Metic­u­lous ar­ti­sanal dishes have their place, but so do over-the-top Chris’ of­fer­ings like “The Ran­dolph,” which turns or­di­nary food into a test of stamina.

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW -

along on Cer­ril­los Road, it’s easy to miss a tucked-away restau­rant like Chris’ Café. It’s si­t­u­ated off a long stretch of Cer­ril­los that’s cur­rently un­der re­pair. If you’re headed south and want to find Chris’, you’ll need to keep one eye on traf­fic and one on the left-lane ex­its. The turnoff you seek leads to a road that con­nects to the Lofts; take that, and on your left you’ll see a non­de­script shop­ping cen­ter that con­tains a va­p­ing store, a sell-us-your-gold place, a used-car deal­er­ship, ren­tal trucks, and Chris’.

Step in­side and you’ll be ei­ther charmed or dis­mayed, de­pend­ing on how you feel about no-frills din­ing. Chris’ is de­fined by big por­tions, lots of choices, plenty of eggs and ba­con, sauce- and cheese­heavy North­ern New Mex­i­can dishes, gen­er­ous re­fills of cof­fee and iced tea, and large-di­am­e­ter pan­cakes. Given this big-bel­lied spirit, the in­te­rior is sur­pris­ingly small — there’s a cramped kitchen on the left, a host­ess podium in the mid­dle of the room, and roughly 10 ta­bles (with padded chairs) in a rec­tan­gu­lar area to your right. Floor: beige tile. Ceil­ing: drop. Decor: plain, con­sist­ing pri­mar­ily of scat­tered wall art and home­spun touches like a WEL­COME sign made with black metal let­ters.

I love places like Chris’ — I grew up go­ing to them and still seek them out, pre­cisely be­cause they aren’t up­scale. Metic­u­lous ar­ti­sanal dishes have their place, but so do over­the-top Chris’ of­fer­ings like “The Ran­dolph,” which turns or­di­nary food into a test of stamina. “Our big­gest dish?” the menu says. “A moun­tain of pota­toes, Fri­tos corn chips, chile, cheese, beans, and topped with two eggs. Choice of ground beef, carne adovada, and chicken.”

On my first trip to Chris’, for lunch, I didn’t feel up to the Ran­dolph chal­lenge, but my eyes landed on some­thing equally bold, la­beled “Best Green Chile Chicken En­chi­ladas Ever … Ever.” I or­dered them, and though they weren’t the best I’ve ever had, the dish was a wor­thy ex­am­ple of sooth­ing mid­day com­fort food. The cooks take two blue-corn tor­tillas and use them to sand­wich chunks of oven-baked chicken and green chile. This stacked en­chi­lada comes swim­ming in melted cheese and green chile sauce, and it’s ac­com­pa­nied by good, spicy posole, sa­vory beans, and a tor­tilla.

On an­other visit, I had a chance to study one of Chris’ sub­tle strengths: its server corps. As far as I could tell from three trips, the wait staff is all women, all mov­ing fast, ex­ud­ing cheer­ful­ness, and stay­ing on top of customers’ needs. I tried a green chile cheese­burger — a yummy ver­sion of the New Mex­ico clas­sic, with chopped green chile, pep­per Jack cheese, and a smushy se­same-seed bun. While I ate, I watched two wait­resses deal with a dis­grun­tled client, an el­derly woman who ap­peared to be over­whelmed by her food. (I couldn’t quite hear what the prob­lem was, but it was ei­ther too spicy or too heavy or both.) They treated her like a friend or rel­a­tive, of­fer­ing to chuck the en­tire dish and re­turn with some­thing built to her spec­i­fi­ca­tions. She passed on that, but I think their gen­uine con­cern made her feel bet­ter.

Chris’ of­fers an ex­ten­sive break­fast menu, in­clud­ing hot­cakes, French toast, var­i­ous egg and meat com­bos, eggs Bene­dict, eggs Floren­tine, a Bene­dict vari­a­tion called the Cal­i­for­nia Benny, seven reg­u­lar omelets, and a de­sign-your-own omelet op­tion. On a busy Sun­day morn­ing, I got take­out break­fast for three peo­ple, or­der­ing the Cal­i­for­nia omelet, the Cal­i­for­nia Benny, and a sin­gle hot­cake.

Once every­thing was un­veiled at home, the hot­cake proved to be the weak­est link. The Cal­i­for­nia omelet seems con­cep­tu­ally right — the fill­ing con­sists of ba­con, gua­camole, and Swiss cheese. The clear win­ner was the Cal­i­for­nia Benny: two del­i­cately poached eggs on English muffins un­der an A-OK hol­landaise sauce, ac­com­pa­nied by chunky hash browns.

The take­away is that I’ll try Chris’ again, and I think you should give it a shot. You’ll like its com­mu­nity feel­ing, and with a menu this big, it’s likely you’ll find some­thing that’s right for you.

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