The Beestro was once an essential lunchtime spot, operating like a food truck with a permanent location, since everything was made offsite in a commissary kitchen with the intention of selling out a limited quantity of items daily. It served up budget-friendly but still healthy lunchables at a little hole in the wall spot on Marcy Street sandwiched (no pun intended) between Design Warehouse and a boutique called Mira which, along with The Beestro, shuttered its doors in late February. I remember it well because I ate there often, thrilled to have the rare downtown Santa Fe lunch under $10 that was quick, fresh and delicious. The staff were friendly, the lunch options quirky and varied—things like two giant rice noodle and herb spring rolls with poke sauce, or a pressed Cubano and an array of hearty salads with richly varied layers of vegetables—and its closure was like a knife to the heart, not to mention the stomach.

So while I was absolutely thrilled to hear of its reopening in the San Francisco Street mall known as the Plaza Galeria, in a space formerly occupied by a Subway, I was skeptical about its completely revamped menu, which now focuses specifically on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food; those spring rolls were like crack to a Plaza-adjacent working girl like me. But in a meeting with chef and owner Greg Menke, my fears subsided.

"I felt like the falafel and salads were the real high points of the menu," he muses. "I talked to a lot of people in the sandwich business, and they all said the same thing—people definitely are eating differently now, especially when they work. They want clean proteins, more vegetables and less bread."

Thus, the new menu features several entrees that serve as various iterations of fresh, sky-high mountains of vegetables: carrot ribbons, pickled turnips, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, grilled eggplant, quinoa tabouleh, beets, cabbage and red onion come loaded on a plate of farmer's market fresh greens. Customers can choose from a pita ($6.95), salad or rice plate (each $9.95). The main proteins, available at an additional cost ranging from $1 to $3, are consistent between the dishes and include falafel, chicken or steak shawarma, lamb gyro and salmon skewers. There are also bowls or cups ($4.95 or $3.50, respectively) of red lentil kabocha or green chile chicken meatball soup, and sides of hummus or baba ghanoush ($5.95) served with two fluffy pitas. Ordering can be done either in person or online at
thebeestro.com.

I sampled the chicken shawarma salad with all the vegetable fixings, slathered in a turmeric tahini sauce and topped with feta. I also got a side of hummus with pita bread, so I could dip my pita in the hummus and load each bite up with vegetables. The meat was tender and had a subtle earthy spice to it, and the vegetables provided satisfying texture and crunch. It was a refreshing lunch and, in keeping with the spirit of the former Beestro, a radical departure from anything else I could find on the crowded summer streets of Santa Fe's Plaza area.

And while Cleopatra Café, Pyramid Café and Milad serve up similar fare across Santa Fe, finding a salad-heavy shawarma anywhere in town is a nice change of pace. Menke says he has always nurtured a deep appreciation for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.

"I lived in that part of the world for three years in [the '90s]," Menke reminisces. "I was in Greece and traveled through Turkey and Lebanon and the Middle East, so I'm really familiar with it—and it fascinates me, the anthropology of what and how people eat and where foods come from. And I just thought there wasn't anyone in town doing this type of Middle Eastern food, considering where we source our ingredients and the kind of pita bread we use."

Their traditional Arabic bread is "a little fluffier than the 1980s-style pocket pita with tuna and sprouts in it. In Palestine and Israel, this is the type they use," Menke adds. "We get it delivered fresh every day." The bread is made by Neda Abweh, the wife of Alex Abweh, owner of Samsville Gallery, also in the Plaza Galeria. She recently opened up a small Albuquerque-based bakery called Neda Pita.

My lunch's pita was fresh and warm, much like the falafel, and I consider this an improvement over the previous items at the former Beestro which needed to be reheated on site. As for the ingredients, Menke is firm in his conviction to source organic and pesticide-free when possible from regional farmers, notably greens from SunGreen Living Foods, pistachio nuts from Heart of the Desert, lamb from Colorado and honey from nearby beekeepers. Additionally, The Beestro has always steered clear of artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup and MSG.

So while I am going to miss those spring rolls, I can't fault The Beestro for continuing in its mission to service the working class who deal with Santa Fe's tourist trade. "I've always tried to build my reputation on speed and consistency," Menke affirms. "And the quality of the food; most of my customers are locals who work downtown and come in on their breaks and needed that lunch five minutes ago. The menu is streamlined, but still focused on local, fresh food. Everything comes out much more quickly, but that much has stayed the same."

The Beestro
Plaza Galeria, 66 E San Francisco St., 983-0218
Open 10 am-4 pm Monday-Saturday