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SFR Restaurant Guide: 20 Faves

2012-2013

October 16, 2012, 12:00 am
By SFR



$            Inexpensive; most entrées under $10
$$          Moderate; most entrées under $20
$$$        Expensive; most entrées under $30
$$$$      Very expensive; most entrées under $40




Aqua Santa

 

Aqua Santa means “holy water,” and this restaurant’s thoughtful contemporary cuisine is so deliciously refined, you could almost bless it. Chef Brian Knox has made a name for himself by serving up hearty yet elegant entrées that give locally grown produce and New Mexico-sourced meats a chance to shine; his delicately flavored, inventive sauces elevate seasonal ingredients to an ethereal plane. Dinner is served in the large, open main room of Aqua Santa’s charming, slightly out-of-the-way adobe building; a romantic outdoor patio is perfect accompaniment to a glass of chilled wine on a summer evening. Meals begin with a carving of Aqua Santa’s famously crusty house-made bread; after you indulge in a tantalizing array of appetizers, salads, steaks and seafood, finish the evening with an indulgent foray into Knox’s varied dessert menu. No matter what you eat, you won’t be disappointed—even the water tastes sacred. (AS)


451 W Alameda St., 982-6297
Dinner Tuesday-Saturday; lunch Wednesday-Friday.  $$$


Atrisco Café & Bar

AtrisCombo: relleno with green chile, blue corn chicken enchilada with red chile, beef taco, posole and beans

 


Since 2009, local restaurateur George Gundrey has expanded his family’s culinary experience—which includes such Santa Fe staples as Tia Sophia’s and Tomasita’s—with Atrisco Café. See, Atrisco doesn’t serve just your ordinary northern New Mexico fare—although those seeking a classic dish of huevos rancheros won’t be disappointed. Instead, the restaurant elevates New Mexican staples to a higher level, sourcing ingredients locally and preparing enchiladas, stuffed sopaipillas and chiles rellenos with an extra bit of flair. Atrisco also recently began serving breakfast on weekends; the menu includes a $6 mimosa, a heaping montaña de papas and the revelatory, delicious and huge breakfast enchiladas. The café’s space in the De Vargas Center is the perfect size—not too small, but still modest enough to feel intimate—and service is fast, attentive and friendly. (AS)


De Vargas Center, 193 Paseo de Peralta, 983-7401
Lunch and dinner daily; brunch Saturdays and Sundays. $


Azur

Front: Roasted butternut squash with pomegranate and eggplant molasses dipping sauce; back: coq au vin served with fettucine, pearl onions, bacon and mushrooms

 


Perched on the corner of the sometimes loud, if not bustling, corner of Agua Fria Street and Montezuma Avenue, Azur does a splendid job of making one feel nestled in a charming, out-of-the-way haunt. If, however, the cozy set-up of Ristra’s little Mediterranean sister is not enough to transport one to a seaside village, the menu most definitely is. Chef Xavier Gremet’s food is beautiful, tender and rich, and the wine list is extensive. The appetizers, so difficult to choose from, are foretastes of the entrées to come. There are gluten-free and vegan options and, from 5:30 until 7 pm, the bar offers half-price glasses of wine. The desserts, from mousse to caramelized banana—along with a variety of sherry and brandy options—are a sweet tooth’s delight. Though the belly is full, it is difficult to muster the desire to leave France and Morocco, Spain and Italy—as one customer says, “I never want it to end.” (Mia Rose Carbone)


428 Agua Fria St., 992-2897
Dinner daily.  $$$


Bobcat Bite

Green chile cheeseburger with home fries

 


Local legend has it that, once upon a time, an old beggar woman came to Bobcat Bite and offered a single green chile in return for a burger. She warned them not to be deceived by the wilted pepper’s appearance, for taste is found within. The owners agreed and, upon finishing the last scrumptious bite, the woman’s ugliness melted away, just as the American-Swiss blend cheese on her patty had just minutes earlier, revealing a beautiful enchantress. To return the kind gesture, she cast a magic spell on the establishment’s iron grill, and people have been flocking to it ever since. OK, so I just ripped off the intro to Beauty and the Beast, but trust me: bites here are downright magical. Everything screams down-home, from the checkered window valances to the framed bobcat paraphernalia. Entrées are basic, as are the sides—home fries, cole slaw, baked beans and salad. As for the enchanted burgers? The 10-ounce bacon green chile cheeseburger, nestled in a Fano Bread Co. bun and served atop a bed of Ruffles, is truly the Belle of the ball. (EL)


418 Old Las Vegas Hwy., 983-5319
Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday; lunch Sunday. (Hours vary; call ahead.)  $


Body Café

Front: Grounded Greens Salad; back: vegan and raw vanilla cheesecake

 


With the variety of wholesome services that Body offers, there are many reasons to pay the place a visit. However, it is an absolute and undeniable fact that everybody must eat. Therefore, we put the café at the top of our list of reasons to go check out the studio-cum-spa-cum-boutique-cum-café. Body Café offers an impressive variety of vegan and gluten-free—as well tasty offerings for non-vegans—sweets, treats and meals. The menu is substantial and, unless you’re pining after something in particular, it is difficult to know where to begin. A lamb burger or a raw pizza? The breakfast burrito (and, if so, tofu or egg?) or the huevos rancheros? The Super Hero smoothie—“an antioxidant-rich, longevity-inspiring liquid meal”—or the fruity, nutty granola? If you are striving to be wholesome, consider trying the whole menu—from appetizer to truffle, from breakfast to dinner. The food is flavorful, healthy and thoughtfully prepared. (MRC)


333 W Cordova Road, 986-0362
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.  $


Chocolate Maven Bakery & Café

The Maven’s Chocolate Sack, filled with berries, cake, caramel sauce and fresh whipped cream

 


Chocolate Maven’s location—perched inside a warehouse on San Mateo Road—is odd enough for a bakery. But inside the red velvet-draped doorway is a pastry-filled Shangri-la. A casual pastry eater could choose something traditional like cherry filling, but the Maven also packs them with green chile, cheese and a host of other delicacies. While the restaurant boasts standard dining flair like white tablecloths and classical music, it also features a large, room-sized window that allows diners to peek into the bakery, where a handful of cooks dutifully roll pastry crust and knead dough. A lunchtime ham and brie sandwich combines the sweet taste of the bakery with the hefty fulfillment of a full meal; served with homemade kettle chips and a pickle, it features a rich amalgam of melted brie cheese and caramelized onions. Service is quick yet thoughtful, as staff will go out if their way to explain and recommend the right plate for each diner. Remember to order a cappuccino with your meal, which is served just as aesthetically as the cheesecakes. (Joey Peters)


821 W San Mateo Road, 984-1980
Breakfast and lunch daily; dinner Tuesday-Saturday.  $$


Clafoutis

Mini lemon cake

 


Clafoutis is the kind of restaurant that, like Paris, makes me  want to express my love for it in grand gestures of romantic beauty (shouting from a mountaintop, singing anachronistic pop songs on a roof, etc.). The homey French fare is simple in its preparation, but rich and deep in flavor. The lunch menu consists mostly of quiches, salads and sandwiches, but the real standout is that old married couple at the bottom of the menu: the Croque Madame ($6.90) and Croque Monsieur ($5.90). The Monsieur enhances an already delicious ham and Gruyere sandwich with a silky and rich béchamel sauce; the Madame takes it a step further, adding a perfect sunny-side-up fried egg atop this now-mountain of deliciousness. The yolk and the béchamel create a perfect storm of overpowering richness, which can, in some undocumented cases, bring one to sandwich nirvana. Clafoutis also offers a solid French onion soup, all served with such friendliness that you’ll feel like a native—even if you’re just going in to pick up some of their plentiful pastries. Clafoutis, je t’aime. (CJ)


402 Guadalupe St., 988-1809
Breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday. No alcohol.  $$


La Cocina de Doña Clara

Front: Chile en Nogada; back: Mole de Olla

 


This year, fans of Doña Clara’s straight-outta-Chihuahua recipes got a treat when the chef expanded her authentic Mexican restaurant to a downtown location. The new location’s vibrantly painted walls are adorned with sombreros, serapes and a traditional Mexican papel picado. Doña Clara’s food is fried and greasy—one step up from many of the trustworthy Mexican food trucks in the southern half of town. But don’t take that as a reason to avoid it—Doña Clara’s food is perhaps the closest you can get to experiencing real Mexican cuisine, all for a more than reasonable price. Just $30 will buy two Mexican Coca-Colas (more natural-tasting than the American version), chips and salsa, queso fundido (a bowl of melted cheese with chorizo and nopales) and two main dishes. Meat choices are vast and include Mexican staples such as lengua (cow’s tongue) and cabeza (skull meat). Try the tortas—sandwiches with a choice of meat packed with avocado, tomatoes and lettuce that come with a variety of salsas, including Doña Clara’s famed guacamole sauce. (JP)


4350 Airport Road, 473-1081; 227 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-6455
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; no dinner Tuesday. No alcohol.  $


Jambo Café

Piri Piri: shrimp in East African hot sauce with organic curried quinoa, sweet potatoes and sugar peas

 


If you happen to find Jambo Café, located inconspicuously in the retail center off St. Michael’s Drive and Cerrillos Road, and during the course of the meal a server with a big grin asks how you’re doing, don’t take it as a platitude. He wants to know how you are doing, and once that’s established, he will return to inform you the chewy goat you’ve been picking out of the goat stew likely spent its formative years on a farm in Taos, and that Jambo buys local whenever possible—even though the restaurant pitches its menu as anything but local. Aside from the goat stew, though, American palates won’t be too surprised by the African homestyle cuisine—much of which is accompanied with rice and lentils—but for the tasty spices and seasoning. The crispy plantains are dusted with cinnamon, for instance, while the marinade sets the jerk chicken sandwich, served on pita bread, apart. You’ll really be able to tell the server you’re doing well if you get the Moroccan Lamb Stew, served with chickpeas, raisins and curried couscous topped with chutney. And the lamb, the server might note, is from New Mexico. (Justin Horwath)


2010 Cerrillos Road, 473-1269
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.  $$


Kohnami

Cherry blossom

 


For those moments when we crave a little self-deception—when we’d like to pretend that we dwell in the land of fresh fish and swampy rice fields—we may take ourselves to Kohnami, a Japanese-style dining experience, inside and out. Inside, we find sushi chefs rolling a variety of fish and vegetables into white rice and seaweed tunnels. We find the atmosphere that we come to expect in a Japanese restaurant—dimmed lights, close quarters and the sweet, starchy smell of tempura, rice and noodles. Outside, so that we do not become confused and forget that we are, in fact, in the desert, Kohnami offers ample seating and a waterfall. The fish is fresh, the service is quick, the miso is salty and the sauces are sweet and abundant. And then, of course, there is the green chile tempura and, even, a green chile tempura roll: a taste of Japan in Santa Fe, a taste of Santa Fe in sushi. This must be the land of enchantment. (MRC)


313 S Guadalupe St., 984-2002
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.  $$


The Palace Restaurant & Saloon

Polenta fries

 


A confession: Most of the people I know who frequent The Palace—and that includes most of the people I know—go there for the drinks. This means two things: first, that the drinks are fantastic; second, that we’re rarely on the “other” side of the historic saloon, in the well-appointed, white-tableclothed restaurant that tends to attract better-heeled patrons than we may ever be. But that’s not to say we don’t eat the food (and, on occasion, cross over to the restaurant side)—and it’s delicious. Dinner entrées are creative, reasonably priced and uniformly tasty, with intriguing specialties such as the red-chilefied Steak Norteño ($22) and the locally sourced lamb curry ($18). But it’s in the “saloon fare” menu that The Palace truly shines, with a delightfully gourmet take on such favorites as sliders (two for $9, made with local, organic beef) and meatloaf (buffalo and bacon-wrapped, $16). We look forward to new chef Ryan Gabel’s concoctions and—well, to many more excellent sips, bites and good times shared. (AS)


142 W Palace Ave., 428-0690
Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday.  $$$


Pizza Centro

The TriBeCa pizza

 


Santa Fe has a respectable variety of pizza options, but it is surprisingly difficult to find a truly great slice. Enter Pizza Centro, one of the newer competitors in the local pizza game. Their stripped-down décor and laid-back style (seriously, where else are you going to hear ’90s-era Moby?) makes it feel like the place fell through some sort of dimensional vortex in New York City and rematerialized in the Design Center. Their dough is pliant and flavorful, their sauce is just the right balance of acid and sweet, and their toppings are unmatched in freshness. They also have a strikingly large amount of signature pies that can satisfy your more adventurous pizza cravings. The Chelsea is a glorious combination of sausage, homemade meatballs, bacon, onion and green pepper. The whole package tends to cause a chronic case of topping slide-off, but even in a weird little pile of gooey cheese and hot toppings, Pizza Centro is unreasonably delicious. (CJ)


Santa Fe: Design Center, 418 Cerrillos Road, 988-8825. Lunch and dinner daily.  $$
Eldorado: Agora Center, 7 Avenida Vista Grande, Ste. D7, 466-3161. Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday.  $$


Raaga

Ancho amchur-crusted tandoori chicken with rice and naan

 


The terms “fine dining” and “buffet” might seem like polar opposites, but chef Paddy Rawal has done the unthinkable by merging the two at Raaga, the Bollywood jewel on the culinary crown that is Agua Fria Street. “My parents realized at an early age that the first floor was empty,” Rawal jokes, pecking at his head, explaining that they knew he’d never be a great doctor or lawyer. “So they told me: ‘Do whatever it is you want to do in life, but do it with passion.’” The result of the Mumbai native’s personal and professional journey is stamped all over Raaga’s menu, from the gluten-free pappadum and the fresh-off-the-tandoor olive oil naan, perfectly flecked with rosemary, to delightfully balanced entrees like the Bombay fish masala ($17.95) and the lamb vindaloo. “I don’t overdo spices so they don’t clash in the mouth,” Rawal says. “They never clash, but rather reveal themselves in stages.” Perfect for the beginner is the aforementioned lunch buffet—a symphony of flavor and color that at $9.95 will leave you feeling like a regular maharajah. (EL)


544 Agua Fria St., 820-6442
Lunch and dinner daily.  $$


Revolution Bakery

Crusty boule bread

 


A sign on the door warns you from the beginning: Revolution Bakery is 100 percent gluten-free. (For those of you who haven’t yet joined the gluten-free craze, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.) Patrons, however, don’t have to be “GF”: Revolution makes a chocolate-chip cookie to give even the glutenous ones a run for their money. In addition to regular bakery fare—cookies, bread, muffins, scones and lemon bars, to name just a few—Revolution also serves up delicious and affordable lunch offerings that can be tailored to any dietary requirement. A roasted tempeh sandwich is warm and hearty; there are also pizzas, salads and a BLT. The restaurant itself occupies an inviting space just off Cerrillos Road, with large windows to let in the sun, fresh flowers on the wooden tables and a friendly, laid-back staff. Chalkboards list the relevant initialisms (GF = gluten-free; GFDF = dairy-free; GFSOYF = gluten- and soy-free), and provide space for customers to submit a “wish list” (which, when SFR went, included “Come to Westlake, TX” and “Croissants!”). (AS)


1291 San Felipe Ave., 988-2100
Monday-Friday 8 am-6 pm; Saturday 8 am-4 pm. No alcohol.  $


San Q

Yellowtail tartare

 


Here’s a bit of trivia: In 1945, before the first atomic bomb was tested in Alamogordo, such bombs were rumored to have been temporarily parked along Burro Alley. So when Sang Gyoo Park opened his Japanese pub on Burro Alley, he noted on the restaurant’s website—under the title “San Q Very Much”—that the restaurant “proudly serves Japanese tapas, including fire steaks and sake bombs in memory of these events.” Although Park—whose first name provides the inspiration for the restaurant’s moniker—has distinguished himself with Kohnami (see page 41), San Q is a special treat. In the summer, diners can enjoy $2 pints and “japas”—Japanese tapas—during happy hour on the patio. Inside, trickling fountains and tatami-style seating on elevated platforms with low tables create a peaceful backdrop for sampling menu options ranging from sushi and noodle dishes to the “Heart Attack” ($9): deep-fried jalapeños stuffed with a spicy tuna mix and cream cheese. Service is friendly and patient—even if you want to stay all day. (AS)


32 Burro Alley, 992-0304
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, dinner Sunday. $$


Shibumi Ramenya

Traditional kyushu ramen

 


If you’re craving some authentic ramen, Shibumi’s the place to go. One signature dish of the Japanese joint, located just off of Johnson Street, is the tonkotsu soup with roasted kurobuta pork and vegetables. The dish, priced at $14, comes in a heaping bowl and is preferably eaten with chopsticks and a giant wooden spoon. The broth, which tastes like a thin, meaty gravy, reportedly takes 50 hours to prepare—and its density alone is more than enough to feed a starving belly. Three thick-cut pork strips resembling fancy bacon adorn the top of the bowl, which also contains an array of noodles and veggies. The noodles taste like—well, ramen noodles. But at every dining table is a choice of white pepper, gluten-free soy sauce, chili oil and a container of spices to zest up the meal if need be. The restaurant is small and patrons are free to eat at the bar, where the cooks diligently prepare the meals. Sake is available to calm the nerves and comes to roughly $10 a drink. Gochisou-sama. (JP)


26 Chapelle St., 428-0077
Dinner Monday-Saturday.  $$


Swiss Bakery Pastries & Bistro

Front: French toast (homemade brioche and caramel sauce, fresh berries and creme chantilly); back: mocha éclair, strawberry tart, lemon tart, chocolate éclair, mixed berry fruit tart

 


Beat the breakfast crowd at Santa Fe’s Swiss Bakery Pastries & Bistro, and you’ll feel even more like Germanic royalty being served in Santa Fe’s latest bakery and café. The morning light and soft jazz will quietly bounce off the white walls to create a veritably cinematic ambience. A swift delivery of smooth, organic coffee, accompanied by cookies and velvety creamer inside a small pitcher will heighten your anticipation for the fare—and perhaps your sense of importance in this little fairytale of a meal. The Signature Swiss Crepe—thin batter wrapped around two free-range eggs and chunks of smoked ham, fused by Gruyere cheese—is an exercise in indulgence; you’ll easily ignore the patrons hustling in for a quick coffee and fresh pastry to go. Don’t make the mistake of attacking the sweet, creamy, chocolatey, utterly overstuffed éclair without utensils, as it may collapse before you in a triumphant celebration of decadence. (JH)


401 S Guadalupe St., 988-1111
Breakfast and lunch daily; dinner Thursday-Saturday.  $$


Taberna La Boca

Chistorra: Basque sausage on a roll

 


La Boca chef James Campbell Caruso’s latest venture in Spanish cuisine, Taberna La Boca offers a more casual, laid-back take on tapas. The courtyard restaurant serves food until 11 pm, and an array of wine and tapas sits waiting atop a long, wooden bar, where customers stop in to sip wine and sample the Spanish snacks. If you’re seeking a quick bite, try the assorted “cold tapas” menu: They’re ready-made and delicious, ranging from a simple plate of Spanish olives to the exquisitely constructed boquerones con romesco, two slices of crusty bread topped with earthy romesco sauce and deliciously salty white anchovies. Hot tapas take slightly longer, but are still fairly quick; the chistorra (Basque sausage served on a bun) is salty and intriguing, while the gambas a la plancha ($12)—four perfectly seasoned grilled jumbo shrimp—should not be missed. The wine list is similarly simple but inclusive, with a focus on Spanish bottles; servers
are attentive and happy to make recommendations. (AS)


125 Lincoln Ave., Ste. 117, 983-2425
Lunch and dinner daily; brunch Saturday and Sunday. $$


Tomme

Lemon smoked trout salad

 


Tomme is a type of cheese—semi-soft, French and nutty. What’s more important here, though, is that it’s also a restaurant—and you know that any restaurant named for cheese is going to be good. Tomme is the brainchild of local restaurateur Maria “Max” Renteria, formerly of Max’s, who recently brought on renowned local chef Joseph Wrede, formerly of Joseph’s Table in Taos. The marriage of their talents has produced a fascinating, if yet-to-fully-coalesce, exercise in taste and innovation. Under Wrede’s direction, Tomme’s new menu ranges from the traditional—duck l’orange, New York strip, mixed-greens salad—to the more surprising, with offerings like a floral lavender risotto (served with shrimp for a $19 entrée) and the refreshing lemon smoked trout salad (pictured, $12). Portion size is good, service is attentive, the wine list is deftly chosen and the atmosphere is at once refined and relaxing. If you’re not in the mood for an entire meal, saunter out to the patio and recline with a glass of wine—and, if you’ve been very good, treat yourself to an incomparable flourless chocolate torte, served with edible flowers and crème fraîche. (AS)


229 Galisteo St., 820-2253
Dinner Monday-Saturday.  $$$


Tune-Up Café

Fruit-compote-stuffed French toast

 


If you’re looking for the most contemporarily homey version of New Mexican cuisine (with a little Salvadoran food thrown in for good measure), Tune-Up Café is for you. An array of tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner options and a fascinating bevy of specials are served in a cozy shared-table atmosphere (you’ll make new friends!) that’s peppered with low-key touches (cups of their delicious soups are served in thrift-store coffee mugs). One particular special, which simply must be made part of the regular menu, is the Pollo Pibil—tender, slow-roasted chicken marinated in achiote paste, citrus and spices—which is, quite simply, the best meal I’ve ever had. That isn’t to say that Tune-Up’s other offerings aren’t stellar; they are. In particular, the tasty Salvadoran breakfast comes with eggs al gusto, refried black beans and a chile relleno that’s as close to perfect as you can get in this town; and while most of the items seem rather lunchy, the whole thing really does function as a satisfying and appropriate breakfast. As a recent bonus, Tune-Up now also serves beer and wine for lunch and dinner patrons. (CJ)


1115 Hickox St., 983-7060
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$


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