In October 2009, SFR’s secret star chamber of food junkies decided to include Jambo Café as one of our top 40 favorite restaurants in the annual Restaurant Guide, even though it had only been open a few weeks.
Ahmed Obo’s African and Caribbean menu was not only welcome as an addition to Santa Fe’s range of cuisine, but it was prepared with uncommon thoughtfulness. Tender organic jerk chicken? Crisp, aromatic cumin fries? Slow-cooked goat stew with roti flat bread? No question—it was a fast favorite.
Six months in, how is Jambo faring?
If the wait for a table on a mid-week evening is any indication,business is good. And deserved.
On a recent visit I started with a stuffed phyllo platter ($6.95) and cinnamon-dusted plantains ($4.95). A flaky phyllo packed with spinach, olives, feta and roasted peppers is a treat, but rubbed in pomegranate-slathered organic greens, it’s a mouthful of la petite mort.
Plantains are sweet enough to begin with, so loading them with cinnamon and dipping them in a pineapple curry sauce is counter-intuitive as an appetizer. But the modest serving, combined with an effective “cabinet of rivals” of spices, is enough to make your taste buds shout, “Jambo!” (Jambo is Swahili for “hello.”)
A Moroccan-style lamb stew ($11.95) uses northern New Mexico lamb in a happy mire of raisins, sweet potatoes, couscous and chutney to create one of the best-looking, best-smelling and best-tasting bowls of food this side of Tangier.
Not all of Jambo’s meats are local, but the quality and price point of dishes chef Obo sends out of his kitchen using local protein makes one wonder why more restaurants aren’t excelling in this sensible, ethical, low-impact locavore arena. Offerings like a coconut lentil stew ($8.95) and an artichoke heart sandwich ($7.95) keep barbaric plant-eaters satisfied.
Jambo’s island spice coconut peanut chicken soup recently won both best savory soup and best overall soup honors at the 16th annual Souper Bowl.
The conclusion: Jambo’s ranking among our 40 faves is well-merited and its accolades and awards are likely to continue to grow.
In other new-restaurant news, after languishing for almost two years, the once-hopping Second Street location that formerly housed Cloud Cliff Bakery and Café has once again fired up its ovens and grills.
El Patio Café, a family operation led by one-time Santacafé sous chef Adolfo Lemos, is cranking out breakfast and lunch. Lemos says dinner service may begin within a couple of months.
Breakfast is primarily of the New Mexican variety, with a couple of notable exceptions. One can go with the old breakfast standard of two eggs and toast, enhanced by chunky home fries and a selection of homemade breads: sourdough, rye or wheat.
Also fresh-made in-house are the English muffins on which eggs Benedict are served. While there is no single best way to make an English muffin, there is really only one best outcome, and the Lemos family proves its chops with flavorful, light muffins.
The blue corn pancakes capitalize on the classic, regional staple and want only for pure maple syrup and fresh-whipped butter.
Finally, in line with the kind of experimentation of which Santa Fe is happily seeing more, El Patio offers a migas burrito: the classic spicy scramble of eggs and tortilla chips, only wrapped up and ready to go.
Lunch includes New Mexican fare, as well as a number of soups, salads and burgers. One hint: Advertising beef as “juicy USDA prime,” as the café does, is no longer that enticing—even for the mainstream—following exposés like Food, Inc. There’s no reason a $10 burger can’t be made with New Mexico grass-fed beef.
If there’s a place in town where a spirited, family-owned operation should be able to launch, it’s the Triangle District—maybe there’ll even be a Meow Wolf breakfast special.
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Open 11 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday
2010 Cerrillos Road
El Patio café
Open 7 am-2:30 pm daily
1805 Second St.