The Cuban Reuben panini — handsome marbled rye laden with honey-cured ham, corned beef, Swiss cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing — is a wonderful, clever experiment, blending two popular lunchtime traditions into a mutt that is equa
proverbial source you consult, either God or the devil is in the details. At Palacio Cafe II, the recent offshoot of the Palace Avenue cafe that’s ever popular with downtowners, it’s clearly the former. When you order a Cuban Reuben panini, for example — that’s handsome marbled rye laden with honey-cured ham, corned beef, Swiss cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing — the inside edges are given a quick sear to keep all the gooey deliciousness from oozing out when you pull the halves apart.
Overall, that sandwich is a wonderful, clever experiment, blending two popular lunchtime traditions into a mutt that is equal, if not superior, to its purebred (or should that be purebread?) forebears. Unlike other kitchens do with so many of this panini’s kin, Palacio II refrains from smashing the sandwich into the culinary equivalent of pressboard, so each bite retains a pleasant amount of substance and give. You can also more easily detect the distinct meats, each finely shaven and thoughtfully chopped, which eliminates the odds that you’ll end up pulling out a tongue-like slab of ham in one less-thanzealous bite.
The breakfast tacos — a pleasantly lighter alternative to the sometimes-gut-busting traditional burrito — create a pretty plate. Each tender corn tortilla is packed with a fluffy scramble of eggs flecked with bacon and sausage and topped with a sprinkling of cheese, confetti-like lettuce and tomato, and crescents of crisp, pungent red onion. A fresh, abundantly fragrant wedge of orange is laid alongside, near a small dish of red or green chile designed for slathering or dunking.
Not that I’m suggesting you skip the breakfast burritos at Palacio II. Locals consistently rank them among the best in town, and with good reason, given that they’re loaded with buttery egg, delightfully starchy hash browns, just the right amount of cheese, and bacon, sausage, or veggies — whichever may be your druthers. Though I generally prefer green chile, and while Palacio’s is observably fresh, red is the way to go if you need a little heat to kick-start your morning.
At lunch, our cup of robust, roundly flavored green chile stew was chock-full of tender potato and nuggets of flavorful (if less customary) beef, and the thoroughly seasoned chile-heavy broth brought on a mild sweat. The red chile on our veggie enchiladas raised the thermostat even more, bringing on that familiar spice-induced euphoria. By the way, vegetarians will appreciate the appearance of actual vegetables here — mushrooms, spinach, onion, red bell pepper, and tomato were all rolled into these tidy tortilla packets.
The Taos Style panini is a hearty member of the sandwich team, another uncommon combination of ingredients you might not otherwise find being neighborly with each other. Its filling is a colorful jumble of tender roast beef, diced roasted red and green chile, caramelized onion, and stretchy provolone cheese. The sourdough bread had been so carefully and precisely placed (and turned) on the press that the bread looked like my preppy friend Cecily’s favorite gingham sweater. I would be remiss not to mention the fries: Although you’ll pay extra for them, they’re a delight rather than an afterthought, fleshy and salty and enjoyably toothy, if not exactly crisp.
Palacio II is tucked inside the meandering ant-farm halls of the Santa Fe Village, the main entrance to which is midblock on Don Gaspar Avenue. The kitchen and one cavelike dining area sit just past a sign announcing breakfast and lunch every day; thankfully, the space carves on through to West Alameda Street, where an airier dining room with splashy red and gold walls and oversized windows faces a charming little patio right off the street. Were we not heading into the chillier months of the year, I would have spent each of my recent visits there, beneath a cream-colored umbrella, watching traffic roll by and noshing on something savory and satisfying.
Palacio II isn’t exactly the sort of snazzy Santa Fe “destination” that you’d find on a list in
magazine, but it is, like its predecessor, a sweet, solid café favored by locals who sometimes just need a no-frills place to sit down with — or pick up — a carefully crafted sandwich or some chile-swathed New Mexican fare. Friendly proprietors Jonathan and Cynthia Muñoz are the son and daughter of Damian Muñoz, who established the family dynasty with Palacio Café in 2012. Their menu is the spitting image of their father’s — and everything seems just as lovingly prepared — with pancakes and omelets appearing alongside burritos and tacos, hot and cold sandwiches peacefully occupying menu space with classic salads, a handful of soups, and timeless New Mexican comfort food. We live in a wonderful melting pot, made better by its diversity; aren’t some of the best menus often the same?