The rich folklore of the Hispanic culture of New Mexico and southern Colorado is preserved largely through cuentos (stories, legends and myths) passed down from one generation to the next. Among my favorites is a short story of how God named His people. According to this cuento, God passed out so many names–Ortega, Lopez, Gonzalez, Sanchez–that He ran out of last names and said, “the rest of you will be called Martinez.” This cuento is meant to illustrate why there are so many people with the last name of Martinez in New Mexico and southern Colorado. Told in English, God would have given everyone else the last name of Smith or Jones.
Common though the name Martinez may be, it is also a very proud name brought to distinction by its bearers–proud holders such as Rico Martinez, the brilliant founder of the now defunct The Rant Pack, Albuquerque’s most hilarious blog, and Felipe Martinez, the proprietor and creative genius behind his eponymous restaurant in St Michael’s Village. The recipes were actually passed down from Felipe’s mother, a native of Zacatecas, Mexico, but it is Felipe who has been sharing them with Santa Fe for more than a decade. For that, budget and health conscious diners are most grateful and consistently accord Felipe’s tacos “best in the city” honors in restaurant polls.
Felipe’s restaurant is adorned in the colors of the Mexican flag–red, white and green. The walls are white trimmed in red while the counter at which you order is a lime green. Tables are covered in red oilcloth. Red, white and green are also the colors in Felipe’s pico de gallo–red tomatoes, white onions and green cilantro. This is some of the very best pico in Santa Fe, so good you might eschew the salsa which would be a mistake since it is also quite good.
You’ll also notice the colors of the Mexican flag on the to-go menu. In fact, Felipe’s motto “Fresh, Healthy and Authentic” is scribed below an illustration of a waving Mexican flag. On the wall between the counter and the kitchen are hung seven colorfully illustrated Mexican calendars, the sort New Mexicans of my generation might remember hanging on their abuelitas’ homes.
The lines at the counter usually stretch to the door to the restaurant. That’s the case even in mid afternoon. Felipe’s is open only for breakfast and lunch and much of the business appears to be take-out. Health conscious diners know that Felipe’s is the fresh, healthy alternative to the calorie-laden, greasy Americanized chain restaurant that teeming masses (dare I say, of ignoramuses) frequent. In no way does Felipe’s resemble Taco Bell.
For one thing, Felipe’s really does live up to its motto (Fresh, Healthy and Authentic). The restaurant only uses lean steak, skinless chicken and marinated pork. No lard is used in the preparation of any item, all of which are “just made” fresh. As for authenticity, you won’t find any hard-shelled, “pre-fabricated” tacos here.
Instead, Felipe’s serves only soft corn or white tortillas that tend to fall apart with all the ingredients crammed into them. Still, the aroma and taste of fresh corn tortillas make them the only real choice for taco lovers.
There are four basic tacos on the menu: carne asada (lean, grilled beef), pollo asado (grilled chicken), al pastor (marinated pork prepared on a vertical spit) and meatless. The salsas with which you top them provide variety.
The al pastor taco stands out among the three thanks to the flavor-rich and juicy marinade. It resembles red chile but has a sweet taste (and at many restaurants, the marinade does include pineapple chunks.)
You’ll want to wash down your tacos with horchata, a traditional Mexican rice-water drink or with Felipe’s homemade limeade in which lime slices float merrily.
Tacos aren’t the only items on the menu and may not even be the best items on the menu. Felipe’s features several gourmet burritos, all made with fresh ingredients and all bulging with content. Where the tacos tend to be smallish, the burritos are a handful.
Also on the menu are quesadillas, tortas, combination plates and several a la carte items. Breakfast goers will find their favorite early morning burritos or can opt instead for menudo or a breakfast torta.
St Michael’s Village
1711-A Llano Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 16 July 2007
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Pollo Asado Soft Taco, Carne Asada Soft Taco, Al Pastor Soft Taco, Bean & Cheese Gourmet Burrito, Salsa & Chips