You know the warning not to bring a knife to a gunfight? There should be a food-related version: don’t bring New Yorkers or Chicagoans out for pizza — because odds are, they will spend the entire meal debating the food’s authenticity.
Chef Fernando Olea’s former Epazote on Agua Fria was a quaint, crowded place. His new location at the Hillside, on Old Las Vegas Highway, is something else again.
The Burro Alley Café seems to have everything going for it: location, a wonderful patio, a certain Franco-New Mexico feel that our other fine patisseries don’t quite manage. But it can be a frustrating place.
Georgia, helmed by former Luminaria executive chef Brett Sparman, is still getting its bearings, but it came out of the gate strong. The menu is solid, if unadventurous, but I’d rather have an exceptionally well-made classic dish than a cleverly conceived but sketchily executed experiment. The usual suspects are here — steaks, seafood, poultry, lamb, and a vegetarian dish.
The first Il Vicino opened in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill in the early 1990s. In the ensuing years, the restaurant has expanded to a minor empire of nine locations, including outposts in Kansas and Colorado. The Santa Fe branch is in a charming courtyard, where paths meander amid pretty but not overly lush landscaping and a few pieces of sculpture. It’s walking distance from a lot of neighborhoods and downtown destinations, which makes the name Il Vicino — “the neighbor” — seem particularly apropos.
Junction — with its team banners, emphasis on beer and cocktails, and a menu that lists nachos, wings, quesadillas, and other fan favorites — fits the sports bar criteria to a T. But the specials go beyond the usual sports-bar fare. How many places where fans gather to drink and cheer offer roasted duck, a beet and arugula salad, quinoa with squash and kale, and a caponata sandwich in addition to a bowl of steamed mussels, even if those mussels are steamed in beer?
You might think reviewing The Real Butcher Shop as a restaurant is a mistake. The store, which opened earlier this year in the Solana Center, is the pet project of Pollo Real’s Tom Delehanty, whom many Santa Feans will recognize from the Farmers Market. It is, of course, primarily a butcher shop. But the crew has upped the ante by cooking and serving meals — mostly burgers and sandwiches — using products the shop sells.
Owner-chef Alex Castro’s menu is something of a novelty in Santa Fe, familiar but somehow different. It makes few nods to what’s considered New Mexican cooking.
Not many places in Santa Fe are crowded at 4 in the afternoon, but Del Charro, the self-described saloon at the Inn of the Governors, is often one of them. It's the sort of spot you hope for when you roll into a new town — a place that’s warm and friendly and popular with locals.
Entering the Santa Fe Baking Company Café is like stumbling into a community gathering. You walk past a cluster of outdoor tables, being careful not to step on someone’s dog, and go through a tight entry into a big two-tiered room painted in yellow, burnt orange, and a dusty lavender.
You probably remember the funky, warrenlike dining room of the old Ore House restaurant, perched on the second floor above Lincoln Avenue. That space is now occupied by the Thunderbird Bar & Grill, operated by the building’s owner, Armand Ortega.
It’s hard to imagine a time before the advent of the green-chile cheeseburger. Yet our town’s signature burger may be barely as old as some of us eating it. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Bert’s Burger Bowl, which first opened on Cordova Road in 1954. The proprietors say that Bert’s is the creator of the green-chile cheeseburger in Santa Fe, making the claim on the menu that hangs above the grill where burgers flame.
If you’ve shopped on the south side or driven down Zafarano Drive on a busy weekend afternoon, you’ve probably noticed a guy in a bright orange getup standing on a corner blowing a whistle, waving, and generally whooping it up. Whether or not you consider this an effective marketing campaign, he’s trying to direct you to Wow Dawgs Eatery, a little hot-dog shop tucked into one of the business suites that shares a parking lot with Target and Albertsons.
Entering La Plazuela at La Fonda is like leaving a lantern-lit cavern and emerging into the sunshine. The ceiling soars toward the skylight two stories above. A stone pool containing a burbling fountain is flanked on two sides by the twisting trunks of towering potted ficus trees draped with tiny white lights.
As much as we love New Mexican food, sometimes you feel like you’ll scream if you have to eat one more burrito or platter of smothered enchiladas. Some days you just want a salad or a sandwich. You don’t want anything fancy, you don’t want your dining experience to be a big production, and you’d rather not wait an hour only to be crammed between tables of tourists.
Thai cooking, like all great cuisines, is both the sum and its parts. It entices with individual flavors of fresh basil and mint, salty fish pastes, and lime juice. These are added to vegetables, both common and exotic, along with grilled and sautéed beef, chicken, seafood, pork, or tofu.
What do you call it when someone is overly hopeful about the quality of their cheese steak? Whizful thinking. The origin of that, ahem, cheesy old joke is probably due to the fact that restaurants across America feel compelled to create their own versions of the classic Philly cheese steak sandwich, often with disappointing results. I’ve even been to Japanese restaurants that try to turn it into sushi. I shudder to think.
A step up and far back from the sidewalk, Elevation Bistro might be invisible to passers-by if it weren’t for a sign announcing its hours. Elevation has burgers and baby-back ribs, as the former tenant, the Atomic Grill did. Improvements to the long covered patio are underway. But real change is documented on a folding chalkboard near the sidewalk, where the day’s specials are written in a crowded script.
Evening entrees at chef Xavier Grenet's L'Olivier include classic dishes you would hope for and many with a timeless, rustic quality. There’s a paradigmatic coq au vin, the meat nearly as moist and rich as a confit; the occasional bitterness of a crunchy-firm Brussels sprout offsets the richness.
Brian Knox’s Shake Foundation is a welcome throwback to the days before soda trumped malts and shakes in the hamburger-fries-drink equation. Shake Foundation does offer sodas as well as iced tea, a tad-tangy ginger lemon- ade, and espresso alternatives. But order a shake or a root-beer float, both so thick you’ll collapse your straw trying to suck them up, and you’ll be reminded just how nicely ice cream complements a good burger and fries. It’s a way to enjoy dessert both during and after your meal.
When I win the lottery, I’m going to use some of that money to pave the heavily rutted alleyway that acts as a parking corridor for Second Street Brewery. You practically need an SUV with off-road clearance to navigate that well-traveled path. The thought of traversing all those craters might be the only thing that would drive me away from this funky midtown brewery and restaurant.
What can you say about a hamburger? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Sit around with some fellow burger lovers, preferably while enjoying something hot off the grill, and talk will often turn to grass-fed meats, types of cuts, exotic toppings, and bun quality. Disagreements arise over the optimal coarseness of the meat’s grind.
The noodle bar at Talin Market is the sort of dining destination that’s easy to love. For one thing, you and some friends can try pretty much everything on offer in just two or three visits. For another, nearly the whole menu is worth trying.
The cross-cultural influences and Far East ingredients found at Mu Du certainly place the restaurant in the “Asian fusion” category, a term probably coined by someone with a marketing degree (or worse, by a food critic). But that’s only a partial description of what’s cooked up by owner Mu Jing Lau.
The choice of the name Chocolate Maven always struck me as an odd one for a place with a menu that’s only minimally composed of chocolate. After all, a maven is an expert, an enthusiast. If your name proclaims your skill with chocolate, why would you serve anything else?