Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Santa Fe Budget Restaurants

Although Santa Fe is touted as “the city different,” perhaps it should be known as the city of restaurants. On a recent trip, I discovered two new watering holes which deserve mention for visitors.

A problem I’ve always encountered on visits is finding a good, reasonable place to eat on the Plaza. So many times walking down Lincoln Avenue, I’ve passed by The Plaza Café. Usually packed, I’d erroneously assumed it was just another tourist trap with bad food, depending for its existence on its great location.

Was I wrong! The truth is that The Plaza has a varied, reasonably-priced menu with something for everyone. In fact, it’s a good alternative for the visitor trying to avoid another dose of chile or whose tastes run to simple comfort food like meatloaf or a hot turkey sandwich. If someone in the party wants chile, they too will be satisfied with the complete menu section of Southwestern cuisine: enchiladas, tostadas, and chile rellenos. A surprise is a selection of Greek dishes such as moussaka, gyros, and kebabs. After all, what would you expect from the owners, the Raztos family, which has run the restaurant for 61 years?

Another Plaza plus is the hours. They are open from 7:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M., seven days a week. This was handy for me because when I’m working, I usually discover I’ve missed lunch by 4:00 P.M. Both my visits were mid-afternoon.

On the first visit, I ordered the batter fried cod with garlic mashed potatoes and a small Greek salad accompanied by pita bread. The cod (my favorite fish) was immaculately fresh and the coating crisp and not at all greasy. Sides were well done, and the pita was the best I’ve ever tasted. Owner Dan Razatos has it imported, and it’s soft and chewy. Except for the pita, all baked goods are done on premises including their award-winning cakes and pies. I sampled their carrot cake and found it praise-worthy.

My second lunch/dinner was a gyro, a lovely combination of beef and lamb wrapped in one of those delicious pitas and sauced with the cucumber/garlic/yoghurt sauce known as tzatziki. It was so huge that it defied hand-held attempts at consumption. A spicy tortilla soup accompanied it. What a blend of cultures.

A second Santa Fe restaurant discovery was The Pantry, on Cerillos Road. Definitely a favorite for locals, it was packed to the rafters when I stopped for a light lunch on my way south to Albuquerque. The light lunch went by the wayside when I saw the menu with another favorite, grilled liver and onions. The meat was perfectly done, not overcooked. So often liver ends up as shoe leather. The presentation was massive with mashed potatoes and an ocean of grilled vegetables.

With a varied menu and reasonable prices, The Pantry is open for breakfast and lunch. Breakfasts run the gamut from cinnamon French toast to breakfast burritos. A nice touch is the ability to order according to your appetite. You may request one or three pancakes, and for $1.35 they’ll toss in some buckwheat to make heartier flapjacks. Lunches include sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads, Southwest plates, comfort food like pork chops, and a local delicacy, the Frito Pie, a heap of corn chips covered with beans and meat, and buried under melted cheese with red or green chile. Try to visit the Pantry on slightly off hours or be prepared to wait in line for a table or a place at the counter.

Although Santa Fe’s great restaurants like The Compound and Geronimo’s definitely deserve a visit, they are reserved for special occasions for most of us with modest budgets. It’s good to know that you can find a decent meal, properly prepared without taking out a second mortgage. On your next visit, be a bit adventurous and eat where the locals go.

The Plaza Cafe, Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe, (505) 982-1664
The Pantry, 1820 Cerillos Road, Santa Fe, (505) 986-0022

1 comment:

  1. When we visited Santa Fe for a week in May 2006, we stumbled on the Plaza Restaurant too. I did not yet have a food blog (http://culinary-colorado.blogspot.com), but rather a "Dining Diary" on my website. Here's what I wrote about it:

    "The Plaza Restaurant, directly along the west side of Santa Fe’s Plaza and steps from Palace of the Governors and the Santa Fe Art Museum of Fine Arts, is a casual, old-style downtown eatery with probably the most modest prices of any restaurant in the area. The restaurant has been around since 1918, and it appears that it, like so many other eateries, is now owned by Greeks. The menu comprises mainly New Mexican and old Mexican standards. Tables in front and the counter in back seem always to be occupied, but even on this Saturday evening, there was no wait to get in. Locals value it and visitors stumble on it for good, solid food and a casual, no-frills ambience. And the location? Priceless."