Res­tau­rant Re­view

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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.

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