At the newly reimagined Hilltop Bar & Grill, the fun starts with the push of a button.
It’s more of an oversized plastic disc, really, and when you light it up, the meat-eater’s dream parade begins.
The sight of servers heading your way with large skewers of grilled beef, pork, chicken, lamb and other offerings is familiar to anyone who’s ever loosened their belt for a meal at a Brazilian churrascaria. The concept, popularized stateside, is simple: For a fixed price (at Hilltop, it’s $17.95 at lunch and $27.95 at dinner), you help yourself to a salad bar, then flip a card, press a button or otherwise indicate you’re ready to start sampling the restaurant’s array of meat choices, which are plucked by the piece from the skewers or carved tableside. Repeat till full.
Santa Feans most recently had a chance to indulge their carnivore cravings this way at the now-closed Omira Bar & Grill at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. Fortunately, Hilltop’s chef, Miguel Quintana, worked there and now is applying his experience in what serves as the restaurant for The Lodge at Santa Fe, up the hill off St. Francis Drive.
It’s a chance to breathe new life and lure locals to the spot, which previously was an outpost of Albuquerque’s Garduño’s Mexican/New Mexican restaurants, said Hilltop restaurant owner Israel Archuleta (the bar is still owned by the hotel).
Archuleta had been with the Lodge for a whopping 33 years before taking over the restaurant in February 2018. After coming to the U.S. from his native Mexico, he started as a busser in the restaurant, working his way up to banquet manager.
When Archuleta learned the hotel was offering the restaurant for sale, he knew it could mean he’d be out of a job.
“So I took a shot,” he said with a smile.
Archuleta added the Brazilian option and lunch service in April.
“It’s very interesting to see the guests’ reactions when it’s something new for them,” Archuleta said of what they refer to as the rotiseria, a nod to the hulking rotisserie in the kitchen that slowly turns and cooks the meats. “They don’t expect that kind of experience.”
But there’s a twist: On the menu, you’ll see the “o” in rotiseria is a Zia symbol. This Brazilian churrascaria has a distinct New Mexican vibe.
Alongside traditional meat choices like picanha steak, filet basted in garlic seasoning, slow-roasted rib eye, andouille sausage and leg of lamb with mint, there’s a sirloin marinated in green chile and balsamic vinegar, a top sirloin dusted with red chile, and candied bacon-wrapped chicken breast with red chile.
There’s also a help-yourself hot bar next to the more traditional salad bar that features red and green chile enchiladas, green chile pork stew and a taco station.
That’s right: You can load your plate with meat and put a taco on the side.
“We’re mixing cuisines,” Quintana said. “We want to do something different here — Santa Fe needs something different.”
Of course, this is a hotel restaurant, too, so there are plenty of alternatives to a meat extravaganza. You can opt just to help yourself to the hot and cold buffets for $13.95 at lunch and $22.95 at dinner — in addition to the New Mexican fare and veggies on the hot bar, the cold bar offers salads in Caesar, kale, spinach, mushroom and caprese varieties, among others, as well as a fruit salad, charcuterie and other sides and toppings. Or you can order off a more traditional menu at breakfast or dinner.
But it’s the Brazilian concept that Archuleta hopes will entice more locals up to the restaurant inside the stately ristra-festooned Lodge quarters, whether it’s to indulge in the carnivore bonanza or simply to sip housemade mango lemonade, sit in the enclosed patio and take in the striking mountain views.
“We want the locals to know that we’re here,” he said. “So far, people who have come in to experience it leave very, very happy.”