The eggs files

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob De Walt

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.

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