Restau­rant Re­view: Felipe’s Tacos

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Lau­rel Glad­den

Have you seen the Buz­zFeed video show­ing Mex­i­cans tast­ing Taco Bell food for the first time? They sam­ple the Beefy Fri­tos Bur­rito, the Na­cho Cheese Dori­tos Loco Taco, and the Dori­tos Cheesy Gordita Crunch, among other things. Near the end of the video, one young woman says, “I can’t de­scribe what I just ate, be­cause it’s not Mex­i­can food.”

She wouldn’t have that prob­lem at Felipe’s Tacos — a cute lit­tle cor­ner space in a strip of shops be­hind the Chevron sta­tion on St. Michael’s Drive. There’s been a lot of de­bate in food cir­cles lately about what qual­i­fies as “au­then­tic” cui­sine, and while I don’t know that what Felipe’s serves would strike Mex­i­can na­tives as strictly au­then­tic cui­sine, it’s a lot closer to it than any­thing pumped out by Taco Bell.

Pro­pri­etor Felipe Martinez grew up in Los An­ge­les and moved to Santa Fe in the early 1990s, when he opened a restau­rant to serve “fresh, health-con­scious, fam­ily-style recipes” in­spired by his mother’s cooking. The am­bi­ence here is far from fancy, but the space is clean and bright, with the pal­ette of the Mex­i­can flag. The white walls are ac­cented with som­breros, and there are tow­ers of quar­ter-de­vour­ing ma­chines dispensing toys and limeade-fla­vored gum­balls. The staff is some­times quiet but al­ways con­ge­nial (and pa­tient dur­ing those times when you just can’t make up your mind). Felipe him­self is of­ten be­hind the counter.

You can pick up a lam­i­nated menu or choose what you want from the old-school let­ter board on the wall. When your food is ready — most things are served on pa­per plates or in lit­tle red-and-white pa­per “boats” — some­one calls the num­ber on your ticket, and you scurry to the counter to pick it up. On your way back to your seat, don’t for­get to stop at one of the coun­ter­top salsa bars.

Here, plas­tic mol­ca­jete-style bowls are stocked with tangy salsa verde and a ro­bust, spicy red (don’t let the wa­tery con­sis­tency fool you), along with fresh lime wedges, cilantro, chopped onion, and some­times radish. You can go back for as much of th­ese tasty condi­ments as your heart de­sires (if you or­der take­out, you can ask for a cou­ple of small plas­tic con­tain­ers to fill up). The pico de gallo is off the hook — it’s my fa­vorite thing to scoop up with a salty corn tor­tilla chip. I of­ten buy the stuff by the pint, and it’s been known to dis­ap­pear within 24 hours.

So­das are avail­able from the foun­tain dis­penser or the re­frig­er­ated cooler in the cen­ter of the dining room, but Felipe’s also makes its own hor­chata and limeade. The limeade is in­cred­i­bly thirst-quench­ing, walk­ing the tightrope be­tween sour and sweet. Be care­ful, or you might suck it all down be­fore your food even makes it to the ta­ble.

Un­like many other ver­sions in town, the gua­camole isn’t stud­ded with tomato, onion, or jalapeño. In­stead, it’s beau­ti­ful and sim­ple: smooth and creamy and just tangy and gar­licky enough. If you or­der chips with it, they’ll be fan­tas­ti­cally salty white corn strips.

The que­sadil­las are prac­ti­cally per­fect; ten­der, flak­ily lay­ered flour tor­tillas folded over loads of mild cheese and gen­er­ous fill­ings. My chicken ver­sion was crowded with good-sized dices of meat that had a strong, rich, al­most gamey fla­vor sim­i­lar to turkey.

The wall menu proudly pro­claims, “Felipe’s Tacos is health con­scious for you!” The kitchen doesn’t use lard, and, over­all, whole­some foods seem to be what it does best. The no-carne bur­rito is one of my fa­vorite things in all of Santa Fe. It’s about as big as a fore­arm and filled with mild red rice, re­fritos, cheese, large hunks of av­o­cado, and let­tuce. It leaves you feel­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously full and vir­tu­ous and is the sort of dish that proves meat isn’t re­quired for food to be sat­is­fy­ing and big on fla­vor. The no-carne tacos — small tor­tillas with a schmear of re­fritos, some grated cheese, and a dice or two of av­o­cado — are a lit­tle less in­spired, and def­i­nitely messier, but fill­ing nev­er­the­less.

The plate of al pas­tor (a “shep­herd-style” prepa­ra­tion of pork that’s re­lated to shawarma) was fine but not es­pe­cially mem­o­rable; it lacked the fruity tang of­ten char­ac­ter­is­tic of that dish. The beef tacos are a bare-bones af­fair, small corn tor­tillas en­velop­ing nicely chopped meat and noth­ing else — whether they con­tain cheese, beans, guac, let­tuce, or salsa of any sort is en­tirely up to you. On one visit, the tor­tillas were leath­ery and tough, while on an­other, they fell apart be­fore the tacos could make it to our mouths.

Felipe’s has its strong suits, and it also makes some mis­steps. Re­gard­less, it’s a con­ve­nient, cheer­ful place run by friendly peo­ple who want you to eat good, rea­son­ably healthy food. They don’t al­ways achieve their goals, but I’d still choose any­thing they serve over a Loco Taco any day of the week.

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