In Guad we trust

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Pa­tri­cia Greathouse

Guadalupe Café

is a Santa Fe in­sti­tu­tion, one of a hand­ful of places down­town that of­fer home-style New Mex­i­can food at an af­ford­able price. The café be­gan in the ’ 70s on Guadalupe Street in a space slightly larger than a walk-in closet; its neigh­bors were auto body and up­hol­stery shops. To­day, Is­abel Koomoa, chef and owner for 35 years, has a prime lo­ca­tion on Old Santa Fe Trail where din­ers can re­lax on the um­brella-shaded pa­tio.

The res­tau­rant’s am­bi­ence is bright and ca­sual, the wait­staff ef­fi­cient and friendly. Paint­ings of lo­cal farm scenes hang on the walls. Rus­tic fur­ni­ture and wood floors add to the com­fort­able, well-used feel­ing of the room. We lis­tened to a server pa­tiently ex­plain to a tourist why the chile had to go on the en­chi­lada and that the cheese couldn’t come on the side. The diner then or­dered it with flour tor­tillas, at which point the server gen­tly guided her to the bur­rito sec­tion of the menu. I won­dered how many times a day the server re­peated the same in­for­ma­tion with no hint of im­pa­tience. That’s ser­vice with a smile.

A tra­di­tional ap­pe­tizer combo, here called Tres Tapas, in­cludes thin, crisp house-made chips with smooth and tasty gua­camole, chile con queso, and North­ern New Mex­ico-style salsa. We imag­ined the na­chos were a meal in them­selves, so in­stead we chose the sin­gle chalupa. A tasty in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the stuffed corn tor­tilla bas­ket, it con­tains moist chicken or beef, beans, and gua­camole and is soft­ened by a ladle­ful of chile. Baked un­til steam­ing hot, it emerged from the oven look­ing like a mound of molten cheese. It was pure green-chile-fla­vored com­fort food.

The din­ner salad is light on let­tuce and filled with crunchy veg­eta­bles — mush­rooms, olives, car­rots, and grape toma­toes — and crou­tons. The dress­ing pre­sen­ta­tion could be more user­friendly; it’s cur­rently sep­a­rated oil and vine­gar with herbs in a tiny cream pitcher. Stir­ring it vig­or­ously with a fork to com­bine it, I slopped it on the ta­ble.

Many go to “the Guad” for the full-meal-sized sal­ads, so we or­dered the South­west chicken with creamy ci­lantro dress­ing to see why. The large sal­ads come with cold curried noo­dles, and ours seemed to be a bit of a catchall. In ad­di­tion to the noo­dles and chicken, it came with pump­kin seeds, bits of blue corn chips, avo­cado, peper­oncini, ar­ti­choke hearts, grapes, a straw­berry, and Mon­terey jack cheese. Oh, and ro­maine let­tuce. There were gi­ant slices of ten­der, freshly baked white bread on the side.

An en­chi­lada with red and green chile sauces and an over-easy egg on top was de­li­cious — both chiles full of fla­vor. Beans, a small salad, and ten­der, bready, grease-free sopaip­il­las came on the side. An ex­cel­lent adovada bur­rito, stuffed with ten­der red-chile-mar­i­nated pork, had just a lit­tle melted cheese and just the right amount of red chile on top. All of the chile dishes come with good rice and whole beans. The rice was not too tomato-y, and the grains were dis­tinct, not gloppy.

Al­though New Mex­i­can dishes are a spe­cialty, the café of­fers some good al­ter­na­tives. The lunch menu fea­tures sand­wiches on home­made bread, and burg­ers ap­pear at both lunch and din­ner. Orig­i­nal dishes — like a naked roasted poblano pep­per stuffed with Mon­tra­chet (a soft goat cheese), Jack cheese, and chile wal­nuts — are in­ter­est­ing and tasty.

A chipo­tle chicken breast spe­cial — two thin, moist pail­lards of chicken paired with a fla­vor­ful, slightly picante sauce — came with green chile mashed pota­toes and corn pud­ding full of crunchy ker­nels.

There are sev­eral choices of beer, both Mex­i­can and do­mes­tic, as well as a list of limited but well-cho­sen wines by the glass or the bot­tle.

The café’s baker makes blue-corn-piñon, sour­dough, whole wheat, and cin­na­mon-nut breads as well as desserts. Amaretto-adobe pie made with cof­fee and vanilla ice creams in a choco­late cookie crust comes topped with house-made hot fudge sauce. The pecan pie had a de­cent crust and the typ­i­cally toothache-in­duc­ing fill­ing. Mac­er­ated straw­ber­ries dripped from a su­per­fluffy straw­berry cream cake (a ver­sion of cheese­cake).

Ku­dos to Ms. Koomoa, who has man­aged to make the Guadalupe Café a fa­vorite for 35 years.

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