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.
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.