In Guad we trust
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.