More than any possible point spread on Super Bowl Sunday, I seek the satisfaction of a clean, well-lighted place, a good seat, and a superb line-up of chicken wings. In my mind’s eye, this year’s ideal game ends with a pile of picked-clean bird bones and Tom Brady weeping big man tears while I luxuriate on a comfy perch in a bar that’s not overcrowded with other football fans.
In seeking out Santa Fe’s finest chicken wings, I bypassed the usual sports-watching suspects — Boxcar, Cowgirl BBQ, and Del Charro, all of which boast excellent wings — in favor of smaller but often less jam-packed venues. The following five spots have either firmly established or excitingly up-and-coming wing programs. And in staking your claim to a seat at these bars, you might not have to sack your neighbor to get your beer order in.
The wings at the Betterday Dine-In in the Solana Center (907 W. Alameda St, 505-428-0876) are true to the restaurant’s spirit of made-from-scratch, responsibly sourced ingredients. The chicken is Mary’s Non-GMO, dredged in flour, cornstarch, and spices, deep-fried for maximum crunch, and coated with your choice of Frank’s Red Hot (for the Buffalo), or better yet, the peerless house barbecue or habanero barbecue sauces. Chef Andy Exell said he concocts his sauce Memphis-style, which means plenty of molasses and a little cola for extra sweetness, and the wings arrive alongside the requisite celery sticks and a tangy house-made buttermilk ranch. The Solana Center offers ample parking, and the mellow ’70s rec-room vibes of the Betterday make for a younger and hipper crowd than at other local sports Valhallas. Bonus points for an often unoccupied pool table, which may help speed along the dull downtime between plays. Exell also said the Betterday will take reservations for large parties.
The rallying cry at Rowley Farmhouse Ales (1405 Maclovia St., 505-428-0719) is “Come for the beer, stay for the food.” The gourmet wings at the two-year-old brewpub nestled on the edge of the Casa Alegre neighborhood also come from Mary’s, but chef Jeffrey Kaplan prepares them Korean-style, which means sticky-sweet with soy sauce and vinegar soaked into a crisp, eggshell-thin outer layer. Served on a sheet pan and scattered with chopped roasted peanuts and scallions, they’re accompanied by a heap of semi-pickled cucumbers marinated in rice-wine vinegar and sprinkled with red pepper flakes. Rowley’s Germophile Weisse — for which the brewer recently took home a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival — makes a tart, refreshing companion to Kaplan’s creations. The long, blond-wood bar sports two well-positioned televisions, and the small, rustic rectangular space could make for an intimate and neighborly viewing experience.
Down on the Southside, the superior alternative to the game-day mob scene at Buffalo Wild Wings is the cozier bar at The Ranch House (2571 Cristo’s Road, 505-424-8900). At this Southside barbecue mecca, five large booths, 14 bar seats, and an area of ample tables all afford a fine view of three giant TV screens. True to chef-owner Josh Baum’s Texas origins, these are the biggest, meatiest wings in town, smoked to perfection and offered up with your choice of BBQ, hot, or mango sweet chile sauces (we opted for the latter two). The oversize burnt-orange Buffalo drumettes had my lips tingling with heat, while the coffee-colored flat wings were addictively honey-sweet. A side of creamy ranch dressing made a good vehicle for the cooling celery and carrot sticks. The Ranch House clearly grasps the demand for their unparalleled product: They’re offering several carryout Super Bowl specials, including a $24.95 appetizer pack with a dozen wings, a pint of chips and salsa, and a pint of queso and chips.
For those fortunate enough to secure a prime parking spot downtown, a couple of newer establishments offer outstanding wing experiences. “We’re not a sports bar,” said John Deyber, general manager of The Burger Stand at Burro Alley (207 W. San Francisco St., 505-395-8210). “But we’re going to have a good time watching the Super Bowl.” Three TVs hang in the handsome exposed-brick bar area, and 12 rotating taps of mostly local beers will keep you hydrated for your viewing extravaganza. The gastropub’s smoked wings come in Buffalo, sweet chile, Cajun, BBQ, or garlic Parmesan varieties. The latter was a revelation of big garlicky-cheesy flavors and serious crunch, served with a light-green avocado ranch flecked with cilantro, a zingy dressing that also boasts a complementary amount of garlic.
A couple blocks over, El Callejón (208 Galisteo St., 505-983-8378) sits in the former space of the dearly departed El Paseo, the site of many Super Bowl parties past. The good news about El Callejón is twofold. First, the spacious katsina-doll-lined bar and restaurant, run by longtime El Paseo employee Raul Morales and his wife LiAnn, is taking Super Bowl reservations for large groups. Second, and more important, the Morales family serves up a classy set of Buffalo wings. They’re baked in chipotles, then pan-fried in Buffalo sauce to order and paired with a large offering of carrot and celery sticks and your choice of ranch or blue cheese. El Callejón loves a garnish — many of their plates are lavishly adorned with extra citrus and produce — and true to form, our order came charmingly scattered with cilantro and rested upon a vinegary bed of shredded cabbage. Locals have embraced El Callejón as they did El Paseo — former mayor Sam Pick is rumored to frequent the place — and a Super Bowl spent here is sure to guarantee a down-home Santa Fe experience.
Overtime: These establishments aren’t open on Sundays, but their chicken wings are worth picking up on Saturday and reheating in time for kickoff. (Some wing aficionados claim they’re even better the next day.) Jambo Café (2010 Cerrillos Road, 505-473-1269) creates an appetizer order of wings in their signature spicy jerk chicken sauce. The Bull Ring (150 Washington Ave. #108, 505-983-3328) makes a mean order of wings to go, with extra-hot, non-greasy Buffalo sauce. And The Loyal Hound (730 St. Michael’s Drive, 505-471-0440) sauces Mary’s wings with a semi-citrusy Buffalo blend, paired with the chunkiest blue-cheese dressing around and so many carrots, baby spinach leaves, and celery that they could well be mistaken for a side salad. ◀