It’s a busy Thursday night at Posa’s El Merendero. On the radio, El Show de Erazno y la Chokolata is conducting a wacky Spanish-language dating game, in which the radio personalities call unsuspecting long-distance lovers and test their fidelity. The ambience of Posa’s, a Santa Fe instithat tution boasts a family history of tamale-making going back to 1955, is brisk and casual, and the irreverence of the blaring radio program fits right in. You’re about to enjoy a classic Norteño meal — why not kick back with your family and have your tamales with a side of chisme?
The centerpiece of Posa’s no-frills Rodeo Road locaalso tion (it has another outpost on Zafarano Drive) is its tamale-making operation, which is on full display via a large picture window in the middle of the dining room. During the day, it’s possible to see this process play out over and over again, but at night, the machines are dormant. You order at the counter from a mouth-wateringly extensive menu that includes all the usual suspects: tamales, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, posole, menudo — and a few more remarkable options, like the chile dog burrito or Frito pie burrito. Breakfast is also available, with selections including a breakfast burrito or carne adovada and eggs.
Of course, the in-store experience makes up only a fraction of Posa’s enterprise, as the restaurant does a huge volume of catering and take-out orders. On two visits, we watched customers staggering under the weight of huge boxes filled with tamales — ’tis the season, to be sure, though Santa Fe’s appetite for Posa’s masa seems to be a year-round affair.
Now, about that masa: It’s the star of the show. Light, fluffy, delicately seasoned, the masa in these tamales can trick you into thinking you’re eating something almost … healthy? We tried the pork and red chile (yum) and the chicken, cheese, and green chile (the chicken a little dry) versions first, and then were wowed by the vegan (black beans, corn, squash, and green chile) and vegetarian (cheese and green chile) varieties. Posa’s also offers holiday tamales, stuffed with turkey, chile, calabacitas, and cheese, but they weren’t available on my visit. I did take advantage of another seasonal staple — a traditional mincemeat and piñon empanada that was completely delicious, its sweet, mingling flavors evoking all the history and mystery of a New Mexico Christmas.
The plates are generous: My shredded beef tacos were overstuffed, rich, and greasily satisfying. One of my companions declared that the Spanish rice was a cut above the rest in town, while another admired the tasty utility of the fried tortilla bowl that cradled his beans. The vegetarian calabacitas burrito, filled with fresh-tasting squash, beans, chile, and cheese, was packed with flavor, again lulling one diner into the self-congratulatory sense that she was eating a virtuous meal. The excellent chicken flautas are worth indexing as a Santa Fe must-have. Don’t accidentally call them taquitos, though, or a counterperson may correct you. She was right to do so: These are much bigger and much better than any taquito I’ve tackled.
With certain menu items, the food quality can take a dive into greasy fast-food territory. The shrimp tacos sported a zippy mango salsa, but the tortillas were drenched in oil, overpowering the nicely sautéed shrimp. The chile relleno’s breading had become soggy under its blanket of chile. As with most people in this town, I have strong opinions about breakfast burritos, and Posa’s version is just fine — not amazing but also not disappointing.
However, the Posa’s menu is so long, and so scrumptious, that two visits were simply not enough to encapsulate its offerings. Like the rest of Santa Fe, I’m hooked on this fast and cheap cuisine and grateful for Posa’s continuing legacy of masa magic. To bastardize Charles Dickens, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter, good humor … and great tamales. God bless us, every one!
‘Tis the season, to be sure, though Santa Fe’s appetite for Posa’s masa
seems to be a year-long affair.