After an SFR staffer repeatedly espoused the comfy environs and tasty food of High Desert, the café within newly-minted hotel The Mystic Santa Fe (2810 Cerrillos Road, (505) 471-7663), it kept gnawing at me. People don’t seem to have caught wind of the place in earnest just yet, she said, so it has been a breeze to snag a table for breakfast or lunch or cocktails.
A couple weeks later, my companion and I found ourselves inside High Desert, a space that would resemble a TikTok influencer’s feed if they’d existed in the ‘50s and ‘60s and had a subscription to the old Southwest magazine. And we were the only people there. Sadly, we’d missed the breakfast menu by about an hour (they serve it until noon), but a small yet varied lunch menu (which we later learned also serves as the dinner menu) softened that blow.
Married couple Amanda Tucker and Rick Goldberg purchased and renovated the old Silver Saddle Motel. While they have achieved a certain type of aesthetic that doesn’t entirely resemble my own experience of Santa Fe and the broader region, their establishment will absolutely appeal to the type of person who owns a particular type of hat and who just loves to laugh loud while tossing back an arugula salad before their big day at Meow Wolf. The Mystic and High Desert probably look quite nice splashed across an Instagram story, and that’s likely the entire point.
High Desert has what I lovingly, if jokingly, refer to as a faux-Southwestern stab at decor—minimalist white walls with pale pink plates on the tables and thick cloth napkins (no complaints on that last item). In one room, a fresco featuring a snake and stars looms large, and the entryway boasts framed illustrations bearing vaguely Indigenous-looking designs. The Mystic and its High Desert will feel at least a little familiar to regular patrons of the El Rey Court and its bar La Reina just up the street.
Oh, I could get into the white walled/beige-ily appointed flair and sun-soaked appeal that makes visitors from the big city drool over a hotel like this, but our sojourn was solely about food, and Tucker and Goldberg actually seem to be onto something in their little café. The dining area at High Desert is quite comfortable, what we might call adorable, and though our server announced she was still getting the hang of things, I mostly found it endearing that she’d be so real with us. She nailed it, too, both in terms of attitude and consistency. Yes, we were the only people in there at the time, but she struck a smart balance between light humor and knowledge without hovering or steering into overbearing. Someone should give her a raise or something.
The lunch/dinner menu kind of nails it, as well, including with its punny names such as the Meat Me in Santa Fe sandwich with ham, roasted chile and crispy onions served betwixt melty queso ($16) and the Well Peared flatbread with goat cheese, roasted pears and fig jam beneath honey and pistachios ($22). If those prices seem a little high for a small café tucked into a roadside hotel, that’s fair, but the meal proved well worth the cost by the end.
My companion zeroed in on the Pig in a Panini sandwich with roasted pear, bacon, fig jam, honey, arugula and goat cheese ($16), while I waffled between the other two flatbread options: The Meat Up with pomodoro sauce, ham, salami, prosciutto and mozzarella ($22), or the Daytripper with goat cheese, wild mushrooms, green chile and a balsamic reduction ($20). Prosciutto won in the end, though, and we rounded out the meal with the nachotes appetizer ($15)—basically elote on tortilla chips, only with not quite enough corn.
Even so, the nachotes were a real stunner, from the spicy queso and generous avocado sections to the thick crunch of the chips. The Meat Up flatbread was no slouch, either, even if the salami flavor drowned out the prosciutto a bit; the pomodoro was tangy and delicious, though, and the dish was not over-sauced. The panino also wowed in its fig jam/goat cheese glory. Don’t get me wrong—the bacon was tasty, but something about the textures of fig and goat cheese, not to mention their contrasting sweet and savory flavors, just works. Kudos to the chef.
Lastly, we ordered up a quartet of churros with one end dipped in Oreo crumbles, presumably during the baking process—otherwise I’ve no idea how they’d adhere. This dessert came paired with a scoop of rich chocolate ice cream and a side of thick yet melty spicy ganache from Kakawa Chocolate House ($14). I’ve had many a churro in Santa Fe, and barring those from Gerardo Garcia’s Churro Bar, these were the most expertly executed and tasty, plus they were fun to dip.
Now, our server mentioned our visit happened during only the second week for many of these lunch/dinner items, so consider this a period of flux. Even so, we left delighted with the entire meal, even if the sticker shock felt all too real. In reality, I’ll probably struggle mentally with the design of the place, but if they continue down this foodservice road with similar options and creativity in the future, I’ll just suck it up in the name of a kickass sandwich or flatbread.