The eggs files
When asked by new residents or turistas where they can find great New Mexican food in Santa Fe within walking distance of the Plaza, my definitive answer for more than a quarter century has been, “Tia Sophia’s. Nothing else will do. But be prepared to wait for a table.”
Opened in the spring of 1975 in a building on West San Francisco Street that was once occupied by a Chinese-food joint, Tia Sophia’s takes its name from former local-eatery matriarch and Greek immigrant Sophia Aleck, who passed away in 2004 (her children have operated Tomasita’s, Tia Sophia’s, and Diego’s Café throughout the years).
The business moved across the street in the early 1980s, which is when I discovered its many heat-inducing culinary treasures. In keeping with tradition, Tia Sophia’s still maintains a shelf of children’s books for perusal by fidgety and curious kiddos. Those foolishly hoping to score a fast table at 12:30 p.m. on a Friday at the peak of the summer tourist season are given a number and asked to wait patiently along the walls of the restaurant’s entryway, leaving a clear path to the cash register, where takeout is picked up and all checks are paid on the way out the door. Some are better at exercising patience and avoiding bottlenecks than others, but for the most part, the process runs smoothly and everyone remains courteous.
At a recent breakfast, a mammoth flour tortilla enveloped mounds of house-made chorizo and shredded potatoes. The menu’s description of the chorizo burrito, only available on Saturday mornings, says “HOT & SPICY.” Mine was tame, even by tourist standards. Making up for it was a slightly acidic, deeply hued red chile sauce and green chile sauce that presented deep roasted-chile flavor and a pleasant vegetal sweetness. Both were spicy enough to appease local chile heads, though the red was much hotter and thicker than the green.
I ordered a sunny-side-up egg atop my chorizo beastie, but it never arrived. When I asked the server about it she said, “It’s inside the burrito, scrambled. The kitchen said it tastes better that way.” Um — huh? I looked inside: no egg, scrambled or otherwise. I alerted the server and explained that I no longer wanted an egg because of time constraints. Her response was, “That’s the second time that’s happened this morning! You saved a buck, at least.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the second time an egg had been forgotten by the kitchen — or the second time she’d fabricated its existence for a bewildered longtime customer.
An omelet stuffed with creamy, chunky house-made guacamole and cheddar cheese was delicious, and lightly buttered wheat toast arrived warm with small packets of takeaway jam. Accompanying pinto beans served in a separate dish had good flavor and adequate seasoning, but they arrived tepid. A blueberry pancake we had ordered never arrived, but we weren’t charged for it.
At lunch a few days earlier, I ordered the Atrisco Plate — green chile stew, posole (always made with pork), pinto beans, and a cheese enchilada made with a yellowcorn tortilla and topped with cheddar cheese as well as your choice of chile sauces. At Tia Sophia’s my motto is go Christmas (red and green) or go home. The heavenly, spicy stew anointed with generous chunks of fork-tender pork was spooned directly onto a sizzle plate alongside what I assumed was my enchilada. While delicious, the dish was a soupy obstacle course. The kitchen had forgotten to put the enchilada on my plate but remembered to plate its various components (chile sauces, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, and diced tomato). I shoveled forkfuls of them onto planks of fluffy, piping-hot sopaipilla — one is included with many of the lunch-entrée choices — while I waited for three warm corn tortillas, which my server graciously offered for free to compensate for my enchilada-impaired situation.
Service at Tia Sophia’s is always friendly but can be hurried and scattered during busy times. Iced teas and sodas, which come with free refills, sit empty until glasses overflowing with crushed ice (leaving no room for much tea or soda to begin with) are hoisted toward a bus person or server with a look of desperation. The service has always been this way, and I and others put up with it because we have certain food addictions that must be satisfied at a fair price. However, I’ve never before encountered an invisible egg with a side of excuses or shape-shifting taco. These are firsts for me at Tia Sophia’s. I hope they are lasts.