A firestorm of closures and changes tore through Santa Fe’s restaurant scene in the past year. From a high elevation, it looks like utter devastation.
ĦA la Mesa! was murdered by the economy. Tulips toppled. Mauka had a meltdown. Café Dominic crumbled. The Mission Café & Sweet Shop went AWOL. El Nido got nixed. The Railyard Restaurant & Saloon steered off its tracks. Café Paris’ Maginot Line broke because of high rents. James Campbell Caruso’s Delicasa was decimated. Torino’s @ Home took off. Corazón’s kitchen had a coronary. Xiclo stopped turning. Tacos Juárez headed south. The Original Realburger was routed. The Pink Adobe got punk’d. The Pub & Grill at Santa Fe Brewing Company restaurant sealed its taps indefinitely.
There’s more, but it gets depressing, especially when you factor in the former digs of Honnell’s Late Night Burger’s bulldozing for a new Taco Bell, Cafe Cafe’s burglary, Amavi-owner David Sellers’ departure, the Ore House’s lost lease on its signature position above the Plaza, and Carlos White of Carlos’ Gosp’l Café fame’s sad death.
But a closer, ground-level view reveals that, just as the carnage of a forest fire encourages healthy new growth, Santa Fe’s culinary future is bright despite the burn.
One of the brightest spots is chef Joel Coleman’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes of Mauka to helm Koi and put an even finer point on his unlikely but excellent Asian/Hawaiian/Southwestern tapas fusion.
Café Dominic’s empty shell will soon be occupied by Whole Hog Café, opening up the delightful possibility of old-timey showdowns between its Memphis-style barbecue and the smokey, Texas-style served up by Cowgirl BBQ, just across Guadalupe Street.
El Nido’s death was short-lived. Tom Vimont of Steaksmith at El Gancho promptly revived the Tesuque legend. Corazón sealed a deal with Backroad Pizza to provide pies for bar zombies in sudden need of solids. Xiclo was replaced by Pho Kim, which, in addition to serving authentic Vietnamese pho, offers gigantic bahn-mi sandwiches for less than $6. If it starts offering a vegetarian version, a lot of people will be even happier. Tacos Juárez was consumed by Tacos Adelitas, which, as it turns out, is nothing to complain about.
Most importantly, The Pink Adobe was barely cold before the Hoback family wrestled it back from the corporate goons who ran the iconic operation into the ground. Yes, you can get popcorn there again.
The Ore House will move its operations to the location currently occupied by Milagro 139. I’m sure some folks will miss Milagro but, between the two, The Ore House comes first.
Miraculously, Amavi became a better restaurant after Sellers’ departure. Chef Megan Tucker, with a heavy commitment to local food, is kicking ass and taking names—or at least reservations.
A similar transformation occurred at Max’s. The food has always been excellent at the secretive little American bistro, but chef Mark Connell has taken the menu to a whole new level—one that must be wantonly consumed to be believed.
Bagelmania was stolen back by its original owner, Jeffrey Schwartzberg, and reopened as the New York Deli Upper East Side. Schwartzberg’s hammy AM radio ads for his two NYD locations are enough to put you off your appetite, but the two shops are otherwise good, especially for breakfast.
But it’s not only resurrections, reversions, swaps, expansions and transformations that make Santa Fe’s future look good—it’s the new operations and boot-strap entrepreneurialism that promise a new, healthy food forest.
We took some losses, but we gained Dulce, O’Gelato, an insane cupcake posse, the food carts Slurp and Nile Café, and a host of other new efforts. And if you need to get really excited about eating out in the new year, just remember Eric Stapleman and new-to-Santa Fe chef Harris Brazina’s impending noodle bar, Shibumi Ramen Ya, and the dreamy notion of Aqua Santa chef and owner Brian Knox’s cheap burger joint somewhere between Chicago Dog Express and Vinaigrette.