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

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Travel + Leisure

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?

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