Shop ’n’ nosh

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Glad­den

It’s lunchtime on a Thurs­day, and as the song by DJ Dave goes, “It’s get­ting real in the Whole Foods park­ing lot.” Subarus, Priuses, hy­brid SUVs, and the oc­ca­sional pickup are jock­ey­ing for park­ing spa­ces, and shop­pers are wan­der­ing al­most willy-nilly in front of on­com­ing cars. I didn’t spot any­one wear­ing yoga pants, but I prob­a­bly wasn’t look­ing hard enough.

The pre­pared-foods sec­tion of the store isn’t much less con­gested or chaotic, but the em­ploy­ees stay some­where on the pro­fes­sional-to-friendly spec­trum to help keep things run­ning smoothly. In ad­di­tion to the well-stocked salad bar, the nearly over­flow­ing deli case, and an ar­ray of prepack­aged sushi, an al­most global range of made-to-or­der foods are avail­able here — “street food” (some­thing like a fa­jita plate), rice and noo­dle bowls, pizza, sand­wiches, tacos, que­sadil­las, and bur­ri­tos.

Tacos are served à la carte and can con­tain one pro­tein and up to three condi­ments (ad­di­tional top­pings are a buck apiece). Whole Foods calls these “mini” tacos, but ours were so stuffed that lunch quickly be­came an un­man­age­able mess, the fill­ing tum­bling out and the dou­ble-lay­ered corn tor­tillas burst­ing with the first bite. We tried three — the lean, briny fish; the grid­dle-charred chicken; and the saucy, mildly spicy carne adovada — and it was hard to pick a fa­vorite.

Over at the noo­dle bar, we sam­pled the veg­gie fun bowl, which bor­dered on the as­cetic. It in­cluded fun (rice noo­dles) all right, but it was def­i­nitely not fun to eat. The spicy chicken noo­dle bowl — smoky grilled poul­try pieces, fiery jalapeños, rice ver­mi­celli, and veg­gies in a de­li­ciously salty lemon­grass broth — is a “soup for the soul” elixir per­fect for colds or those days when you’re sick at heart. Loaded with deep-green leaves, the hot udon is a fairly sim­ple but well-sea­soned combo of chewy noo­dles, fish broth, sea­weed, spinach, and green onions.

For some rea­son I’ve never been able to un­der­stand, restau­rants out­side New Mexico like to name tur­key-av­o­cado sand­wiches af­ter our city. The lo­cal Whole Foods serves some­thing along those lines: the made-to-or­der Santa Fe sand­wich de­liv­ers smoked tur­key, sun-dried tomato pesto, gar­licky gua­camole, and mixed greens on fo­cac­cia. It’s a hearty sand­wich — in­tensely fla­vor­ful but not overly fill­ing.

Over on the other side of town, the deli at La Mon­tañita Co-op of­fers some sat­is­fy­ing op­tions as well. Cus­tomers use col­or­ful pads of pa­per to se­lect or cus­tom-de­sign a juice, smoothie, bagel, or sand­wich (for a lit­tle ex­tra, we opted for “box lunches” with sides of potato and pasta salad, but we didn’t think ei­ther one was worth it). My com­pan­ion’s sand­wich was piled gen­er­ously with roast beef and slathered with a tingly horseradish cream cheese, but the meat was in­cred­i­bly tough. The av­o­cado veg­gie sand­wich is filled with bright, ripe pro­duce, from let­tuce and emer­ald­green sprouts to red toma­toes and pep­pers. Av­o­cado, na­ture’s but­ter, and an herby pesto mayo add some welcome rich­ness and depth.

Break­fast is avail­able at both mar­kets in the morn­ing. At Whole Foods, the hot bar is stocked with pre­made break­fast tacos (filled with eggs and ei­ther ba­con or hash browns, they’re small and sim­ple but also cheap) and bur­ri­tos (meat and veg­gie, the lat­ter liv­ing up to its name by in­clud­ing ac­tual veg­eta­bles). You can as­sem­ble a plate, choos­ing from the pre­dictable hot break­fast of­fer­ings as well as fruit, yogurt, gra­nola, oat­meal, and po­lenta (Whole Foods-ese for grits).

La Mon­tañita will toast a bagel; slather it with but­ter, cream cheese, or jam; or stuff it with a col­or­ful ar­ray of veg­gies. At the full-ser­vice break­fast bur­rito bar, a staff mem­ber will cus­tom-build your bur­rito with fluffy yel­low eggs, tofu, smoky pork or tur­key sausage, ba­con, pleas­antly salty and ten­der pota­toes, pinto beans, veg­gies (spinach, onion, zuc­chini, bell pep­pers), a ched­dar-Jack cheese blend, mild green chile (a spicier ver­sion is some­times avail­able upon re­quest), and a bold red. My din­ing com­pan­ion en­joyed his “sausage-red” bur­rito so much he was inspired to write haikus about it.

The in­door and out­door din­ing ar­eas at the Co-op are never too crowded, while at Whole Foods, you’ll see shop­pers sit­ting next to their bags, par­ents with kids, din­ers parked at ta­bles with their lap­tops, or work­ers in scrubs on their lunch break. The Co-op isn’t quite the shiny, well-oiled ma­chine that Whole Foods is, but one thing’s for sure: the park­ing lot is a much more peace­ful place.

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