A Culinary Phenomenon
phenomenon [fi-nom-uh-non, -nuhn] n: something
that is impressive or extraordinary.
I am going to break with the reviewers tradition of talking about the food (many others have done this more gloriously than I can) and discus Cafe Pasqual’s as a cultural, culinary, or even pop phenomenon. That’s what it is. Cafe Pasqual’s is more that just another good restaurant.
“Cafe Pasqual’s is named for the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks, San Pasqual. Our historic pueblo-style adobe is located one block southwest of the plaza, in the heart of downtown Santa Fe. Our festive dining room is lined with hand-painted Mexican tiles and murals by the renowned Mexican painter Leovigildo Martinez, depicting the moon reveling at her fiesta. “
It is, among other things,
- A James Beard America’s Classic award winner (1999)
- The most popular restaurant in Santa Fe among Urbanspoon readers,
- A comfortable gathering place for both locals and tourists
- A fun place.
The James Beard Foundation writes
“Each year since 1998 the James Beard Foundation Awards Committee has identified five small, regional restaurants, watering holes, shacks, lunch counters, and similar down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape. We anoint these restaurants with a James Beard Foundation Award designating them as one of America’s Classics.
“In the spirit of James Beard, who enjoyed a paper cone of fried belly clams as much as a fine French meal, we encourage you to visit these American Classics if you find yourself in their neighborhood. You are sure to find a warm welcome, and deeply satisfying food. Tell them the James Beard Foundation sent you.”
Past New Mexico winners of this award are Mary & Tito’s Cafe(2009) in Albuquerque (my favorite restaurant in Albuquerque) and The Shed (2002) in Santa Fe. I think the food quality is best at Mary & Tito’s.
Cafe Pasqual’s has been voted the Number 1 restaurant in Santa Fe. This means “Most Popular,” not “Best,” which would be a lame judgement call. Of the 507 voters, 89 perc3nt voted “I like it.” Good showing. Fifty-six Spooners wrote reviews. Of these 56, 39 were not residents of Santa Fe, but (presumably) tourists (South Bend, Denver, Pittsburgh, Colorado Springs, Tampa, and so forth).
Curiously, most of the few negative comments were penned by Santa Feans or Albuquerqueños. This trend is shared by El Pinto in Albuquerque’s North Valley: Tourists tend to like it and locals are more disparaging. Both places are touristy, but Cafe Pasqual’s serves really delicious and original food while El Pinto’s food is subpar New Mexican. Pity.
The City Different is one of the most popular destinations for tourists. Rightfully so. Galleries (Canyon Road), museums, shows (like the world-famous Indian Market in August), and first-class restaurants abound. [I almost lived there, but decided that Corrales is more gentle and peaceful.] Sit in the Plaza and talk with passersby. Chances are very good that they are from someplace else. Ask a stranger for a restaurant recommendation. They might pull out a guide book, so you can ignore them. When you finally do snag a local, they might point you across the Plaza to the Plaza Restaurant, Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant, and ranked #2 on my New Mexico Top Ten List. Or Horseman’s Haven Cafe for truly great chile. Or Bobcat Bite for one of the world’s greatest Green Chile Cheeseburgers. Or the Pink Adobe (a shory walk from the plaza. or even La Cocina De Doña Clara on Airport Road for great Mexican (brush up on your Spanish). Take a short drive to Chimayó for an truly oustanding New Mexican meal at Rancho de Chimayó Restauranté
You really should treat yourself to a meal at Pasqual’s. Get a reservation. Even then, you might have a long wait in the line that often stretches up the hill. It.s worth it. If you are in a rush, go up the hill to the Plaza and eat at the Plaza Restaurant. That’s what I do now. If you do get in, you might be seated at the communal table where you can rub elbows with locals. Or tourists. Become friends. Everybody’s happy here.
This place is outrageously good.
There is some exceptional fine dining in Santa Fe. Coyote Cafe. Santacafe. Ask around. You might get lucky
Others are Saying…
- Gil Garduño
“Cafe Pasqual is indeed an American classic, celebrating for more than three decades, culinary traditions inspired by New Mexico, Old Mexico and Asia (especially Thailand) with a pronounced dedication to fresh, seasonal, organic and naturally raised foods…..”
- Dan & Roxanne;s Good Food on the Cgeap
“Named for the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks -San Pasqual.” Adobe building holds a festive dining room with “private” tables and a community table. Seats about 50 folks shoe-horned together at a time – and there are waits. This place is very hot right now – at present considered by many to be the gold standard place to eat in Santa Fe….”
“A perennial favorite, this cheerful cubbyhole dishes up Southwestern and Nuevo Latino specialties for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t be discouraged by lines out front—it’s worth the wait. The culinary muse behind it all is Katharine Kagel, who championed organic ….”
- The New Youk Times Corned Beef Hash….
“When I was little, corned-beef hash was what we called midnight breakfast, always a treat,” said Katharine Kagel, the chef and owner of Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe, N.M., a national landmark for breakfast lovers. Ms. Kagel is not a trained chef, but a quality-mad food lover who opened Cafe Pasqual’s in 1979 and has run it since, always with corned-beef hash on the menu….”
Google for more.