While a plethora of restaurants surrounds the San Francisco Street area that features the Lensic Performing Arts Center—La Fogata, Boxcar, The Burger Stand, the Plaza, Thunderbird Bar & Grill and so forth—no small number of readers ask where they might dine when they plan to take in a show at downtown Santa Fe’s fanciest venue. Thanks to a number of other readers, the answer should include an additional contender: Ortiz (308 W San Francisco St., (505) 988-2811), the overlooked eatery at the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza (that’s its name, honest) deserves local love.
Of course, I write that like I’ve been hanging around inside the door over there asking entrants where they live, but also as someone who has been known to utter the phrase, “Oh, it’s a hotel restaurant? How good can it be?” Of course, in Santa Fe, with restaurants such as the Anasazi Restaurant & Bar at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, Julia at La Posada and Market Steer at Hotel St. Francis (though that last one will take over the old El Mesón on Washington Avenue at some point here), hotel dining options are pretty on point. And Ortiz stands right alongside them if not, frankly, a little bit above ‘em.
Enter the restaurant the long way through the hotel lobby on Sandoval Street or through the main door on San Francisco Street and find part of the former Ortiz compound named for one-time Santa Fean Nicholas Ortiz who, in 1664, walked from Mexico City to Santa Fe with several other families. We sat in the lounge, though there’s a large dining area as well.
As we sat down at a table with a straight shot view up San Francisco all the way up to the St. Francis Cathedral, my dining companion and I remarked how now that we’ve become teetotalers, it’s always nice to see creative non-alcoholic beverages on a menu. In our case, they were the blood orange mule ($14), a citrusy combo of blood orange, lemon and lime juices that usually comes with ginger beer but, seeing as they were out, came with a lavender syrup substitute that might even have bested ginger flavor. Our server Ryan was also very cool about the changeup by promising to deliver something good and then totally doing that.
Good thing we had those drinks, too, as the menu requires no small amount of studying: Ortiz has a succinct menu that also fits many palates. If you’d like a fine dining steak sort of dish, they’ve got you covered with options like a 14-ounce New York strip with a marsala demi and clarified butter ($35) or a 14-ounce ribeye served simply with butter and sea salt ($38). Ortiz also offers upscale bar food, like chicken wings ($15) and queso ($10), so one needn’t be a certified foodie to find something familiar.
We settled on the pulled pork flautas appetizer ($13), a divine marriage of Mexican execution and southern perfection that had a slightly fruity bent thanks to its grilled pineapple, cabbage and avocado crema. With the included chipotle salsa, this one would work as a straight-up meal for a lighter appetite. Our little two-top, though, was ravenous, so we also split the green chile cheese smashburger ($15). Served on a soft brioche bun, Ortiz’s version of the New Mexico classic brings the increasingly popular smashburger to a Santa Fe menu (seriously, I’ve not seen these anyplace else just yet, but don’t yell at me if you know of one, tell me nicely and I’ll go eat it). With two patties cooked to a satisfying medium, it worked well as a split dish, and the melty cheese inside stayed gooey while corralling the spicy yet flavorful green chile. As I write this the following afternoon, it’s all I can do to not drop everything and return for that burger.
But we weren’t done yet, not by a longshot. My companion also ordered the pepita-crusted salmon served with roasted potatoes and crispy kale over butternut squash and with a red chile glaze. Rightly so, she pointed out that when it comes to many a menu, “crusted” often means “with a boatload of pepper.” At Ortiz, the pepita (that’s squash seeds for the uninitiated) made a definitive crust that brought the texture of the salmon into a new arena. What a home run. I, meanwhile, remain a sucker for a well-cooked piece of pork and thus chose Ortiz’s pork ribeye (a term with which I was admittedly unfamiliar before our meal). The coincidentally yet delightfully-named chef Joshua Ortiz (no relation to the restaurant name, an employee later told me) completely changed how I’ll think about pork chops forever. Pork can sometimes end up rubbery, but not so here. It was practically melting and contained very little fat—just enough on one side to keep things interesting. Served atop garlic mashed potatoes with roasted carrots, generously huge caramelized onions and bits of chopped maple bacon, it boasted the sort of combination of flavors that both expands horizons yet feels homey and familiar. Let me put it this way: I’d just eaten flautas and half a burger, and I still devoured the dish like a prisoner facing their last meal.
Feeling wildly full but still curious, we closed the evening with a rather tasty cup of coffee from large-scale importer Royal Cup and the chocolate lava cake ($8), a hot and deeply delicious spongy cake from which molten chocolate goo spilled into the cold accompanying vanilla ice cream and the single sliced strawberry on top. And though we’d eaten far too much for two people, our bill only clocked in at around $115, which seemed more than fair given the gluttonous display to which we treated our stalwart server.
We left just one bite uneaten as we emerged back into the cold evening, not even caring that we’d both parked offsite to avoid the confusing lot at the Hilton. And though Ortiz might get rolled up with the Hilton brand when folks think of or mention it, it should most definitely be regarded as its own project. What a stunning feast of delights, what a hidden gem, what a burger.