You know those days when nothing feels quite right? Saturday was one of those for me. I’ve been working a ton and not taking the time to de-stress properly and, outside a spa weekend, there are few ways out of those days.
The easiest cure for this kind of thing is comfort food, and that means a place like PC’s Restaurant and Lounge (4220 Airport Road, 473-7164). I hadn’t been since college; it was time to reacquaint myself with the Southside spot.
Beloved by regulars, PC’s has been an under-the-radar staple for decades. Originally located on Cerrillos where the new Chili’s is (ugh), owner and manager Jean-Paul Ulibarri’s restaurant has been on Airport Road for over 20 years.
I called a friend to see if he was in the mood for a late-ish dinner. He was in Texas. I texted friends across town. All had eaten. I was on my own. By the time I arrived at the parking lot I was in a bad mood.
The entrance of the surprisingly large space is welcoming. No one was there, but you could hear voices. I peered to the left—the dining room was filled and noisy. The bar to the right looked mostly empty. This was my speed.
Said bar area resembles a living room. A Buddha sits next to a driftwood Jesus and a trucker hat amid strings of blue lights above the bar. Four large TVs silently play sports (not my thing, but from what I hear, difficult to find in town). A few people nodded at me as I sat down, a welcome that was much appreciated.
I’m spending a lot of time on the atmosphere, and I’ll get to the food in a second, but this space feels like home. Few restaurants feel lived-in. This one does. Customers and staff all knew each other and asked about family. It was a community.
It was hard not to lose my bad mood as Dwight Yoakam sang a country cover of “Purple Rain” and Duke and North Carolina played basketball on the screen. It was all too familiar.
Like many restaurants in town that fall into the “family” or “inexpensive” category, PC’s rarely gets the attention it deserves. These restaurants turn out consistent, affordable, quality food, and they do so while fostering a community around them. The Pantry does this. Santa Fe Baking Company did as well, rest in peace.
I stared at the menu for a stupidly long time. PC’s offers a host of Northern New Mexican classics. Their burritos are gigantic; a couple shared one down the bar. They have chicharrón, something few places in town bother to serve despite the trendiness of pork belly. I ordered a Corona and went for the enchiladas ($7.75, $9.20 w/meat). I got them rolled with chicken and smothered Christmas so I could taste both options. They come with a side of refried or regular beans and a sopaipilla or tortilla.
The platter arrived.
The portions are HUGE.
The sopaipilla was an ok size, but I could live on them so this isn’t a real criticism.
The smell was rich and dense. My stomach actually growled as I stared at the plate.
I went for the green side first—I’ve never had a red chile that convinces me it’s anything other than an afterthought. Three handmade tortillas stuffed with a ton of chicken and smothered in chile and cheese soon vanished from my plate. I hadn’t even noticed how hungry I was. The red side surprised me. Smoky and not too hot, it opened my sinuses without killing my tastebuds. It was the best I’ve ever had. Hands down. I am converted.
The bartender explained that they make everything from scratch. The red chile is from actual pods that they prepare in the kitchen. No powders here. We had a nice conversation about how many places in town tilt their menus towards tourism, and in doing so they can lose craft and taste in the name of quick and less spicy. Prices can also go up as a result. This is something that PC’s does not do. My eyes nearly popped out of my head with the bill. A gigantic plate of enchiladas, a sopaipilla and a beer, all for under $14. They have a fireplace, too. I’m ready to move in.
Santa Fe is rightly called a foodie city, and that can come with a price tag. But some nights you just want a meal without bells and whistles. You want to feel like you’re with friends. I sent pictures of my food to everyone who refused to go out that night.