Breakfast is not usually my favorite meal of the day, but that indifference disappears when I am in Santa Fe where the red and green chile sauces cast a magical spin on traditional breakfast fare.
In the past I always put Cafe Pasqual at the top of my list for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but a recent visit to Santa Fe revealed some new spots that are equally captivating AND easier on the wallet. Pasqual’s has, unfortunately, raised prices to the point that it’s more frequented by tourists than locals these days. Hopping in the car instead of simply walking to the Plaza opened up a new world, full of local hangouts that captivated me AND my stomach. (For additional options, including Tecolote Cafe, check out my archives.)
Chocolate Maven Bakery and Cafe. Here’s a classic example of not judging a book by its cover. Driving up to this out-of-the-way warehouse, one would never imagine that inside is a beautiful bakery and white-tablecloth restaurant. Ask to sit on the first floor so that you have a clear view of the bakery in action. (You’ll need to get there early on the weekends to have that option). We were fortunate enough to sit by the huge picture window, where we watched bakers forming pastries and rolling out dough for decadent croissants as we enjoyed a very civilized breakfast. Though the menu is dotted with traditional New Mexican breakfast items like the ubiquitous breakfast burrito, the strength of this restaurant is in its modern twists on those old-time specialties. You won’t find the very best red or green chile here, but Chocolate Maven makes the finest rendition of chilaquiles and migas that I have ever had. Normally, chilaquiles are soggy tortilla chips that have been baked in a ranchero sauce, topped with a fried egg and cheese. But here, an astonishing array of flavors and colors graced the plate. Fresh tortilla strips had been sauteed in red chile sauce, topped with fried eggs, avocado, lettuce, tomato, queso fresco and black beans. Each bite did a little dance in my mouth. The migas, eggs scrambled with tortilla strips, tomato, serrano, onion, cheddar cheese and fresh tomatillo salsa, were as compelling and a bit lighter. Not interested in a Mexican-style entree? Pancakes, caramelized French toast and even scrambled tofu with spinach are all prepared with a deft hand.
The bakery has pastries, breads, sandwiches and even salsas to go, and the cafe has started serving dinner, as well as breakfast, brunch and lunch.
The Pantry may not have the panache of Chocolate Maven, but it knows how to deliver solid, satisfying New Mexican fare. Breakfast is served all day, but it’s open for lunch and dinner as well. Both the red and green chile sauces have a kick, the service is friendly and efficient, and the portions are generous, which is a bit of an understatement. Tamales smothered in red chile, cheese enchiladas Christmas-style (red and green sauces), heuvos rancheros, chorizo breakfast burritos (which my nephew put in his top five list of best breakfast burritos ever)…the Pantry deserves its coveted place as a Santa Fe institution.