A recently introduced seasonal lunch menu at fine dining standard Eloisa surprisingly features what some consider a lowbrow standard: tacos. Ah, but these are tacos created by the award-winning chef John Sedlar. Being that a taco is basically no more than a tortilla filled with some sort of deliciousness or another, one had to wonder what kind of vision Sedlar had conjured for this handsy street food.
Lucky for us, when my dining pal and I popped into Eloisa during a bustling Monday lunch service, Chef Sedlar was making rounds about the airy space, so I got the chance to ask. (Santa Fe Mayor and obvious Power Luncher Alan Webber was also working the room.)
"The chefs in Santa Fe are just so amazing and represent New Mexico cooking so well that we thought it would be fun to try something different with the sandwich of the Southwest," said Sedlar. "Something dealing more with non-traditional fusion—sort of a 'no-rules' crossing of cultures with food." In other words: Chefs just wanna have fun!
Eloisa's new lunch menu currently offers 12 street taco options ranging from the traditional like al pastor, barbacoa and steak fajita tacos to the most decidedly not traditional, such as crawfish etouffee, BLT and even crab cake.
The al pastor pork tacos ($11) came in warm, slightly charred tortillas topped with chunks of juicy, well-cooked pork in a light mole. The measured seasoning allowed the taste of the pork to shine through and provided a fantastic smoky compliment to the sweet topping of plump, juicy grilled pineapple.
Thai shrimp tacos ($14) were presented in a crispy blue corn shell, which highlighted the bright colors of a purple cabbage and red bell pepper slaw, accented by verdant leaves of torn cilantro. On the side, a startling sauce made of freshly crushed peanuts brought a bit of a slow kick, harmonizing with the spice of expertly cooked and seasoned shrimp.
If you aren't lucky enough to have an abuela, the pocho fried tacos ($9) should make up for all the love and food you missed out on. "Pocho" is a Spanish slang term for someone who's left Mexico and become Americanized—and perhaps the English word for these tacos would be "leftovers"—the idea behind them being, "What do you have left in the fridge on a Sunday that you can put in a taco?" as explained by our server. These chewy half-moons were fried and filled with a silky mash of potatoes and garlic, served with a tangy tomatillo sauce. Held together with a clothespin, they conjured up images of enjoying leftovers with grandma while helping with weekend laundry.
On the other side of the pocho fence, we couldn't resist the cheeseburger tacos ($13) because, obviously, how much more Mexican-American can a taco get? The moist, fragrant tortilla held a nugget of rich, certified kobe beef, accented with green chile, cheddar and bacon, as well as a sprinkling of lettuce and chunks of juicy red tomato. "Like a slider on a tortilla!" exclaimed my dining companion.
The most surprising of the lot was the roasted squash and rainbow-colored beet tostada ($10), a crispy, charred tortilla topped with the aforementioned veggies and partnered with a purposefully mussed plop of mole. It took us a while to figure out an approach to eating this one. It turned out tearing the tortilla and using it to grab some veggies, then sliding the whole collection through the mole was the best course of action. Taken separately, the ingredients were confusing. The squash had a distinct, earthy seasoning we could not identify (perhaps black pepper and epazote? We couldn't get the kitchen to dish on the secret), while the beets were slightly pickled, earthy-sweet and overtly salty. As separates, they were a salty salad. Together, with the tortilla and mole, it made for an inspirational bite.
What elevates Eloisa's tacos from straightforward street tacos, and what these all had in common, was that the tortillas weren't just a delivery method for the food; they were the heart of it. Each taco was presented in its own style of tortilla, the different flavors and cooking methods chosen specifically to complement the contents. Whether dried, fried, steamed or charred, the tortillas were as finely curated as any local art gallery—which is no surprise, given that Eloisa's chefs worked directly with Percy Reano and his family of Santo Domingo Pueblo to plant and harvest corn that would deliver the flavors they desired.
Another thing that puts these on a pedestal above the common street taco was the excellence in seasoning. Many times, a taco is only as good as its sauce, whether it's the thickened marinade of a cochinita pibil or sriracha mayo on a fish taco. But what makes the best taco is when all of its individual ingredients are so brilliantly seasoned that none relies on the strength of another. It makes every bite beautiful.
Eloisa Drury Plaza Hotel, 228 Palace Ave., 982-0883 Lunch: 11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Friday; dinner: 5:30-10 pm daily; brunch: 11:30 am-2:30 pm Sunday