Above average Joe’s
You might be surprised to learn that no one named Joe actually works at Joe’s Diner and Pizza. If, knowing this, you find yourself asking, Well, then, who is Joe, exactly? owner Roland Richter has printed the answer on his restaurant’s tall, pint-sized glasses: “Joe is everyman. He is you; he is me. He is the guy next door, the gal next door. … He is friendly, unpretentious, straightforward with quietly discriminating tastes.”
That might also be the best way to describe the food at Joe’s, which is tucked into a cluster of modest strip-mall shops at the juncture of Rodeo and Zia roads. The menu includes predictable diner dishes, pizza, and some fancier fare, but nothing flashy or outrageous. Like the honest, decent, everyday guys and gals we all know, Joe’s isn’t showy, nor is it unforgettable. It’s simply in the business of serving good, reliable, unpretentious food in a comfortable setting.
Joe’s succeeds in capturing the kitsch of a neo’50s-era diner: brilliant red walls lined with mirrors, swiveling chrome-and-vinyl counter stools, a refrigerator case full of desserts, neon lights emitting an electric pink-and-blue glow, and a black-and-white checkered floor that might make you think of the giant chessboard in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Don’t get me wrong. Joe’s has ambitions. Comfort foods — tuna melts, club sandwiches, burgers, daily blue-plate specials — are the focus, and those dishes don’t disappoint. But Joe’s also caters to diners seeking something slightly more sophisticated. This may be the only diner I know that serves a chicken-liver pâté appetizer, though they do give it a downscale spin by serving it with bagel chips. Slightly more upscale entrees include an Atlantic salmon filet (farmed and shipped in from Canada; if you’re concerned about seafood sustainability, skip this one), steak, rack of lamb, roast duck, and prime rib. With each of these, you can choose two sides, ranging from informal choices like slaw or exemplary onion rings to more gussied-up ones like seriously garlicky sautéed spinach. The daily vegetable — so often a throwaway item — can be a crisp, brightly colored medley you’ll actually enjoy eating.
Joe’s is also dedicated to purchasing and cooking with fresh, local, and sometimes organic ingredients, boldly professing, “We buy more local, regional grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, poultry, eggs, produce, veggies, and fruits than any other restaurant in Santa Fe.” Every burger on the menu (except the vegetarian one) is made with meat from locally raised, grass-fed animals. And unexpected items like the milky, slightly chewy mozzarella ( fiore di latte) are made on the premises. Joe’s serves local beers and wines, too, and uses flour from New Mexico-grown wheat in its pizza dough, breads, and desserts.
You might want to lick your fingers after three pieces of crunchy, slightly greasy fried chicken. The semi-chunky mashed potatoes taste fresh and flavorful but aren’t necessarily inspiring. That said, if you’re being choosy about your carbs, choose the taters and skip the chewy, overly sweet biscuit. Vegetarians have choices as well, from a basic green salad to a Boca burger; a delicious, hearty, almost stewy black bean soup with chunks of carrot; veggie lasagna; and a light but satisfying sandwich of roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, lettuce, tomato, pesto, and cheese of your choice, served on focaccia.
In a recent “Dija Know” newsletter, Joe’s made a point of mentioning that, because they seldom use a microwave, “your pie will take a little longer to heat.” Our slice of pecan-apricot pie, served on a very warm plate, was still cold in the middle. We devoured it, but I would have waited longer for a thoroughly warm slice.
You can get better pizza in town, but Joe’s isn’t bad. The crust is flavorful and manages to be both puffy and crispy, though the sauce struck me as too sweet. Still, if you live on the south side and crave pizza, your choices are pretty limited, and I’d rather support a local business than give my hard-earned cash to a corporate chain.
Joe’s may not be the talk of the town, but the food is good, the menu is varied, the staff is friendly and attentive, and the owners support New Mexico farmers. As Peter O’Toole, playing Lawrence of Arabia, declared, “We can’t all be lion tamers.” Most of us don’t want dinner to be a circus, and the chef doesn’t need to be a star. We just want to sit down; have some good, flavorful, unpretentious food; and be treated like an average Joe.