Restaurante El Tapatío
He’s chef; she’s prep cook. She’s got an easy smile and an infectious laugh; he’s more reserved and earnest. Between them, they have five children and a growing reputation for reliably tasty traditional Mexican food.
Tucked into a nondescript strip mall on Airport Road, Restaurante El Tapatío is a sunny storefront café run by Miguel Torres and Maria Evelia Segura, who have been living in Santa Fe for 12 years. Having started out in the kitchen at Las Campanas in 2009, the couple outfitted a food truck and began selling fruit, tortas, tacos, sincronizadas, burritos, and the like on Hopewell Street, where they quickly developed a loyal following. In 2015, they opened the restaurant, featuring a menu packed with Mexican (mainly Jaliscan) specialties, including menudo,
(roasted goat prepared Jalisco-style, in a soupy tomatobased broth with lime, cilantro, and onions), and tacos with meat of many incarnations. There is also a selection of seafood plates, as well as several breakfast options, including a burrito.
El Tapatío’s location may be incognito, but the couple has put a loving stamp on the café’s interior, and nearly everything, including the restaurant’s name — a tapatío is a person from Guadalajara, Jalisco — indicates a strong pride in their home country. Walls are a riot of burnt orange, and the front counter is backed by a complex and colorful mural that depicts a fantastical cactus-dotted Mexican landscape at sunrise, peopled by a sombrero-bedecked mariachi and a folklórico dancer. Service is kind, careful, and efficient; each table sports an array of hot-sauce options (Tapatío, Cholula, and Valentina are all present and accounted for); Univision plays at a soft volume on the TV; and mariachi rhythms round out the ambience.
Torres and Segura’s business card reads “100% sabor Mexicano,” and in this chile-soaked town with its hybrid New Mexico cuisine, it’s a revelation to taste some of these purely imported flavors, though many are cozily familiar, too. Meals begin with a pile of thick, freshly fried corn tortilla chips, along with a bowl of juicy finely chopped tomato and chile salsa that sneaks up on you with its intensity. Flautas are a righteous representative of what’s to come: Nongreasy, tightly rolled, and fried crunchy corn tortilla flutes that give way to extra-tender chile-flecked shredded beef, they could be an entrée on their own. A crisp, expertly assembled torta of beef milanesa has a strata of carefully flattened, breaded, and seasoned beef, tomato, onions, cilantro, and avocado. Served with a side of plump, salty fries, the torta was hearty, decadent, and well balanced.
Tacos al pastor, some of the best I’ve had lately, are a hefty pile of tender, tangy roasted morsels of marinated chile-infused pork snuggled into soft corn tortillas with cilantro and onion, sided with a creamykicky avocado salsa, salsa roja, sliced radishes, lime, a whole roasted jalapeño, and sautéed onions. Tacos de bistec, a glistening mound of seasoned steak strips folded into tortillas with all the fixings, were also quite good. Beef-cheek gorditas, which I ordered with wheat masa — there’s also a cornmeal option — are pan-fried pockets smeared with velvety refried beans and chile paste, then filled with nearly crispy roasted shredded beef and onions.
A plate of continued the exercise in decadence: Pale, dainty pork ribs are stewed with a sauce of delicately flavored, slightly spicy nopal strips and accompanied by more of those rich refried beans and rice. Meat can be on the fatty side at El Tapatío, but the unctuous exterior of these falling-off-the-bone ribs only boosted the full-bodied flavor, accented by the slightly acidic cacti.
a traditional homespun soup served alongside rice dotted with peas, had a light cilantro-infused broth filled with chunky potatoes, carrots, a small corncob, and the star of the show — a boiled, fatstriped red beef shank. The vegetables were sweet and silky-soft, the meat again fell off the bone, and my methodical first-this, now-that consumption of the soup made me anticipate the wintry days ahead, when I’m sure to crave that meat-and-potatoes type of comfort. A glossy caramel-sauced flan rounded out a memorable evening.
Torres and Segura’s cooking is so robust, their flavors so multifaceted, and their portions so sizable that I was nearly full and certainly satisfied after three to four bites of nearly every dish I tried — and most plates come with one or two sides. Theirs is truly
in the best possible way, and at a great bargain. But with such a varied, interesting menu, my appetite was at direct odds with my stomach capacity on each of my dinner visits. On Sundays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., a duo plays traditional music, which sounds like a perfect excuse for a midday return trip to try the potent-looking birria and menudo — though perhaps only after a protracted period of strict vegetarianism.