The whole­some en­chi­lada

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Pa­tri­cia Greathouse For The New Mex­i­can

Not too long ago, it was hard to find a chain restau­rant in New Mex­ico; the stan­dard was the mom and pop café. Those places have slowly dis­ap­peared, re­placed by cookie-cut­ter op­er­a­tions serv­ing pre-made, truck­de­liv­ered food de­signed to meet an imag­ined stan­dard of mid­dle-Amer­i­can taste.

Chains feel like safe, pre­dictable places to dine when we travel; per­haps we are afraid to take chances in strange lands and even at home. We watch con­tes­tants take risks on re­al­ity shows, eat­ing all kinds of vile things, while we eat fac­tory-made food in front of the TV. And de­spite a grow­ing list of health con­cerns aris­ing from eat­ing at fast­food restau­rants, we con­tinue to trust and buy.

Mean­while, there are per­fectly fine lo­cally owned restau­rants serv­ing culi­nary ad­ven­tures right here in Santa Fe. The Red En­chi­lada is that kind of restau­rant. It’s un­usual yet rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the un­apolo­getic eth­nic restau­rant. In a world still dom­i­nated by the numb­ingly con­sis­tent Sub­way sand­wich, it of­fers an ex­pe­ri­ence of the real thing in three di­men­sions.

The lo­ca­tion at the cor­ner of St. Michael’s Drive and Osage Av­enue is cen­tral, and there’s park­ing out front. Bright, pri­mary-color mu­rals cover the walls in the main din­ing room, which is lined with vinyl-cov­ered booths. Tile floors and flu­o­res­cent lights brighten the room at night; in the day­time, big win­dows let the sun in.

Break­fast is served all day and in­cludes stan­dard Amer­i­can fare, bur­ri­tos, and huevos rancheros. The menu also in­cludes a host of more in­ter­est­ing things: huevos verdes (two eggs on a bed of sautéed pota­toes; fresh, barely sautéed spinach, and red chile); pu­pusas (stuffed fresh tor­tillas) of queso re­vuelta (cheese and a mix­ture of veg­eta­bles and pork) or chichar­ron (pork crisps); Cen­tral Amer­i­can tamales; a typ­i­cal Cen­tral Amer­i­can break­fast (fried plan­tain, Sal­vado­ran re­fried beans, scram­bled eggs, and Sal­vado­ran cream); and a ta­mal de elote (fresh corn husks stuffed with a corn/masa fill­ing, ei­ther sweet or sa­vory).

New Mex­ico is the world cap­i­tal of red chile, and The Red En­chi­lada has one of the best ver­sions I’ve ever tasted. Smooth and slightly pi­cante, it’s a per­fect foil for tor­tillas and cheese.

The large Cen­tral Amer­i­can tamales, wrapped in ba­nana leaves and stuffed with chicken and pota­toes or pork, present the fla­vor of corn and the broth that made the masa dough. Sim­ple, fluffy, and lack­ing the tra­di­tional heat of our lo­cal va­ri­eties, they are de­li­cious. If you crave added heat, a side of the red or green chile or salsa fresca works nicely.

Gua­camole here is fresh and lively. A green salad of mixed greens and tomato wedges would be good ex­cept for the fla­vor of the oil. In fact, my only crit­i­cism of the food at The Red En­chi­lada is the oil. It has an un­pleas­ant af­ter­taste, and it’s used to fry and to dress the sal­ads.

The chicken en­chi­lada is filled with plump, juicy pieces of chicken and topped with a lit­tle cheese; we or­dered it with the ter­rific red chile sauce. It’s a very re­fined dish that isn’t drown­ing in cheese. Soft pinto beans in their own thick broth and Mex­i­can rice come on the side. Ubiq­ui­tous sides are too of­ten mere place­hold­ers, fill­ing up the plate with a gelati­nous rice mass, the beans un­der­sea­soned or from a can. How­ever, The Red En­chi­lada’s rice has a slight tomato taste and is cooked to a dry, fluffy con­sis­tency.

The tostada combo is made of unadul­ter­ated, ba­sic com­po­nents. Two fried tor­tillas are topped with high­qual­ity meat: one, a tasty beef, the other, a juicy chicken, topped with gua­camole and sour cream. A side of bright, fla­vor­ful, house-made salsa fresca comes on the side.The taco plate is sim­ply a vari­a­tion on the tostada and comes with the same sides and salsa. Chiles rel­lenos are made in house and, aside from the oil, they are good.

Licua­dos (blended milk­shakes with fruit); hor­chata (a rice-based drink); mango, carrot, guava, and co­conut juices; and sev­eral fla­vors of Jar­ri­tos-brand so­das wash the food down, in keep­ing with the Latin theme. The Red En­chi­lada of­fers three made-in-house desserts: a first-rate flan, a tres leches cake, and fried pla­tanos (plan­tains).

I want our lo­cal restau­rants to sur­vive and pros­per. In th­ese times, when money can be hard to come by, The Red En­chi­lada con­tin­ues to serve au­then­tic, fla­vor­ful food at friendly prices. Take a chance on ad­ven­ture. Ditch the stan­dard­ized fare, and take a walk on the real side!

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