Bar Castañeda – Las Vegas, New Mexico

La Castañeda in Las Vegas is Home to Bar Castañeda

Northern New Mexico’s highways and byways are incomparable for their scenic beauty.  From the historical High Road to Taos with its remnants of Spanish occupation to the spectacular Enchanted Circle which circles New Mexico’s highest mountain peak, this region is replete with awe and wonder.  Desiree Aguilar, my friend and former colleague at the University of New Mexico shares my opinion that even these two world-famous byways are eclipsed by a lesser known stretch of road.  We both believe the drive between Las Vegas, New Mexico and Taos is the state’s most enchanting.  Taking this route, you’ll traverse past ramshackle adobe homesteads, small villages and a pine-studded mountain pass through the Carson National Forest.  This nameless route (State Highway 518) continues past the “Rock Wall” ( built by the Works Public Administration (WPA) after World War II) onto Taos.

Sadly in 2022, the combined devastation of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fires, the largest and most destructive wildfire in state history consumed 341,471 acres–including a large swath along my favorite byway and its villages.  Portions of San Miguel, Mora and Taos counties were impacted.  While the fire was devastating, the heart of the community beat with compassion.  Signs expressing “We are Las Vegas Strong” were proudly displayed throughout the largest town in the region.  Acts of kindness and selflessness were organized by community grassroots efforts to provide some modicum of relief to communities reeling from the uncertainty and devastation of the conflagration.

The Spectacular Bar Castañeda

Among the many civic-minded people to step up when the need arose were Chef Sean Sinclair and his wife Katey Sinclair, proprietors of Bar Castañeda in Las Vegas.  A hand-scrawled sign spanning the doorway of the dining room at Bar Castañeda echoed the “We are Las Vegas Strong” theme.  The Sinclairs and their restaurant staff served free meals–up to an estimated 1,000 per day at the height of the humanitarian effort–to first responders and evacuees.  A buffet was available from 2 to 6PM seven days a week.  Donations were collected to keep the buffet and food deliveries going.

Chef Sinclair was following in the tradition of  Fred Harvey, a restauranteur who long  preceded Chef Sinclair at Bar Castañeda.  As the Santa Fe railroad moved across the west, a genteel Englishman named Fred Harvey built  “Harvey Houses” every hundred miles or so alongside the railroad.   Harvey is widely credited as a civilizing influence on the rough and rowdy Old West.  One of Harvey’s crown jewels was La Castañeda in Las Vegas.  La Castañeda opened in 1898 and like many hotels in the Harvey system, it quickly established itself as a social center. La Castañeda not only served the great food characteristic of all Harvey hotels, it had a romantic and upscale ambiance and was centered in the the railroad district, within easy walking distance of the plaza.

When La Castañeda Was a Harvey House

While the city of Las Vegas has a number of historic hotels, La Castañeda may be the most spectacular.  The  25,000-square-foot hotel with some 40 guest rooms, a 108- seat dining room, and a 51-seat lunch counter will transport you back to the days in which the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway ferried passengers throughout the Old West.  The hotel flourished through the 1930s with the Great Depression starting a gradual slide into decline.  Ironically, La Castañeda shuttered its doors in 1948, the same year President Harry S. Truman visited while campaigning for reelection.

In 2014, hoteliers Allan Affeldt and Tina Mion purchased both La Castañeda and the (circa 1882) Plaza Hotel in the older part of Las Vegas.  Four years later, the hotel mavens welcomed the first guests to stay at the magnificent inn in seventy years.  Their experience in renovating La Posada Hotel and Gardens, a Harvey House in Winslow, Arizona provided invaluable lessens that guided the accelerated rate at which they completed the renovation.  We’ve stayed at both Harvey properties and  have thoroughly enjoyed our accomodations and the hospitality.  We’ve now also dined at the fine restaurants at both.


Just as with the Turquoise Room in Winslow, it’s  easy to make a case for Bar Castañeda being one of the best restaurants along the railroad line.  It’s certainly a worthy successor to Fred Harvey’s dining establishments.  At the helm is Executive Chef Sean Sinclair, a proud New Mexico native (Tijeras) who has become of the state’s most accomplished and heralded chefs.   A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Oregon, Chef Sinclair plied his trade at some of the finest kitchens in Portland before returning to the Land of Enchantment where he led Farm & Table to tremendous heights.  After a stint at Farm & Table, he became sous chef at The Inn at Little Washington, a three-star Michelin restaurant (and a restaurant on my bucket list) in Virginia.  He opened Bar Castañeda in 2019.

A dining experience Bar Castañeda isn’t quite straight out of the history books though it’s easy to picture yourself at a Harvey House eatery at the turn of the 19th century.  You might not be taken great care of by a nattily attired “Harvey Girl,” but you’ll find yourself in great hands with manager Justin Woodlee and his staff.  Befitting the magnificent property, the craft cocktail bar and lounge provides comfortable, well-spaced seating among period antiques.  Bar Castañeda invites you to “Take a short drive from ordinary and treat yourself on a visit to what has been voted by Edible New Mexico magazine as the Best Restaurant & Bar Program in Greater New Mexico!”

The Harvey Smash Burger

Study the framed Harvey House menu on one wall and sticker shock might set in–not the type of sticker shock you get courtesy of the “Build Back Better” economy, but the sheer surprise of dining at an exquisite restaurant that once offered such inexpensive cuisine (albeit about a century ago).  Sadly, La Castañeda couldn’t possibly offer fabulous food at such cheap eat prices, but it does offer a superb menu. When asked about the genesis of the menu during an interview with Edible Santa Fe (after earning another “Local Hero” award), Chef Sinclair clarified “We just want to cook tasty food at Bar Castañeda and we put dishes on the menu based on one question: Is it delicious? Delicious isn’t something you have to think about. It is or it isn’t. We have no biases on where inspiration for the food comes from, which I think is the same for most chef-driven establishments.

Naysayers have declared that Adulthood is “where Lunchables are called charcuterie.”  Aargh!  Obviously the person who uttered that heresy has never had great charcuterie.  Obviously he’s never had charcuterie from Bar Castañeda.  It’s not the type of charcuterie you’d dismiss as another “meat and cheese tray” even though it does artistically present three meats, two cheeses, a seasonal jam and “everything crackers.”  In all honesty, we’ve enjoyed so many charcuterie boards that we know our way around them.  When I asked Justin what meats and cheeses were featured that night, he named pork summer sausage, Finocchiona and Loukanika as the three meats; Manchego and Gouda as the two cheeses; and peach jam.  He had me at Finocchiona, a pork sausage infused with fennel and Loukanika, a pork sausage studded with orange zest.  As with all good charcuterie boards, both the sausages and meats varied in terms of texture and flavor.  The “everything” cracker proved a good palate-cleanser.

Roasted Beef Short Ribs

If the judges at Edible’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown have anything to say about it,  Las Vegas might soon be supplanting San Antonio as New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburger capitol.  In 2019, Bar Castañeda earned the “Judges Choice Reigning Chomp” award representing the best burger in the competition.   In 2021, The Skillet earned the “Secret Judge’s” award.   Bar Castañeda’s burger is called the “Harvey” smash burger” (brioche bun; lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle (LTOP); Tucumcari Cheddar, green chile and “special” sauce).   It’s a smash burger made the right way with a burger patty boasting of that dark, crispy crust characteristic of smash burgers.  That exterior gives way to a moist, juicy interior prepared your way.  I’m not quite ready to proclaim the Harvey smash burger superior to the green chile cheeseburger at either The Owl or Buckhorn Grill in San Antonio, but it’s a contender for sure.

Among the most popular entrees on the menu are the roasted beef short ribs,(four-inch beef ribs slow dry-rubbed and slow roasted overnight; served with potato salad, red chile bbq sauce, Parmesan toast, pickles and coleslaw) available in quantities of one, two, three or four ribs.  At first browse, I likened it to what the Royal Family might have for a picnic.  The beef short ribs would make it a bit of an upscale picnic dish, but it’s easy to imagine enjoying the succulent, tender, moist and meaty ribs under a blue spruce.   Reminiscent of a very good home cooked pot roast, the bone-in ribs are easily extricated from their bone (although there’s something almost primal and absolutely human about eating meat right off the bone).  Accmpaniment is excellent, especially the potato salad and red chile bbq sauce.

Every New Mexican is within driving distance of Bar Castañeda and the spectacular hotel in which it’s situated.  My Kim was so pleasantly surprised that I took her to both for our 38th anniversary that she promised to renew me for another 38 years.

Bar Castañeda
524 Railroad Avenue
Las Vegas, New Mexico
(505) 434-1005
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 7 September 2023
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Harvey Smash Burger, Roasted Beef Short Ribs, Charcuterie
REVIEW #1354

7 thoughts on “Bar Castañeda – Las Vegas, New Mexico

  1. Yes, I agree with our CO cousin, ‘Pedro’: another stellar review, Gil! I did not know those tidbits about the Harvey Houses and the railroads. I was also unaware of the heroic efforts of Las Vegas, and in particular Bar Castañeda and the Sinclairs after those devastating fires last year. I have always been fond of the town, but have only ever stopped to eat lunch and shop there. After reading this review, I was tempted to wake up John and the cats and declare, road trip, now! Alas we’re not as spontaneous as we were when we were young. (Plus The Dude could teach my cats a thing or two about car travel. If he could stop chasing them long enough to actually have a conversation.) However, with our 25 year anniversary fast approaching and inspired by your experience with the lovely Kim, I think I’ll book us in for a stay or dinner at least and see if we are similarly encouraged to renew for another term. The place has everything: history, architecture, opportunity, altruism, romance and, lest we forget, delicious food.

    1. Muchachas Garcia, Pedro. Most of my historical knowledge comes from having watched old reruns of Inspector McBragg.

      There goes my anonymity as a critic. The pizza in Mystic is actually pretty good, but you can’t beat Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria in Hartford, Connecticut.

  2. Will definitely have to give them a try. We almost always stop in Winslow at the Turquoise Room – either passing through or spending the night. Will you be reviewing the Skillet?

    1. Bar Castañeda is well worth a trip. It’s much closer than La Posada in Winslow and its menu is entirely different than La Posada’s.

      I’m working on my review of The Skillet, another surprising Las Vegas restaurant. Have you visited The Skillet, Bruce?

      1. No I haven’t, I only recently became aware of it when it popped up in an unrelated google search for a cast iron skillet brush!

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