San Francisco Street Bar & Grill is back, thank goodness, and the CHOMP food hall gets in the game

Many readers out there will know precisely whom I mean when I say my party received killer service from legendary Santa Fe server Bob—aka Ernie Bob—during a recent visit to the reopened San Francisco Street Bar & Grill. No one knows the man’s last name for sure; no one has ever seen him outside of a restaurant; I’m pretty sure he just emerged from the mist one day many years ago.

Regardless, seeing his beaming face at the newly-resurrected Plaza restaurant the other night was auspicious—we knew whatever else happened, he would take good care of us. And so he did.

But let’s backtrack just a little bit: Yes, friends, San Francisco Street Bar & Grill (50 E San Francisco St., (505)982-2644) has reopened after shuttering in March 2020 thanks to the stupid pandemic. Founder Rob Day (also of the former Santa Fe Bar & Grill at the De Vargas Center, which has since, of course, become Dr. Field Goods) had always been a stalwart purveyor of affordable food, so the deal was tragic; especially so after the upstairs eatery became another link in the Lone Spur Café chain, which also counts locations in Arizona and Colorado. Santa Fe diners never really warmed to that place, though, so it closed last year to little, if any, concern from the townsfolk. As of late-October, however, former multi-decade San Francisco Street Bar & Grill employees Victor Medina, Carlos Rivas and Sergio Sanchez have taken over and reopened the good ol’ San Francisco Street Bar & Grill, and it’s actually worth climbing all those stairs again.

We went as a three-top just before the dinner rush, and after a couple of well-mixed rum and Cokes ($11), we felt brave enough to peruse the large menu.

Some items are familiar, like the Galisteo grilled cheese ($11.50), which Bob touted as, “probably the best grilled cheese you’ll ever have.” We ordered it, more on that in a sec. Other items were new, at least to us, such as the lemon chicken asado—a half roasted chicken served with sides of fries and Greek salad, plus a mushroom marsala sauce ($18). The specials were enticing across the board as well, and the final member of our party couldn’t resist the pork scallopini dish with fresh pasta, broccoli and pork medallions ($17).

We started with coconut shrimp, a sextet of brilliantly fried little shrimpies that covered all the best texture bases: crispy, crunchy, tender—and flavorful, too. As amuses go, this one amused us big time, and by the time our entrees arrived, everyone was ravenous.

That grilled cheese? Absolutely the best we’ve had anyplace. Served on black bread, it’s a triumph of different cheeses with a bright pesto explosion. The pork scallopini wowed in the pasta department, though the pork itself was a little greasy and short on flavor. Oh, it was by no means bad, but perhaps a little bit of garlic would have done the trick. Even so, it was cooked well and that’s not nothing. The lemon chicken asado easily impressed us the most with its fall-off-the-bone tenderness and complex melange of flavors. The mushroom marsala added a rich flavor against the citrusy zest of the chicken. Not only that, but fries and salad in one dish? Phenomenal! I wound up sated with carbs but also felt like I deserved a little treat for finishing the medley of cucumbers, onions, lettuce and feta.

We closed with desserts including the adobe mud pie—coffee ice cream with an Oreo crust and chocolate throughout ($8), the Mexican flan ($8) and a pair of housemade cannoli ($9). The cannoli looked the most beautiful, but the dough was a little too thick. Cannoli should be flaky; this was not that. The flan was tasty though, according to its taste tester: not too yolky, not too slimy. The adobe mud pie won the night, because Oreos mortared together are an awesome thing any way you slice it.

Just think, too—the new San Francisco Street Bar & Grill has only been open for a couple months, and our first trip back was a pound-for-pound winner. Here’s hoping the doors stay open for years and the food gets better and better. Here’s hoping Bob Siebert understands how much the town loves him.

New Year, New CHOMP

People ask me all the time what’s up with the CHOMP food hall inside Luna, the adorable little center at 505 Cerrillos Road that also houses places like the New Mexico Hard Cider Taproom, Ohori’s, Radish & Rye and such. Full disclosure? I’ve talked as much shit as anybody about the place: When were they going to have more than a restaurant or two? Why did chef Randy Tapia’s Poki Tako have to leave when his citrus salmon bowl was so good? When can I get a really dope-ass pizza?

Well, it turns out proprietor Ken Joseph understands all those concerns—but give the guy a break because he opened during freaking COVID-19. Besides, have you been by CHOMP lately? It’s now packed with all kinds of things, from the pan-Asian excellence of the steadfast and popular Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine; to the growing and evolving cheese, charcuterie and sandwiches of Picnic NM; and newly-minted offerings from businesses including Santa Fe BBQ, Yapopup, Oshia’s Pizza and Wild Leaven Bakery. CHOMP is finally becoming what Joseph envisioned all along.

“Obviously we struggled to get there in terms of consistency and atmosphere, but now it’s going really, really well,” he tells SFR. “I feel like we’re finally approaching the quality that has been the dream, and I just want to credit my wife Lisa Tomaro, who has completely transformed the place.”

Hard agree. CHOMP has a pool table now and often feels bustling with life (not least of which thanks to the full bar). Food-wise, a recent 10-inch caprese pizza from Oshia’s, for example, was not only a delight of fresh mozzarella, vinaigrette glaze and perfectly ripened tomatoes, it was a scant $17 and fed two people with ease.

Could my experience at Santa Fe BBQ have been better? Absolutely. After hoping that the business’ many years of experience in the truck would transfer to the food hall, I can say they’re not quite there yet, but I’ll give them another chance for sure once they’re a little more settled. Patrons basically bombard Nath anytime she’s open and I must give a shoutout to Lauren Stutzman at Picnic NM for being the hardest working woman in local cheese. CHOMP also hosts live music, holds wine workshops with the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta Production Director Greg O’Byrne each month and is one of the few places downtown where it’s not always a nightmare to find parking. In summation, consider me fully onboard at this point. Give it another shot if you haven’t in a while.

“We’re always thinking forward,” Joseph adds. “We just want to be known for good food and good atmosphere.”

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