Noth­ing about the food is earth-shat­ter­ing, but it’s thought­ful, fla­vor­ful, and gen­er­ously por­tioned — you get the feel­ing that the kitchen re­ally cares about what it sends to your ta­ble.

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Tor­tilla Flat

might not have had John Stein­beck’s 1942 novel in mind when they named their restau­rant, but Stein­beck’s de­scrip­tion of his char­ac­ters seems to ap­ply to the folks who work and eat here: “They are peo­ple whom I know and like ... good peo­ple of laugh­ter and kind­ness.”

On ev­ery visit to this warm, invit­ing diner-es­que joint — lo­cated on the cor­ner of Cer­ril­los Road and Ru­fina Cir­cle, just around the curve from Meow Wolf — we were greeted and treated with af­fec­tion­ate en­thu­si­asm. Cheer­ful servers check in fre­quently with­out “he­li­copter­ing.” They pause to ask about your day, and even when they’re in the weeds, they make sure you have ev­ery­thing you need. Noth­ing about the food is earth-shat­ter­ing, but it’s thought­ful, fla­vor­ful, and gen­er­ously por­tioned — you get the feel­ing that the kitchen re­ally cares about what it sends to your ta­ble.

It’s easy to stop by for happy hour, when food on the brief but en­tic­ing bar menu is half-price and drinks are dis­counted. Happy hour hap­pens on the pa­tio and in the “cantina,” the bright cen­tral room with a tall ceil­ing and Anasazi stone ac­cents. Cer­ril­los can be a hellish sun­baked stretch of as­phalt in sum­mer, but Tor­tilla Flats cre­ates a cool, breezy out­door re­treat on their cov­ered and walled pa­tio. The in­te­rior din­ing space is ex­ten­sive, though not cav­ernously un­invit­ing, so even if the park­ing lot’s thor­oughly packed, you prob­a­bly won’t have trou­ble get­ting a seat.

On the bar menu you’ll find the usual sus­pects: a que­sadilla; wings; pip­ing-hot taquitos filled with juicy chicken (or beef); and “ul­ti­mate” na­chos laden with ched­dar and Jack cheeses, pinto beans, hearty and rich shred­ded brisket, let­tuce, tomato, pick­led jalapeños, and gua­camole on re­quest. Bas­kets of crisp, pa­per-thin chips are served with cups of some­what wa­tery-look­ing but fresh and per­fectly pi­cante salsa. I would buy this stuff by the jar.

Tor­tilla Flats will feed you any time of day, any day of the week (and for the record, break­fast is served un­til 5 p.m.). Gen­er­ally, the menu doesn’t hold a lot of sur­prises — not that there’s any­thing wrong with that. Pretty much ev­ery New Mex­i­can classic is avail­able: que­sadil­las, tamales, enchiladas, rel­lenos, tacos, flau­tas, bur­ri­tos, chimichangas, and menudo all make ap­pear­ances. More mid­dle-of-the road op­tions are of­fered as well, from pan­cakes and tra­di­tional egg-and­ba­con break­fasts to sal­ads, sand­wiches, and burg­ers.

Like sev­eral other dishes, the huevos rancheros are highly cus­tom­iz­a­ble — a “have it your way” qual­ity that might please choosy din­ers but prob­a­bly ex­hausts the wait staff. Do you pre­fer corn or flour tor­tillas? How do you want your eggs? Red or green chile or both? Black beans, pinto beans, or re­fritos? Would you like to add hash browns? You’ll pay extra for that last op­tion, by the way, but that stra­tum of starchy­crisp pota­toes is worth it in my book. And though my eggs were a touch un­der­cooked, the kitchen came closer to a good over-medium than most other places in town seem ca­pa­ble of.

The Frito pie is a fine spec­i­men, a gen­er­ous lay­ered bowl of salty corn curls, ground beef, beans, cheese, and red or green chile that’s piled high with let­tuce and tomato. The pork car­ni­tas bring you large hunks of smoky, salty meat served on one of those ar­che­typal siz­zling fa­jita skil­lets, along with giant rings of per­fectly grilled onions and blis­tered whole jalapeños. Along­side are a bowl of light-green salsa verde, corn or flour tor­tillas, and a plate of­fer­ing a gen­er­ous pud­dle of pinto or black beans, sliced but­tery av­o­cado, let­tuce, and tomato. Or you could stuff a bur­rito with al­most any­thing, in­clud­ing roast beef, but that’s sadly skip­pable — even a healthy slather­ing of bright and spicy red chile can’t make amends for soft, gray over­cooked meat.

On the less-carne-cen­tric end of the spec­trum is a veg­e­tar­ian enchilada that con­tains not just cheese or beans but ac­tual veg­eta­bles — broc­coli, mush­rooms, scal­lions, car­rots, and pep­pers. I chose cal­abac­i­tas as a side, but it was bland and a lit­tle too wa­tery and slip­pery for my taste.

The so-called gua­camole salad turns out to be two tor­tilla shell cups over­flow­ing with fresh, gar­licky gua­camole — the “salad” part of the name ap­par­ently refers to the chopped let­tuce they’re nes­tled in. The non­com­mit­tal “sea­sonal” pric­ing of the dish made me wary, though; when the check ar­rived, I braced for a dou­ble-digit price tag, only to re­al­ize this lav­ish plate of food would run me a mere eight bucks. This may be the best ap­pe­tizer deal in town.

Both the red and the green chiles — the lat­ter of­ten a deep forest green — are solid, with heat lev­els that’ll tin­gle your tongue but won’t blow your mind. Both black and pinto beans are ex­em­plary, but the re­fritos are some­thing spe­cial: smooth and salty and highly ad­dic­tive.

All of this is a long way of say­ing Tor­tilla Flats is worth a visit, es­pe­cially if all you re­ally need is a lib­eral serv­ing of com­fort­ing, homey New Mex­i­can food in a friendly en­vi­ron­ment. Stein­beck was known for cel­e­brat­ing the beauty of sim­ple things, and that seems like a per­fect summary of what’s hap­pen­ing at Tor­tilla Flats.

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