New Times Two

Breakfast and dinner—St. Mike’s corridor style

Though no one was particularly excited when Midtown eatery Loyal Hound closed its doors last year, no one—at least in my own sphere—was particularly shocked or saddened. The pandemic made fools of us all, and some places simply couldn’t weather the storm.

Second Street Brewery closing its flagship location on its namesake street in 2022 after 20-ish years, however, was a bit of a gut-punch, both because everyone just kind of liked the place and because it had been there forever. Its closure felt almost like a certain type of punctuation mark; another sad change to the Santa Fe locally-owned business-scape that highlighted how rapidly things seem to be changing around here.

In both cases, though, local diners ought to feel a little relief: With Casa Solana Mexican/New Mexican joint Valentina’s opening a second location in the old Loyal Hound and freshly-minted Casa Bonita taking over the old Second Street, it would at least appear that the Santa Fe restaurant scene continues to be most enticing outside of downtown. So, naturally, I visited both on the same day to get the lay of the land.

We began with breakfast at Casa Bonita (1814 Second St., (505) 365-2172), where a quartet of new and familiar faces have transformed the once beer-and-music-soaked paradise (that’s meant in a good way) into a bright and cheerful all-day affair. Opened just recently by Luis Ortiz, formerly of La Fogata Grill and currently also of La Piña Loka food truck; alongside the New Baking Co.’s Filiberto Ortiz; Andale Taqueria’s Geraldo Rodriguez; and ownership newcomer/manager Mayra Gonzales, Casa Bonita heralds not just great news for people who work in the area (like the SFR staff)—it’s great news for people who want breakfast all day.

The menu is packed with both expected dishes—breakfast burritos and tortilla burgers ($11.99; $15.25), stuffed sopaipillas and huevos rancheros ($14.99; $12.99)—plus a number of items that might come as a surprise, such as chicken fried steak with eggs ($16.99); and a Navajo taco ($14.50); plus an array of salads ($9.25-$13.95); liver and onions ($14.25); breakfast items like waffles/pancakes/French toast (8.25-$12.99); and dinner items served after 2:30 pm, such as pastas, ribs, schnitzel and…dang, this menu is pretty huge.

OK, so maybe some of those items aren’t shocking, but how many times have you been someplace that isn’t Denny’s with friends when one person wanted a burger while another person wanted French toast, and how often were you able to make that work?

In fact, my dining companion was so pumped at the prospect of a chicken-fried steak with sunny-side up eggs that he eschewed his original plan for a traditional breakfast of eggs, toast and bacon and went nuts on that steak. For my own part, I’m always on the lookout for a solid breakfast burrito, so that’s precisely what I ordered ($11.99).

Both dishes arrived fast thanks to the quick and friendly service. In the kitchen, we could hear the workers joking and bustling about; it’s always nice to hear laughter coming from a restaurant’s nerve center, too. Casa Bonita’s waitstaff is, perhaps, a little eager to make a good impression given that we’re in the midst of those fateful early days, but our water never went dry, and we very much appreciated the casual and not overbearing tone set from the start.

Maybe they were extra confident as well because of the most excellent breakfast burrito. Casa Bonita’s red chile is none too spicy, but its flavor profile on the day we visited was nothing short of staggering. This one’s a little thick, just how it should be, and the option to have pinto beans or potatoes akin to home fries—or both, which is just what I did—is small but so nice. Not only that, but Casa Bonita doesn’t skimp on the bacon, and rather than tossing a few bits into one side of the tortilla, they prepared it within the scrambled eggs themselves. The insides went all the way to each edge of the burrito, too, a much appreciated tactic which has been sorely lacking in local breakfast burritos in my recent experience.

The chicken-fried steak made for a fantastic if heavy breakfast, too. A thin bit of meat, it was seasoned and breaded quite well for just the right amount of crispiness. Using small bites to break and absorb and eat the egg yolks was also most satisfying. And so we ate to our contentment, and not just because you get free chips and salsa the moment you’re seated.

Casa Bonita will reportedly stay open from 7 am-9 pm every single day, which means a Midtown resident or worker will always have something close at hand that promises to be satisfying and affordable, and served by friendly people. No downside.

Of course, one does get hungry later in the day, too, which proved a timely opportunity to check out the new Valentina’s Dos (730 St. Michael’s Drive, (505) 416-8097) from Santa Fe’s Aboytes family. Of the family’s original spot in Casa Solana, I wrote in 2022, “Valentina’s is worth a trip anytime,” after a friend practically insisted we dine there in deference to its being their father’s favorite spot to visit when he’s in town. And just like its original restaurant, Valentina’s Dos is a winner.

For those who’ve dined at Loyal Hound with any sort of regularity, it’s a mite bizarre stepping into the old haunt and knowing you can’t get a chicken and waffle or pork sliders, but Valentina’s Dos has already begun to carve out its own identity. The menu will quite likely read as familiar to anyone who has dined at the original location, but seeing as how the restaurant is technically new, my companion for dinner (a different human than the breakfast person) and I decided we’d try items we’d never had on Alameda Street.

She chose the combination plate with a pork tamale, cheese enchilada with red and a shredded beef taco. “Y’know, so I can try a few things,” she said. I, meanwhile, could not resist the siren call of chicken fajitas. Most times I find cooked bell peppers to be a nightmare of slimy texture and flavor that can’t compare with the tangy bite of the pepper raw; in fajitas, somehow, they work.

Valentina’s Dos fajitas ($21.50) did not disappoint, either, unless you count their not arriving on one of those sizzling pans that are so fun at other places. Of course, that’s secondary to flavor and value, and the Valentina’s Dos version has those things in spades. First off, you get a tortilla made in-house, our server noted, which made a huge difference for freshness and taste. Though I’m unsure there’s an incorrect way to absolutely demolish fajitas, I’ve always enjoyed making my own little burrito from the ingredients, and that’s precisely what I did. Because the kitchen staff at Valentina’s Dos knows what to do with chicken. Each bite was a tender bit of light meat bursting with an array of seasoning that not only highlighted the chicken itself, but worked well with the included beans and rice.

The combination plate was reportedly most excellent, too, even if my companion was like, “Hands off my taco, dude.” The red and green chile on this particular day were both incredibly spicy, but still very flavorful, making for one of those experiences where you’re kind of sweating and crying, but you’re still eating that chile because it tastes so good. As for that taco? “Nearly as good as El Parasol,” which is a wild thing to say, because those folks at Parasol have one of the best damn shredded beef tacos on the planet (yeah, I said it!). Of course, that’s a story for another Midtown breakfast or dinner. In the meantime, Valentina’s Dos deserves our patronage.

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