Date July 31, 2006 at 10:00 PM
One of Santa Fe's hands-down absolute best, most popular and most genuinely-Mexican restaurants lives in what was obviously once a Pizza Hut. Los Potrillos definitely has that unabashed Cerrillos Road feeling, at least from the outside, but don't be fooled-just step inside the door.
The general cacophony is tilted more toward Spanish than English, and that's a good sign. Anglos are in the minority here, and that's another good sign. Gone are the previous plastic booths, replaced by beautiful hand-painted wooden tables, each one a different scene of life in Mexico, and wooden chairs, each hand-carved with the wild tossing head of a colt, the restaurant's namesake. Against the back wall is a large, brightly colored and inviting mural; and cacti and curtains help erase any further vestiges of the building's original fast food origins.
Owned by José and Gustavo Tapia, brothers who came up from Mexico years ago with their family, the restaurant's menu, based on old family recipes, is proudly authentic. And its in the food itself that Los Potrillos has most transformed the former-Pizza Hut space, with its attention to fresh, healthy, innovative and tastebud-scintillating dishes. There is a whole handful of different choices of rellenos, including one made with beef tongue, another with shrimp; moles galore, several dishes featuring napolitos (cactus), as well as a full regalia of liquados and Atole blanco (a creamy sweet corn drink).
Asked why so many Santa Feans count his restaurant as one of their favorites, José smiles shyly. "Maybe it's our not too high prices," he offers, "and you get a lot for what you pay. Everything we serve here is fresh, including the tortillas, and we do plates that are very different from the other Mexican restaurants. They serve the traditional Mexican food, we do more."
He points out a few specific examples from the menu. Pechunga en salsa pi-a, a dish of chicken breasts covered with a special pineapple sauce, voted the favorite dish for Taste of Santa Fe. And cabrito, made with goat meat which has been marinated and sautéed in peanut and almond sauce, served with charros, beans and fresh, garlicky guacamole.
"Also our molcajete al pastor, " he adds enthusiastically-pork and pineapple grilled with onions and served in a hot molcajete, or bowl, the kind made of pumice that many restaurants use for serving guacamole. What does the molcajete add?, he is asked and, beaming a knowing trust-me grin, José says, "OK, it just tastes better in it, I don't know why!"
With two cooks in back attending all the meat, bean and other staples preparation, three in front fixing the plates as the orders come up, and one whose sole job is making the tortillas, the small restaurant easily keeps up with the demands of its clamoring customers.
"Our food is real Mexican food, like what you would get in Mexico, not as a tourist but what the real people eat," José explains. "And our customers love it."
Los Potrillos is located at 1947 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. They're open daily from 8am to 9pm. 505.992.0550.