Drop Anchor

All hail Puerto Peñasco—the reigning Southside seafood champ

Having vowed to dine on the Southside more often, I put the plan into action post-film screening alongside a reluctant buddy who almost had me convinced that, given the cold and snow, the drive was just a little too far. Once I’d vanquished his nay-saying nonsense, though, we found a new favorite restaurant well worth any drive, not to mention a worthy addition in Santa Fe’s weirdly myriad options for seafood.

I speak of Puerto Peñasco (4861 Airport Road, (505) 438-6622), that Airport Road mecca for fish and such founded 15 years ago by one Ruben Rodriguez and named for an unforgettable family vacation. In the before times, when we’d all gather freely to sit right next to other humans, SFR even hosted a Secret Supper event at Rodriguez’s spot; in the now times, it remains an affordable destination with a staggering menu of delights. We took our time in scanning the options and wished we’d invited more diners to tag along—this one has so many choices and chances to share, it’s a real pity we couldn’t order more. No matter, though, because I know I’ll return again. After all, who doesn’t love a restaurant that includes fries with pretty much everything?

Right off the bat, Puerto Peñasco’s decor is so much nicer than its exterior implies. No, I don’t believe restaurants must inhabit standalone buildings built ages ago, nor do I believe every place I ever eat requires minimalist white walls and the staid air of a mausoleum. Even in the midst of last weekend’s frigid temps, we found a warm and bright space enlivened by numerous tables full of other patrons also braving the stubborn ice and snow that just won’t melt. The walls are a pleasing blue with various art pieces hung at intervals; the staff greeted us quickly and kindly—no wait, it turned out, and a comfortable booth to boot.

Scanning the menu proved the most difficult task of the experience, as Rodriguez’s nearly countless Mexican dishes pretty much all sound enticing. An array of soups, for example ($10.45-$14.95), promised to warm our cores, and the massive list of appetizers looked to be meals unto themselves, from a tostada with shrimp, fish or octopus ($5.25) to the shareable plate of fish chicharrones ($11.95). Puerto Peñasco offers up free chips with salsa and a delicious avocado/sour cream sauce, though, and filling up on food before the main course seemed unwise. As I say, next time we’ll go in smarter with more mouths and more wallets; next time, we dine like kings!

We did make the tough decision, though, in selecting our entrees: tilapia fish tacos ($12.95) for me, the filete crema chipotle for my companion ($13.95). My own dish was an explosion of colors served across four tacos (most places only give you three!), fluffy rice with corn and the aforementioned fries. Before I ever took a bite, I was already in love. Digging in, however, proved that some things are even better than you imagine. The fish in each taco was crisp on the outside while tender yet firm on the inside, and the included lettuce, tomato and avocado slice came together to produce the most enjoyable combination of textures. Tossing a couple fries into the mix happily added more salt and fat between bites, plus a little bit of crunch.

I chose to share a taco, but I secretly resented my companion for it. Still, the sacrifice was worth the trade-off to sample his entree—whitefish smothered in a chipotle salsa cream sauce with similar side accoutrements to my own plate. Again, Puerto Peñasco’s kitchen clearly understands how best to cook fish, an especially challenging task given the potentially overpowering flavor of its chipotle sauce. The plate hit the mark, though, and the flavor and spice of the sauce never interfered with the flavor or mouthfeel of the fish. If anything, the richness of flavor recalled a more edgy Alfredo sauce, though with obvious Mexican cooking influence. I’m not sure I’ve seen this dish on another menu in Santa Fe, or anywhere, and one wonders if Rodriguez would share the recipe.

Puerto Peñasco serves up drinks, too, of course, and my companion’s michelada was reportedly the stuff of legend. Negro Modelo beer can taste just right at times; ditto the massive chilled goblet in which it came replete with a salted rim and just the right amount of hot sauce. I’ve always been vexed by micheladas, if I’m being real, but had I not been driving, I’d likely have had one or two myself. As it stands, we were so full by the time we completed our entrees that we couldn’t sample dessert. I’m coming back for you, though, flan (said in Carly Rae Jepsen voice)! Honestly, if I’d just listened to the people I know who swear by Puerto Peñasco, this whole dining more often on the Southside thing would’ve been a breeze. It’ll be hard to top, but I’ll just have to suck it up and try.

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