Anyone observing Lent is in luck in Santa Fe. Several establishments offer special meat-free or fish-centric dishes, some of which are available daily, others only on Fridays. I practically jump for joy at the promise of the limited-time Friday fish tacos at El Chile Toreado.
Maybe because I grew up attending a run- of-themill suburban Protestant church, I’m fascinated by religious ritual and tradition — especially as they apply to food. My husband is half Jewish, so we keep matzo in our pantry during Passover, and my arsenal is equipped with recipes and techniques for challah, kugel, latkes, and rugelach. Around Christmas, we make sugar cookies, sure, but also panettone and stollen. For Mardi Gras, I’ll bake a king cake, and in the evening we’ll have some spicy New Orleans-inspired dinner (and OK, maybe a hurricane or two) to kick off the Lenten season. As Easter approaches, I spend my free time baking traditional breads, from the Italian colomba pasquale to British hot cross buns.
My childhood church of fered c o mmunion only around Easter, and I was never required to observe Lent. These days I usually give something up, though whether I do depends l argely on my frame of mind, not the demands of liturgical canon. Many devout Catholics, on the other hand, generally abstain from eating meat on Fridays throughout the year and give up something else for roughly six weeks every spring. Some only surrender their carnivorousness on Fridays during Lent (and even then, fish is allowed).
Anyone observing Lent is in luck in Santa Fe. Several establishments offer special meat-free or fish-centric dishes, some of which are available daily, others only on Fridays. Those of us not bound by religious law are the unintended beneficiaries.
For example, I practically jump for joy at the promise of the limited- time Friday fish t acos at El Chile Toreado, the colorful truck on Cordova Road. Chock-full of spicy griddled fish and yellow corn kernels, piled high with cabbage and pico de gallo, and doused with their mysterious, mind-blowingly complex signature green sauce, these tacos will make you happy to give up meat for Lent.
Furr’s Cafeteria (522 W. Cordova Road) famously promotes seafood specials (this year’s include tilapia, whitefish, and two kinds of shrimp), and popular spots like Café Castro (2811 Cerrillos Road) and Sunrise Family Restaurant (1851 St. Michael’s Drive) also have Lent menus. If you live outside of town or find yourself on the interstate heading north on a Friday, stop by Pancho’s Gourmet to Go in Pecos (9 S. Main St.) for its beer-battered pollock fish and chips.
If you’re pressed for time, Blake’s Lotaburger, with several locations around town, serves a Lent-season fish sandwich and fish-and-chips “boat.” The sandwich — with its winter-pale tomato slices, pastel lettuce leaf, slathering of tangy tartar sauce, and crusty brown planks of breaded fried fish — has a “so bad it’s good” quality (technically it meets the Lenten criteria, but can this really be virtuous?). The filets and abundant fries in the boat are crispy and hot and best anointed liberally with salt.
At El Parasol, most Lenten Fridays bring some kind of meat-free special, promoted on the counter near the registers. The week we visited, there was an enchilada plate heady with rich, deliciously bitter red chile and served with an iceberg- and- t omato “salad”; refritos; a cup of soupy, salty rice; and a soft, piping-hot f lour tortilla. The specials may change from week to week, so call ahead to find out what’s on offer.
Santa Fe Bite breaks out of its iconic green- chile- cheeseburger mold to fry fish and chips on Fridays. This special is available throughout the year, not just during Lent, and is worth seeking out: piping hot hunks of snow-white cod in a sturdy, crispy crust arrive atop a pile of lightly battered, generously seasoned, and highly addictive wedgy steak-fry-style chips. Both get an acidic punch if you dunk them in malt vinegar, and a side of mildly sweet chopped slaw makes a nice palate cleanser.
Of course, you can inquire about Lent specials at any of your favorite restaurants. Several places I called, however, abruptly answered, “No, I’m sorry,” and left it at that, while others were eager to point out appropriate dishes that are on the menu year-round. Shake Foundation (631 Cerrillos Road) directed me to its mushroom veggie burger. The staff at Plaza Café Southside (3466 Zafarano Drive) enthusiastically noted that its menu always includes wicked spicy fish and chips as well as fish tacos and vegetarian options like avocado tacos. The kitchen will happily substitute calabacitas for meat in many dishes.
For the record, a number of other popular restaurants around town have Lent-positive dishes on their menus every day — you just need to look closely for them. Fish tacos and a handful of vegetarian options are available all year at The Shed (113 E. Palace Ave.) and La Choza (905 Alarid St.). Maria’s (555 W. Cordova Road), under relatively new ownership, adds daily specials to its regular menu, and these often feature shrimp and seafood. In so many ways, Santa Fe is a spiritually minded community, so if you bother to ask, you’ll find there are lots of fish in that sea.