Santa Fe Favorites
For those of us who eat breakfast out, especially (like mom said) if we consider it the most important meal of the day, we are picky about our restaurants. For both locals and visitors, the criteria can be the fresh, organic ingredients, the inventiveness or depth of the menu, the atmosphere, the price, or just a place that’s so unassuming and convenient that it feels like home. No single eatery combines it all, and biases are highly personal, but the list below, in no special order, shouldn’t disappoint. After breaking bread with fellow dawn-worshippers for 25 years, I’ve seen some great restaurants come and go (anyone remember O.J. Sarah’s?), but the best have staying power for a reason.
HARRY’S ROAD HOUSE. On Old Las Vegas Highway, near El Gancho, Harry’s is reputedly the most profitable restaurant in Santa Fe. It opens at 7 for breakfast and doesn’t close until almost midnight. It offers its loyal customers three square meals, a full bar, outdoor patio, fast service, reasonable prices, ample portions, and a diverse menu to please any chowhound, including vegetarians. It is the gateway food stop to the city’s southside/eastside (depending on which direction you’re coming from), offering traditional country breakfasts with fresh ingredients. There are also the house specialties: brioche stuffed with peaches, huevos divorciados, lemon ricotta pancakes, and home-style cinnamon rolls. Everyone seems to know everyone else in this unpretentious melting pot of professionals, service trades people, families, spiritualists, barflies, cowboys and visitors wanting to glimpse the real Santa Fe. Harry’s bills itself as serving New Mexican American Cuisine, but it’s more than that, and its motto, “a square meal every time” is exactly what you get.
CHOCOLATE MAVEN BAKERY AND CAFÉ. Tucked away behind a Toyota service garage on San Mateo (off St. Francis), the parking is as tight as the Maven menu is expansive and the food remarkably mouth watering. Ask to be seated on the main floor to enjoy the panorama of bakers kneading bread every morning behind a plate glass window. The food is more gourmet than down home, with an emphasis on freshness and creative cuisine. From the pear almond tart to the Belgian waffles, to a variety of inventive egg dishes (the “ménage a trios” consists of one egg Benedict, one egg Florentine and one egg Madison) to the apricot nut granola and Danish cinnamon (or almond) wreath—and throw in the Maven’s own organic coffees and Mayan chili hot chocolate—no patron complains of a lack of choices. There are also basic bacon, potato and egg dishes for those craving the strictly traditional. Maven opens at seven a.m. seven days a week. It serves terrific lunches as well but is closed for dinner.
PASQUAL’S. Perhaps no Santa Fe restaurant has garnered more culinary accolades and media coverage in its 25 year history than this unassuming and crowded adobe oasis on the corner of Don Gaspar and Water Streets. Under owner and head chef Katharine Kagel’s watchful eye, the friendly, efficient service is reflected in the loyalty of the staff, many of whom have worked here for more than decade. Tables are closer than in a New York hot spot, but included is a large community table where it’s not unlikely you’ll run into a celebrity or CEO. Both visitors and locals can savor a breakfast menu (www.pasquals.com) that is so creative and diverse that it’s impossible to pick a favorite dish. A variety of organic egg omelets, chili relleno picadillo (eggs, cheese and mushrooms), chorizo burritos, breakfast quesadillas, smoked trout hash, and griddled stone polenta are a few of the crowd pleasers. If you’re overly conscious about nutrition, try the five grain hot cereal or house granola. If you’re on vacation and don’t care what you eat, try the whole-wheat pancakes or French toast. Colorful Mexican folk art fills the walls. Many visitors don’t leave without buying the Pasqual’s cookbook or at least a T-shirt. Open for breakfast and dinner Monday thru Saturday, and for Sunday brunch.
SANTA FE BAKING COMPANY AND CAFÉ. Though this modest looking establishment in the Cordova Road strip mall (aka Trader Joe’s Plaza) is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., its primary appeal lies in its breakfasts (served all day) and mid-day coffee breaks. Inexpensive, convenient, and with easy to find parking, the Baking Company is extremely popular with locals on the way to work, writers and artists, kaffee-klatching friends, computer loungers, harried parents picking up something for the kids, and anyone who likes traditional breakfasts. Everything from carne adovada and veggie bean burritos, to a sampling of omelets, waffles, pancakes, French toast, egg and meat dishes, and dozens of buttery pastries baked on premise (along with a choice of coffee blends), one orders by standing in line and waiting at your table for your name to be called. There’s also a terrific juice bar and live music in the evenings. Patrons love to meet and greet and hold forth on city politics or anything else on their minds. KSFR broadcasts from here in the mornings, doing live interviews with a variety of mini-celebrities.
TECOLOTE CAFÉ. Family owned and operated since 1980, located on Cerrillos Road, this local favorite offers delicious and inexpensive ($10 is an average meal) Northern New Mexican cuisine for breakfast and lunch. It draws a faithful breakfast crowd but never more so than on Sundays, where families seem to come after church. If you get there after nine a.m., expect a crowd of 20 in a waiting room that rightfully holds no more than six or seven. The dining room is open and spacious (and includes a community table) and definitely a throwback to grandmother’s living room. Breakfast classics include steak & eggs, eggs benedict, a feta cheese omelette, and corned beef hash. Everyone is low key and cheerful. On Sundays only, the bakery basket offers bite-size cinnamon rolls that are addictive. Also recommended are the huevos rancheros, French toast, and the “Sheepherder’s Breakfast” (boiled new red potatoes with jalapeño and onion, then browned on the grill, topped with red and green chile, melted cheddar, and two eggs any style). Hours are Tuesdays through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
TIA SOPHIA’S. Located downtown, across from the Lensic, this family-owned, northern New Mexican-style restaurant is now in the hands of Nick Maryol (a Greek descendent who’s fluent in Japanese). Nick claims the secret to Tia’s is "great customer service, superb food, and some of the lowest prices in Santa Fe." Not to mention devoted employees. One of the cooks has been at Tia’s since 1975, while another longtime employee takes credit for coining the term "Christmas,” a description for the combination of red and green chile. Nick also believes that Tia’s breakfast burrito was the first of its kind in Santa Fe. The atmosphere here is quaint with family photos, fiesta dresses, and memorabilia (along with a photo of the Dali Lama) scattered on the walls. Old wooden booths and narrow aisles make the establishment feel like vintage Santa Fe and, indeed, some customers have been eating here for thirty-five years. Favorite breakfast dishes are the burrito with green or red Hatch chile, the chorizo burrito (Saturday breakfast special), huevos rancheros, and blueberry pancakes. Open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast, and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch.
COUNTER CULTURE. On Baca Street, a stone’s throw from Tecolote Café, this hard-to--find breakfast, lunch and dinner spot is arguably partially misnamed. It’s not that you can’t find some whole grains , vegetarian fare, and fish dishes—and other gourmet fare—but at least for breakfast this bistro-bakery cooks from scratch some of the most butter- and sugar-laden muffins, pancakes and French toast in town. Informal and offbeat, with an eclectic clientele, Counter Culture is housed in a post-modern warehouse-like setting where local photographers and artists show their work on the walls. You place your order at the front counter, take a number, and you can sit on stools at high tables to watch fellow carb hunters descend en masse. Service is fast and prices reasonable. Open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
INN OF THE ANASAZI and LA POSADA HOTEL. Of all the four start hotel restaurants in Santa Fe, the nearly unspellable Anasazi (“the ancient ones”), right off the Plaza, and La Posada, on Palace Avenue off Paseo de Peralta, have limited but superb (and pricey) breakfast menus. The entrées are healthy, creative, fresh and the pride of professional chefs. In addition to the cuisine, both hotels’ dining rooms are spacious, handsomely decorated, and rarely crowded. Ideal for quiet business meetings, or an escape from the madding crowd, eat in peace and take your time.
THE PLAZA CAFÉ. This diner/café sits on a corner of the historic Plaza and has been serving northern New Mexican dishes since 1918, which makes it the city’s oldest restaurant. Its charming, classic diner interior is anchored by a neon-edged map of New Mexico at the back, and in front, large windows to view Plaza happenings. Opened in 1918 and owned by the same Greek family since 1947, the menu has evolved to offer American, Italian and Greek dishes. Breakfasts are mostly traditional Northern New Mexican and rated by regulars as nourishing and filling. Prices tend to be higher than other eateries with similar menus, but this is one of those establishments where charm and nostalgia rule. Open most days at seven a.m. but hours can be irregular.
In this breakfast-friendly town, there are another dozen restaurants worthy of mention. From Bagelmania and Guadalupe Café to The Pantry, each has its own style, character and vibe. Some of us love trying them all.