The best breakfast burritos in town
When I moved to Santa Fe, I was wholly unprepared for the zeal that Northern New Mexicans have for their breakfast burritos. Every norteño has a favorite spot, and quite often, people’s choices seem to have more to do with tradition than anything else (“We get our breakfast burritos here because we always have.”). In an earnest effort to round up the best, we questioned people all over town about their favorites and tried dozens of contenders, tracking the ratio of ingredients, the quality of the meat (Is the bacon too limp? Is the chorizo spicy?), the heat of the chile (we ordered every burrito with Christmas), the fluffiness of the eggs, the crispiness of the potatoes, the inclusion of onions and cheese — you name the factor, we’ve agonized over it. What follows is far from a comprehensive list of the best, but that’s a good thing. It means there are always more venues to visit and more debates to have — and, most important, more deliciously filling breakfasts to tuck into.
My favorite smothered and hand-held breakfast burritos come from a near-and-dear location: Palacio Café, run by Damian Muñoz (formerly of The Shed) and his cheerful, efficient wife, Maria. I’ve found Palacio’s chile to be some of the most consistently, pleasantly hot around. I’m particularly fond of the green, which makes itself known slowly but dangerously. The melding of the burrito’s ingredients is masterful: Whether with bacon or sausage or no meat at all, the eggs are fresh and buttery, the cheese plentiful and gooey. Two factors stand out: Rather than home fries, Muñoz puts hash-brown potatoes in the mix, which works to bind the ingredients, and then he grills the tortilla. The result is a compact, crispy bullet with stark grill marks on either side. If you’re going hand-held, you’ve got a car-safe burrito that won’t fall apart; if you’ve chosen smothered, get ready for a sea of gorgeous, jewel-toned chile and more of that very real, very-much-melted cheddar. I recently had a friend visiting from Phoenix who drove here with a gift of two In-N-Out double-double cheeseburgers, sealed and packed carefully in ice — if I ever leave the Land of Enchantment, I’d want someone to do me the same favor with a Palacio hand-held.
Many people don’t know that the venerable Pasqual’s Café sells a smothered chorizo breakfast burrito, and when you tell them it has a price tag of $16.75, they naturally balk. Sometimes you just need an indulgent breakfast, though, and Pasqual’s enormous version wraps scrambled organic eggs; crispy, well-seasoned home fries; and addictively spicy chorizo in an expansive whole-wheat tortilla. This flavor bomb is topped with a mess of superior red and green chile, melted jack cheese, and a scattering of scallions. Once you start your morning with this high-end, gourmet burrito, not only will you not need to eat for the rest of the day, but you won’t want to — nothing else will top even the memory of it.
The family that owns Tía Sophia’s makes an intriguing claim to Tía’s being the first café to call eggs and bacon in a flour tortilla a “breakfast burrito,” putting it on their menu in the ’70s. Whatever the origin of the name, the restaurant’s stellar version makes this assertion seem legit. I’ve enjoyed these smothered burritos many times, but on my official tasting visit, I arrived after the breakfast cutoff time. Our server, sensing my immense disappointment, offered to serve me a burrito with egg, cheese, bacon — and French fries instead of home fries, since the kitchen was done making breakfast potatoes. The result was a revelation of tangy, fiery chile; flavorful eggs and cheese; impossibly crisp whole strips of bacon, and some nicely salty French fries. I was glad for the substitution and wholeheartedly endorse the coercion of Tía’s servers into making this lunchtime exception — if the kitchen will oblige, of course. Every bite makes it worthwhile.
For the title of second-best handheld breakfast burrito, I chose three contenders: El Parasol, El Chile Toreado, and Posa’s El Merendero. Wary of the ways in which loyalty can blind us to fault, I subjected employees of The
Santa Fe New Mexican to a blind taste-test, complete with a four-question survey for each burrito. The winner by a landslide was El Chile Toreado’s bacon version. Reviewers praised various ingredients: bacon, potatoes, the singular green chile, and the grilled tortilla, which provided a satisfying crunch. Posa’s chorizo burrito came in second, with tasters giving it high marks for the spiciness of the meat. El Parasol’s bacon brought up the rear — a burrito that many found too bland in comparison, though several did note the flavor of its green chile. Interestingly, after the burritos were eaten, I heard several respondents, still unaware of which burrito they had elected as the finest, praising El Parasol’s (again, that whole tradition thing). Perhaps we caught El Parasol — a revered stop on the burrito trail — on an off day.
Finally, when my co-workers were asked to name their favorite breakfast burrito in town, 50 percent named Palacio Café, more than any other place. One must consider the proximity of Palacio to the offices of The Santa Fe New
Mexican, but still — how’s that for a recommendation? Honorable mentions: Horseman’s Haven Café, The Pantry, Plaza Café, Ramblin’ Café, Tune-Up Café.
I’ve found Palacio Café’s chile to be some of the most consistently, pleasantly hot around. I’m particularly fond of the green, which makes itself known slowly but dangerously.