All in the fa­milia

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Glad­den

An ad cam­paign from the late 1960s sug­gested that fur coats are “what be­comes a leg­end most.” In the case of Tia Sophia’s, the leg­endary fam­ily-owned restau­rant just a few blocks from the Plaza that cel­e­brated its 40th an­niver­sary ear­lier this month, it’s prob­a­bly a ladle­ful of chile.

Tia Sophia’s is only open for break­fast and lunch, and it’s a pretty great place to start your day. On the menu are bur­ri­tos, en­chi­ladas, que­sadil­las, and huevos rancheros, along with other break­fast clas­sics like omelets and eggs. Sure, they serve pancakes and French toast, too, but that’s prob­a­bly not what you’re go­ing there for, is it?

In the mel­low break­fast que­sadilla, the Wed­nes­day spe­cial, eggs and crum­bled ba­con meet the req­ui­site cheese. I en­joyed it, par­tic­u­larly be­cause I like any ex­cuse to eat gua­camole first thing in the morn­ing.

The hand­held break­fast “rolls” are a lit­tle un­usual. They begin with meat or egg but not both — for that you’ll pay ex­tra, as you will to add potato and cheese. If you load yours up, you’ll get but­tery-tast­ing egg, grated cheese, squig­gly-crisp hash browns, and long, sub­stan­tial strips of ba­con folded up in a soft flour tor­tilla. The smoth­ered ver­sion is bet­ter, since it al­lows you to slather your break­fast in stewy, mildly spicy green chile or bit­ter­sweet brick-colored red.

Lighter and chile-free dishes are avail­able — sal­ads and sand­wiches — as well as burg­ers. I tried the tostadas, in which crisp fried whole corn tor­tillas are topped with lay­ers of beans, cheese, chicken or beef, let­tuce, and tomato, with gua­camole in gen­er­ous dol­lops on top. The chicken was re­mark­ably juicy and ten­der enough to pull apart with a fork. Over­all the dish was fill­ing but some­how felt light.

Tra­di­tional New Mex­ico dishes are the restau­rant’s real strong suit, though — tacos, en­chi­ladas, adovada, bur­ri­tos, and the like. I’ll eat huevos rancheros for break­fast, lunch, or din­ner, and Tia Sophia’s, drown­ing in chile, are some of the best I’ve had, though over-medium eggs al­ways come out over-easy and runny.

The green chile stew, served by the bowl, is loaded with hunks of meat and the oc­ca­sional potato. Rather than sim­ple broth, the base looks like it’s made from puréed chile. If you re­ally need a chile fix, you can al­ways or­der red or green by the bowl­ful. The kitchen will add your fa­vorite com­bi­na­tion of meat, beans, cheese, and diced onion. I’m a “bowl of green with beans and cheese” kind of gal — it’s the sort of thing I or­der when I’ve been trav­el­ing, be­cause in a sim­ple, to-the-point way, it re­minds me how great it is to be home.

If you can’t make up your mind, choose the combo so you can en­joy a de­li­ciously doughy rel­leno and a cheesy en­chi­lada — both dis­ap­peared quickly at our ta­ble. The Satur­day spe­cial is a duo that com­bines a smoth­ered en­chi­lada and a taco (if one day’s spe­cial ap­peals to you on a dif­fer­ent day, don’t worry — you can or­der it any­way if you’re will­ing to pay a lit­tle ex­tra). The pinto beans served along­side most of th­ese dishes are pleas­antly starchy and salty.

You’ll also get a tra­di­tional bas­ket of puffy, pil­lowy sopaip­il­las with your meal — one for each per­son at the ta­ble. Honey is de rigueur, of course, but I some­times pre­fer a dust­ing of cin­na­mon and sugar, of­fered on the ta­ble in a retro-diner-style glass and chrome dis­penser.

The food here is cer­tainly good, but it’s not sin­gu­lar — you can get sim­i­lar dishes as other restau­rants around town, and ev­ery­one has a fa­vorite spot for that. So what dis­tin­guishes the place? Per­haps it’s the am­bi­ence and “lo­cal fla­vor.” As one Yelp re­viewer wrote, “The vibe is real.” Your server might de­liver corny jokes along with iced-tea re­fills, and in a sweet, thought­ful touch, a shelf near the front of the dining area is stocked with chil­dren’s books.

Staff mem­bers are friendly in a fa­mil­ial kind of way. Even when you catch them be­hind the scenes look­ing ex­hausted or over­whelmed, they put on their game face and greet you pleas­antly. Once the meal be­gins, they might be quick and busi­nesslike, but your wa­ter glass and cof­fee cup will never be empty.

Plan your visit wisely, es­pe­cially now that sum­mer’s al­most here. On week­ends or dur­ing hol­i­days, clus­ters of tourists and lo­cals spill out the door and onto the side­walk. Try to ar­rive early or late for break­fast or lunch; oth­er­wise, you should be pre­pared to wait with them.

A few ta­bles are avail­able in the sunny front win­dows, and there’s a larger open dining room in the back, but it’s fun to snug­gle up in one of the wood-lined booths, which feels a lit­tle like your own pri­vate dining cap­sule. Once you’re set­tled in, it’s easy to for­get about the mob out front. Sit back, put your nap­kin in your lap, and let the leg­end do what it does best.

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