, a dilapidated kitchen, and an undisciplined staff. The highly entertaining series has fueled a spike in the sales of Italian beef sandwiches (piles of thin-shaved roast beef slid au jus into a French roll and topped with giardiniera)–not only at Chicago-specialty restaurants across the fruited plain, but in restaurants (such as Albuquerque’s High Point Grill) inspired to try their hand at Chicago’s sacrosanct sandwich. Sales of the classic Chicago sandwich are through the roof wherever they’re offered.
In addition to introducing the Italian beef sandwich to diners who had not previously heard of the sandwich, The Bear has brought to light the chaotic and tedious reality of working in a kitchen. The Bear introduces you to the inner working of the kitchen–from the food prep to the myriad supply chain and debt management problems restaurateurs have to juggle–not to mention interpersonal dynamics of a kitchen staff and its respective egos. One of the inner workings with which many viewers were probably not intimately familiar is the traditional “family meal” that the front- and back-of-the-house staff share at the conclusion of each hectic day’s service.
As many restaurants as I’ve visited and as many chefs and restaurant staff as I know, I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a family meal. That is until our inaugural visit at the Taos Diner. We weren’t exactly invited to participate in the family meal nor did we really participate as much as we witnessed it. It was just happenstance that we were the last diners when the Diner closed at 3PM. The genial staff didn’t rush us or give us the stink eye because we were still eating at closing time. Instead, the cooks and wait staff sat down in the community table next to ours.
Rather than complain about the tough day at the Diner, the crew seemed happy that another day of pleasing palates was over and they could now relax. Theirs was the good kind of tired, the tired that comes from making people happy. Nor did the Diner’s cooks prepare a communal meal in the style of The Bear’s now famous family meal spaghetti. Instead, each member of the crew ferried over Styrofoam boxes containing the meal they wanted to eat. Our affable hostess opted for chicken nuggets while our vivacious server had a salad. Laughter and friendship were shared–none of the drama depicted on The Bear. Everyone on the staff table checked up on us at least once. It may not have made for good television, but it sure made us happy to have found another great eatery in Taos.
The staff wasn’t putting on a show in the least. During the entirety of our meal, we watched them interact with one another and with their guests. The “front-of-the-house” staff (servers and bussers) shared the workload and helped one other out. They were very gracious and kind to all guests, many of whom I suspect are regulars. One other guest actually told me he had planned to take his family to Gutiz, but was more than happy to have discovered the Taos Diner. That was our story as well. The Taos Diner isn’t some Miss Congeniality or runner up to Gutiz; it’s a restaurant that’ll be in the forefront of our minds when contemplating a friendly, familial restaurant that serves great food.
Until April 2022, there were actually two Taos Diners–one on the south side of town and one not far from where Taos becomes El Prado. The catalyst for the closure of the popular south side location wasn’t the Cabrona virus, but the seemingly endless construction along Paseo del Pueblo Sur that made accessibility to the Diner an issue. The south side location’s patio was one of the most popular outdoor dining spots in Taos until construction abutted that patio. As with its shuttered sibling, the north side edition of the Taos Diner also has a dog-friendly patio. The elevate patio is yellow, just like the concrete floor inside the restaurant. Walls are festooned with colorful art.
Taos Diner’s menu is replete with breakfast and lunch favorites: salads, breakfast, Benedicts (when did you last see an entire menu section dedicated to Eggs Benedict?), Kid’s Meals, “Hot Stuff” (heat and chile), pancakes and waffles, omelets, lunch, cold sandwiches, half-pound burgers, side stuff, kid’s little lunches, hot sandwiches, desserts, drinks and cold drinks. Phew, I got tired just typing all those options. While you’re studying that comprehensive compendium, order the housemade salsa and tri-colored chips with a side of guacamole. Normally my Kim goes for the guacamole and I scoop up salsa by the shovelful, but the guacamole had extra personality courtesy of jalapenos. It wasn’t especially piquant for me, but too much for my Kim. Ditto for the salsa, a fresh blend also with jalapenos for heat.
Because my Kim makes the very best chicken fried steak we’ve had in the Land of Enchantment, she never orders it at restaurants knowing she’ll be disappointed. (We haven’t invited Sr. Plata for the chicken fried steak because one of the secrets to its deliciousness is bacon grease. Sr. Plata wouldn’t eat bacon if it was dipped in chocolate.) In inexplicably, she ordered chicken fried steak at the Taos Diner. Sadly (Lynn G. might cry), she denuded the chicken fried steak of all its breading and ordered it without gravy. It may have been healthier that way, but what good is chicken fried steak without breading and lots of gravy? In all likelihood, she wanted the two accompanying fried eggs and home fries more than the chicken fried steak. These fries, by the way, are some of the very best you’ll find in the Land of Enchantment.
Our server raved about The Charles (a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, home fries, pinto beans, bacon, and Cheddar Jack cheese, smothered in red, green, or Christmas Chile and topped with feta cheese and diced tomatoes), a behemoth burrito that’s easily two pounds. The Charles is as delicious as it is intimidating. Really! It’s as big as a log of firewood. Every ingredient comes together to titillate your taste buds. Both the red and green chile are superb, not necessarily piquant but fruity and smoky. The biggest surprise was the feta, a “Greece meets New Mexico” touch we’ve never had before. The Cheddar Jack cheese and feta work very well together–the Cheddar inside the burrito and the feta atop the burrito and on the chile lagoon surrounding it. Our server joked about “taking my man card” because I could finish only half The Charles. If finishing that gargantuan burrito is the true measure of a man, there are a lot of XY chromosome-paired people out there who will be neutered.
Dessert options are the only items that are limited at the Taos Diner. We were given our choice of either a cinnamon roll as big as a semi truck tire or French toast. My Kim, who would probably have preferred a good cinnamon roll to marrying me, shocked me by ordering the French toast. Frankly, it was a better choice. Lightly drizzled with syrup, sprinkled with powdered sugar and with a sweet cream on the side, these French toast were neither too sweet nor too savory, but a balance of elements that worked very well together.
The one point worth reiterating is that the Taos Diner does not take a backseat to any other breakfast, lunch or New Mexican food restaurant in the Taos area. Visit once and you might just eschew visits to some of the other eateries you frequent. It’s the classic mom-and-pop diner with a staff you would love to share a meal with.
908 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 4 September 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: The Charles, French Toast, Chicken Fried Steak