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Specific Santa Fe questions

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I think I've read anything pertinent re: Santa Fe but am hoping to narrow down some eating choices. Trying to find a spot for our nicer dinner (aka my travel agent dinner for doing all the work) has been tough because reviews vary widely on many of the places, altho crappy service seems to be a common theme on all restaurants in SF. The other thing is a couple of the places that sound up my alley are really pricey. I'm looking for something serving what I think of as Southwestern food (from Boston), basically new American with local touches I guess. Not a romantic place, something fun and in the $18-30 range for entrees. A few places that might work seem to be 315, Martin and Tomme. These were the nicer ones I had on the list but the combo of food, price and atmosphere is hard to come by (we're staying close to the Plaza btw).

315 Restaurant: 315 Old Santa Fe Trail, 315santafe.com; French, $19-28, bar plates $8
Aqua Sante: 451 W. Alameda St., new American, small place w/ patio (does this place really not have a web site?)
Compound: 653 Canyon Rd, compoundrestaurant.com; (too much $$?)
Geronimo: 724 Canyon Rd, geronimorestaurant.com/; $29-44, nice small bar
Pasqual's: 121 Don Gaspar Ave., pasquals.com; lunch $16, $26-43
Restaurant Martin: 526 Galisteo, restaurantmartinsantafe.com/; contemp, $28-33, split charge
Tomme: 229 Galisteo St @W. Alameda, tommesf.com/; $17-26. Does Tomme serve cocktails or just wine? And is it for sale? Read some article saying that.

Then not sure where to go for casual, burger or typical cuisine (sorry what's the different between Northern New Mexican and Tex Mex, the chiles?). Which do you like best:

Atrisco, Bert's Burger Bowl, Bobcat Bite, El Campanario, Harry's Roadhouse, La Choza, Los Amigos, Maria's, The PantryTia Sophia's, Tomasita's

Also looking for cool bars, both of the rock/divey motif and nicer ones that make a great cocktail. I think this might satisfy the rock bar: The Matador and maybe The Underground.

We're in SF for 3 nites and ABQ for one nite, staying by the airport in ABQ cuz of an early flight. I plan on taking a banh mi from Coda on the plane, any others of the list below essential for our <24 hrs in town? Thanks for your help.

Artichoke Cafe: 424 Central Ave SW, artichokecafe.com; $20-30, HH M-F 3-6
Banh Mi Coda: 230-C Louisiana Blvd SE, excellent, M-F 9-7, Sat 9-6,
Blake’s Lotaburger: 2529 Washington NE @Menaul orig location ABQ, Santa Fe, green chili burger
Cecilia's: 230 6th St. SW, typical, breakfast, (web down)
Frontier: 2400 Central Ave SE, frontierrestaurant.com/; breakfast, burgers
Holy Cow: 700 Central Ave SE, holycownm.com; $8.50 burger
Little Red Hamburger Hut: 1501 Mountain Rd NW @15th, littleredsburgers.tripod.com/; GCCB
Mary & Tito's: 2711 4th St NW, carne adovada & stuffed sopaipilla
Range Cafe: 2100 Menaul NE/4401 Wyoming NE, rangecafe.com/; breakfast, interesting sandwiches,
Zacatecas Tacos: 3423 Central Ave NE, zacatecastacos.com; tacos & tequila, HH M-F 4-6,

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  1. Fancy dinner: Tomme has had a chef change since I last went, so I can't comment. Haven't been to 315. Martin is perfectly fine, but it's not exactly a revelation. More broadly, as I've said here before, I'm frankly not especially impressed by upscale Southwestern cuisine in general; it all seems to be resting on its laurels from the 80s and 90s, and I've never really had my socks knocked off. I do like Pasqual's; it's loud and a little cramped, but the food is nicely prepared for what it is (think baked brie with red chile, that sort of thing). Sounds like you're not keen to go to the non-NM stuff, but I swear Shibumi, Nostrani, and La Boca give anything in Boston a run for its money.

    The difference between Tex Mex and NNM is probably a big enough topic to mint a small army of Ph.Ds in food anthropology, but to me the essence is that NNM has existed as a regional cuisine since this part of the country was part of Mexico. Lots of chile, but no chili, and green chile in particular is the de facto signature ingredient for the state.

    To your specific lower-fi SF restaurants, my take on the ones I know well:

    Bert's Burger Bowl - skip
    Bobcat Bite - definitely, just know they're dry
    El Campanario - closed, I believe
    Harry's Roadhouse - it's fun, it's very local, the burgers are good, but it's not stellar chow, the back patio is awesome if the weather's nice.
    La Choza - go on a non-rush night and it's among the best in town, don't go if they're slammed.
    Los Amigos - my last few visits have been only ok, but could just be a fluke.
    Maria's - food is ok, margaritas are potent and tasty.
    The Pantry - great for breakfast, although I prefer Tecolote Cafe
    Tia Sophia's - skip
    Tomasita's - skip

    And THE BEST burger I've had in ages was at the Plaza Cafe. NM grass-fed beef, terrific bacon, a pile of green chile, on a homemade potato roll. I had mine at the southside location, but the location right on the eponymous Plaza has just reopened after a two-year fire-related hiatus.

    Cool bars - come to my house for a Pegu Club. If you find a bar with craft cocktails here, do let me know, I've basically given up.

    Of your ABQ selections, definitely hit Mary & Tito's if you can, their James Beard award was no fluke, it's about as canonical an example of NNM as you can get. I also think the Frontier is a trip, but as much for the vibe as the chow. Definitely SKIP Artichoke Cafe, it's not horrible but it's a great example of a restaurant that wouldn't be around if there were more competition in that price range.

    5 Replies
    1. re: finlero

      Just remembered one idea for cocktails: check out the bar at La Posada. The cocktails are expensive and only decent, but it's one of the most beautiful little spaces in the area to enjoy a drink. On Saturday nights, they often have a very good guitar and vocal duo playing in the library across from the bar, it's a fun place to take your drink and sit.

      1. re: finlero

        I agree with finlero, upscale in SF is just meh. The food at La Boca is really, really good, altho' it's not NM.

        I like to go to El Pinto in ABQ. Food is pretty good, the setting is fun, especially if you sit outside on a cool night in front of the fireplace.

      2. re: finlero

        I've only been living here a few months and haven't had the money to eat out nearly as much as I've wanted to, so my experience is limited and I haven't been to any of the pricier restaurants yet. That said, I've had two very good meals at La Choza (the last time wasn't as spicy as the first, but it was right before the start of chile season and I'm thinking that last year's chiles just weren't as potent as they were earlier in the year. I imagine the fresh crop of chiles has probably fixed that problem).

        I'll also second Mary & Tito's, which I stumbled into accidentally on a day-trip to ABQ. Definitely worthy of their James Beard (as well as their other awards)!

        I agree that it's difficult to define NNM food in a few sentences, and I'm still just starting to learn about it myself. Also, I've never been to Texas, so my concept of Tex Mex may be way off. It does seem that Tex Mex uses a lot more melted cheese and chili (as opposed to chile). It seems to be a marriage of Mexican and Southern cooking, while NNM has less Southern and more Mexican, Spanish and Native American influences (and, of course, some newer American influences as well). For me the two defining dishes of NNM cuisine (so far) are carne adovada and green chile stew. There are (of course) a ton more, but it would be sad to come to Santa Fe and not try each at least once.

        And I'll add my name to the list of people wanting a good place for great cocktails...

        1. re: finlero

          Yay, someone replied, I hoped the former Bostonian would chime in. Did you like Tomme before the chef change? It seems like this chef Joseph Wrede certainly has credentials, would think it would be good and the menu looks good and I like the $18-28 range. What about Ristra on Agua Fria? The space looks pretty and they serve elk.

          A Pegu Club sounds nice, do you think I could get that at Secreto? It looks good on paper, do you not think it's a good bar? I also saw a rec for the Den at Coyote Cafe, thoughts?

          I ran into someone after I posted this who lived in SF for a few years and he loved Tia Sophia's. He's vegetarian, maybe vegan, would that cloud his thinking? What don't you like? Aren't they known for their sopapillas (sp)?

          Thanks to you and BananaBL for reading.

          1. re: Joanie

            This is going to come off a little fussy and grouchy, so apologies in advance...

            I liked Tomme fine the few times I went under the old regime, the upscale Southern playbook reminded me of a nominally-less-good version of the stuff you might find at Tupelo or Highland Kitchen in Camberville. I'll get back there sooner or later, I'm sure, but it has struck me as comfort food that isn't really quite worth the calories. Between old-chef Tomme and Martin, I nominally prefer Martin.

            The Ristra dining room is overpriced for what it is, another example of upscale Southwestern seeming like a little bit of a scam to me these days, but the food is well-prepared, safe, and tasty enough. The bar menu (its very existence being something of a rarity here) is much better value; still B+ or A-, not A+ in terms of absolute quality, but QPR is better in line.

            I hadn't heard of Secreto, actually, but I'll have to check it out after work sometime, it certainly *looks* like it could be the real deal. I'll admit I have a bit of a mental block against hotel restaurants and bars, but if that were a hard and fast rule I'd be categorically eliminating the lion's share of downtown SF choices, and of course it's not really fair in the first place. I think the odds of Den at Coyote being any good are lower; that said, the Coyote Cantina is a fun rooftop bar more as much for the vibe as anything else.

            My wife is from NM, and when we lived in the Boston area, we would have killed for a NM-style restaurant half as good as Tia Sophia's. But we're in NM now, and to me Tia Sophia's is just ok. They're from the indelicate-massive-plate-of-different-items-all-bleeding-together school of NM cooking, which is totally fine (possibly even canonical), but nothing I've tried has been memorable in either direction. As far as sopaipillas, it's tough to mess up dough that has been freshly fried in fat, and I remember nothing either amazing or repugnant about the ones at Tia Sophia's.

            For this kind of cooking, if you have time (and a vehicle) to get 35ish minutes north to El Rancho de Chimayo, definitely do it. It's still the same basic NNM cooking, but it's presented with a touch more finesse, and both the scenery along the drive and the restaurant setting itself are really incredible. I try to take all our out-of-town guests up there.

        2. COOL BARS: Del Charro, Cowgirl, 2nd Street Brewery

          CASUAL BURGER: Tune Up Cafe

          PIZZA: Back Road Pizza - be sure to have the green chile on it

          We're originally from RI and find these some of the many good choices in Santa Fe.

          Enjoy!!

          The Jer

          1 Reply
          1. re: TheJer

            Agave next to the Eldorado hotel is a fancy hipster bar. Very pretty inside. They have happy hours early and late. El Paseo is also a good casual bar and the Ore house has a good happy hour. La Casa Sena is a nice place to have lunch --beautiful patio and the prices are more reasonable at lunch. El farol can be a fun place to hang out a the bar. Lots of crazy local action.

          2. Since no one else has chimed in on Atrisco I'll add one more entry to the "highly recommended" list. For my money they serve the best red chile in town, and they have a few unusual items that don't show up on most NNM menus (specifically, the roast lamb burrito and lamb ribs, both of which are sourced from a local rancher, Shepherd's Lamb in Tierra Amarilla). The lamb ribs are a dinner special only offered on certain nights and they come and go seasonally, but the burrito is a fixture on the menu. The shopping mall location may prevent this place from getting the acclaim it deserves, but it's near the top of our list for NNM cooking.

            1. Hi Joanie,

              I'd say The Matador is the quintessential Santa Fe dive bar, but they're not going to have any artisanal cocktails or anything like that. Another solid grungey dive is Evangelo's Cocktail Lounge. It has the requisite surly owner, background blues, and cast of kooky old Santa Fe characters. For fancier drinks and atmosphere, I've heard good things about Secreto at Hotel St. Francis too, but haven't been there.

              In Albuquerque, I wouldn't say there are any "must try" places except for maybe Mary & Tito's. I think you'll have far better versions of Artichoke in Boston. Blake's is just a fast food place, and Holy Cow, Little Red, and Range are just pretty good (unless you want a big Southwestern breakfast, in which case Range is one of the better places to go). Frontier is a big old divey-ish diner, but has lots of local color (especially late at night), and is definitely an Albuquerque institution. I don't like the food there, but maybe the food is beside the point. I think Cecilia's is not as good as Mary & Tito's, and they serve very similar menus, so I'd go to M & T and skip Cecilia's. But, that said, I don't know if M & T is as good as some of the places you'll visit in Santa Fe, like, say, La Choza, so, if you've had your fill of NM food in Santa Fe, that's not necessarily a must either. If you don't have a good upscale taqueria near where you live (and aren't offended by the concept), Zacatecas is worth a visit. And, if you'll be walking around Old Town Albuquerque, I would put in a vote for La Crepe Michel at lunch. It's very simple French home cooking, but very satisfying and very reasonably priced, and that sort of French restaurant is getting harder and harder to find anywhere these days. I recently had a cup of cream of parsnip soup and a buckwheat spinach crepe there, and it was the best restaurant lunch I've had in Albuquerque.

              Hope you have a great trip, Ninrn