A&C Editor Enrique Limón and I began our daily lunch-outing ritual a couple weeks ago. It started when Joey Peters asked us, "Are y'all hungry?" He was headed to the Roundhouse, where food is "just so cheap" and anyway, he had some reporting to do there. Enrique and I are always hungry—and who can pass up affordable food?—so we joined him.
The cash-only Roundhouse Café (491 Old Santa Fe Trail) is smaller than I expected; it's a long, narrow room, with a cafeteria-style bar and checkout counter, a few tables and a ledge along the west-facing wall of windows to sit and eat at. It's filled with suits and Georgia O'Keeffe prints. The servers behind the counter are friendly and suggest the Frito pie. "It's better than the Five and Dime," Joey assures, but this time, I order what I order no matter where I am these days: a bowl of chile, red and green—"Christmas," I'm corrected—beans and a warm tortilla ($3.25). Enrique orders a chicken salad sandwich ($2.75), a bag of Doritos and a cheesecake ($2.25), which turns out to be banana cream pie—a rather pleasant surprise. Joey gets the tortilla burger ($3). The hot food comes out immediately; we pay and find a table.
My chile bowl is heavenly, and I add an extra, small container of green chile, which elevates my mouth's spice level to a nirvana-like high. I then see Joey's tortilla burger. It has avocado. 'Oh God,' I think, 'I wish I had that.' I can't resist; I take a fork and stick it in his avocado—the perfect avocado.
I ask the newsman what he thinks of his burger. "I've had it before," he says. So I rephrase, "But tell me about it, how does it taste?" He says it's good—and cheap (as in affordable)—and he proceeds to list the ingredients, which are spilling out of the tortilla (and mouth). As far as the avocado goes, he says, "You poked it. You know: It's nice and soft." Joey does not share his avocado.
Enrique, meanwhile, is euphoric. He manages to articulate a few words between chews, "I love it," he says.
"Let's come here all the time." So, we do.
Because meals are best when shared, SFR news intern Sterling Fluharty and political journalist Matthew Reichbach join us for one of our lunches. Matt tweets me: "let me know when you get here. I'm in the Senat[e] press gallery, ten seconds away." I ask him what he'll order. "The same thing I always get, a burger," he says. It's "just a greasy burger, I love it." To clarify, it's not just any old "greasy burger," it's a green chile cheeseburger ($3).
Sterling, who's also eating a cheeseburger (interesting fact: all three of these men remove their onions), says it's better than McDonald's. Unlike Enrique and me, who now come here regularly for breakfast and lunch, Sterling is a first-timer at the café, and he seems slightly concerned that they did not offer him "fries with that." He takes a bite of my Frito pie ($3.25 small; $5.50 large), and says it's "pretty good," if a little soggy (I, however, like it like that).
Matt, in the meantime, explains the Feed Bill, or HB1, which is the café's—and the whole session's—sole source of funding. This, we determine, is why the food is so affordable, and why tips are not allowed. (Unlike other establishments, gratuities are not appreciated here, a sign warns, due to a tax liability to employees and the House of Representatives.)
Matt says he's never had a bad meal at the Roundhouse, and adds that around these parts the famous Frito pie is known as "the Steve Terrell Special." Enrique chimes in that he thinks he wants another tortilla burger, though he's only two bites into his first one.
We ask Matt if he'd bring a date to the Roundhouse café. "If she was a lobbyist, and if she was paying," he says matter–of-factly. Because of the price, Matt eats at the Roundhouse "every day I'm here." Then he pauses, "Or I'll go to Rio Chama if I need a bourbon."
The legislative session ends Saturday, March 16 and, unfortunately for our wallets (and yes, our palates, too), the café closes with it. At Rio Chama, we'll toast to a reason to live another year.
At A Glance
Open: Monday-Saturday 7 am-3 pm
Serving: politically charged comfort food
Menu: fit for conservative and liberal palates alike
Best bet: the Steve Terrell Special