Downtown Pantry-ing

Pantry Rio surprises with excellent options

On one of the nicer evenings of the newly-arrived springtime gloriousness, a dining companion and I found ourselves facing that same old predicament: The one wherein neither party particularly agrees to a dining location, and the tenseness grows exponentially by the moment. In the end, and just before exchanging blows, we decided to grab sushi, because one almost never feels gross after eating sushi, and thus set off for the downtown area, still arguing over whether we’d visit Izmi or Kohnami.

Cut to 20 minutes later when, not to be outdone by our own plans, the people of Santa Fe and its visitors were out in droves, which meant a parking nightmare on nearly every street surrounding the Plaza, all the way over on Guadalupe Street and even the hidden little alleys down which only locals dare to drive. But then, there it was—a spot at the intersection of Alameda and Galisteo streets and, nearby, the mildly bustling action of the patio at The Pantry Rio (229 Galisteo St., (505-989-1919), the newest of the long-adored and locally owned New Mexican food empire with an ancient location on Cerrillos Road and a slightly newer one out toward the Santa Fe Community College.

“I have yet to eat here,” I said.

“I will kill you if we have to keep discussing it,” my companion retorted.

Approximately 40 seconds later, we’d already been greeted, seated and treated (by which I mean offered; we paid for it) with a trio of dips by way of the appetizer. The trio of dips with salsa, guacamole and queso—and I don’t mean just microwaved Velveeta, this was actual cheese—felt like a steal at $11.95. Even better, the chips were clearly made in-house, and other than the slight disappointment that came with learning they weren’t served hot, they were some of the most fresh and flavorful tortilla chips I’ve ever found in this one-horse town. Same goes for the guac, which came with just the right amount of diced tomato and onion, but somehow remained creamy and tasted brilliant when eaten in tandem with the other two dips.

For our main courses, I selected the most chile’d-out thing I could reasonably eat as a vegetarian, being the stuffed sopaipilla, Christmas, with a side of rice. Usually, the stuffed sopa comes stuffed with meat, and it’s worth noting Pantry Rio has a very meat-forward menu with items like fajitas ($17.99) and steaks ($18.99-$26.99), but I asked for all beans. Not only was it cool to do that, they’d knock $2 off the price. I didn’t even ask for that, and was thrilled that I paid $11.99 instead of $13.99, a small discount, sure, but one that almost means more because of the gesture.

My companion, meanwhile, thought long and hard before ultimately ordering the grilled salmon tacos with pico de gallo, cabbage and avocado ($14.50). Usually, they said, they don’t like fish tacos because of the whole fried fish thing. My recent Paloma review, however, swayed them (even though I explained that particular taco at Paloma totally came with fried fish). They didn’t care, and really latched onto the grilled part, and they announced upon completion of their meal that they’d never had a better-grilled bit of salmon anyplce, and with the side of rice and beans, it was a real winner.

By then we were beyond stuffed and asked for the check, but when a wily waiter passed by our table with a gargantuan piece of tres leches cake featuring a side of chocolate syrup, things changed.

“You could take it home,” he said, grinning in a way that still makes me think he’s the devil.

And so we did. And you know something? That tres leches cake ($6.75) could easily have fed three people, but I still ate it by myself.

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