You know the conflict: you’re going to a wonderful place you’ve traversed before and can’t decide whether to try something new or revisit a beloved spot. It’s even harder when you’re traveling with someone you haven’t been with in that place before – do you introduce them to said beloved place, or discover something new together?
Thus was my conflict when The Grill-Meister and I went to Santa Fe for half a day before a wedding that evening in Santa Ana Pueblo, northeast of Albuquerque. I shared a little about the wedding with you recently in another restaurant rave from the same trip.
Cafe Pasqual’s or Coyote Cafe?
In Santa Fe, I was torn between trying something new with The Grill-Meister, since we hadn’t been there together before, and revisiting one of my old favorite discoveries from Santa Fe treks in my 30s: either Coyote Cafe or Cafe Pasqual’s, both of which have garnered James Beard awards. Coyote Cafe was groundbreaking when it was established in 1987, won Best Chef / Southwest for the original chef and owner Mark Miller, and remains a destination for foodies with a bent toward upscale, imaginative southwest cuisine. Cafe Pasqual’s is a different kind of foodie heaven, serving hearty farm-to-table fare that’s a fusion of international flavors while leaning heavily toward the southwest. It was named as one of the 4 annual recipients of the James Beard “American Classics Award” in 1999. It says a lot that both restaurants are still going strong after the turmoil of the COVID-impacted restaurant industry.
Retracing my steps won over going somewhere new (as it often does), and of the two, Cafe Pasqual’s was our choice. We weren’t dressed properly for Coyote Cafe, and a late breakfast at Cafe Pasqual’s was the perfect meal to tide us over until the wedding reception. I was delighted as we drove up to see that it looked EXACTLY THE SAME as it had more than two decades ago, a tiny place in an adobe building on a prominent corner in a delightful and historic New Mexican town. It has been open for more than 40 years now.
The small restaurant has a limit of ~50 diners, and people (like us) are willing to wait for the opportunity. We got on a waiting list with a target time of 11:15 a.m.
Meanwhile, we wandered the square, perusing the shops and the wares of the artists and street vendors. I bought a lovely white cotton blouse and a paper mache cat at a tiny store called Kashmir Posh. The proprietor was really, really nice, knew his merchandise well and pegged my size perfectly, so we were in and out just in time to make our 11:15 waitlist arrival back at nearby Cafe Pasqual’s.
Let the Cafe Pasqual’s Repeat Experience Begin
Back at Cafe Pasqual’s, I was delighted that the inside looked the same, too. Still colorful, bright, welcoming and full of delighted diners enjoying the festive, art-filled ambiance.
The tables are close together and some are communal. No one minds, as you make conversation and get menu recommendations (raves) from patrons at neighboring tables.
To Start: An Artsy Menu and a Mimosa
The menus are just as creative and unique as the restaurant, colored paper pages that are tied together with raffia, the cover a print on heavy cardstock by Oaxacan artist Leovigildo Martinez, who has had art shows all over the Americas and beyond, and who painted the wall murals that help create the unique Cafe Pasqual’s look. I asked if I could buy a menu to commemorate the experience, and the restaurant manager gave it to me. 😊
What a way to start a dining experience, with a lovely piece of art! And also to start, since it was a celebratory day – vacation, Santa Fe, Brian and Shelby’s wedding, oh my! – I had a mimosa while we were perusing the menu. The Grill-Meister stuck with iced tea.
“You Need to Get the Huevos Barbacoa”
My choice for breakfast was influenced by, nay, chosen by, one of the diners at the table next to us. They were an affable and gregarious couple, and he caught me stealing glances at his dish when it was delivered. “The Huevos Barbacoa,” he announced. “You need to get this if you like a spicy, deep, rich dish. It’s best with poached eggs. You won’t be sorry.”
I did, and I wasn’t.
The Huevos Barbacoa is described on the menu this way: “HUEVOS BARBACOA CON CHILE D’ARBOL SALSA ~ Marinated Oven-Roasted, Slow-Cooked Beef Cheeks /Two Eggs / Organic Corn Tortillas / Black Beans / Cotija Cheese“.
What it didn’t say, but should have, is what the other diner told me: “You won’t be sorry if you like a spicy, deep, rich dish.” The black beans were savory and just the right texture. The chile d’arbol sauce was spicy, but not hit-you-over-the-head spicy, a spicy that hit taste buds all over your mouth in a very democratic way. I was too inspired by eating to get a picture once I dove into the dish, but the creaminess of the poached eggs and the heftiness of the house-made corn tortillas created perfection with a variety of textures, and the bite of the white onion and freshness of the cilantro garnish rounded out the blend of flavors.
Needless to say, I loved this dish! I found out today when I was doing some research that chef and TV Food Network personality Chris Santos included Cafe Pasqual’s Huevos Barbacoa as one of his choices on the show, “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” the Eggstraordinary episode, back in 2011. That’s not surprising.
The Chorizo Burrito was Grande!
The Grill-Meister chose the Chorizo Burrito. He wasn’t sorry, either! You can see in the picture that it was oozy, gooey, meaty goodness and scrambled eggs, topped with melty jack cheese and the “Xmas sauce” option – both red and green. But there was a LOT of it! We could have shared and still had some left over, although, as an only child, The Grill-Meister isn’t a big fan of meal-sharing. That’s ok, I’m the Duchess of Leftovers.
Connecting Over Food and Fests
After confirming that the recommendation about the Huevos Barbacoa was just right for me (like Goldilocks!), we had a great conversation with the patrons at the neighboring table—between bites and murmurs of appreciation—learning that they were from New Orleans, where we had just been the week before, and that we all really love the New Orleans Jazz Fest. They told us to try the French Quarter Fest next year, and I think we will. They’re 100% on recommendations so far! I wish I had gotten their names and contact info, but alas, we were too into the food to think of practical things like that.
Vegetarians Welcome Here!
While The Grill-Meister and I both chose meat-heavy dishes, there are numerous delicious-looking vegetarian and vegan options on the menu at Cafe Pasqual’s. They are also serious about sourcing authentic local food. The menu says, “Just like our farmers, ranchers, vintners and fisheries, we use organics and sustainability as our guiding star.” Amen!
Of Course I Have the Cookbooks!
Although we couldn’t take our leftovers with us because we were in a hotel and booked up all weekend, I didn’t leave Cafe Pasqual’s empty-handed. In addition to my gifted menu, I purchased a T-shirt and small dish. I already had both of the cookbooks: a signed copy of the first one, Cafe Pasqual’s Cookbook, that I bought on my first visit back in the 90s, and the second cookbook, Cooking with Cafe Pasqual’s, which a very close friend gave me after visiting Santa Fe back in 2017. I love these cookbooks and intend to cook from them more now that I’ve been reminded of the gloriousness of the Cafe Pasqual’s cuisine and experience.
Next Time, Lunch, and Then, Coyote Cafe for Dinner
Being a little more open-minded about the definition of “new experience”, I guess we actually DID do something new that day, because my previous visits to Cafe Pasqual’s were at dinner time, and I had no idea that the breakfasts were so magnificent. The next time we go to Santa Fe, we can still do something new by trying out the lunch menu. 😁 And then we can have dinner at Coyote Cafe! The “something new” can be breakfast at one of the other restaurants recommended by friends (old and new) and family.
How soon can we get back to Santa Fe? – that’s the question.
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