A Legendary Santa Fe New Mexican Restaurant
First visit: April 21, 2012
Tomasita’s has been a Santa Fe favorite since 1974, when Georgia Maryol took over a little café in the Hickox barrio. Tomasita’s moved to its current Railyard location in 1979, and has been featured in numerous articles and television shows. Everybody from movie stars to construction workers feel welcome in this red brick building that once served as the station for the “Chile Line,” which ran from Antonito, Colorado to Santa Fe. Walk around the place (and the lovely patio) and gaze at the murals.
Tomasita’s is located in Santa Fe’s Railyard district across from the tracks. This siting makes it a destination for tourists (busloads disembark in the parking lot) as well as many locals (lots of pickups and BMWs in the lot). If you read the Urbanspoon reviews, you might discern that Tomasita’s has lost some of its earlier glory. Some complain that the Red Chile is weak and thin. This was not my experience, despite the warnings to never eat in restaurant across from a train station. That warning is bunk. [Never eat in a restaurant that you can see from an Interstate is not bunk.]
Jane and I arrived at the place in the middle of a Saturday afternoon shortly after scoring an antique highboy at an estate sale on Mansion Hill. We were seated immediately, and could even choose our small booth near a strong light source so I could see my food (my eyesight is growing dim). Our server was on-the-spot with suggestions. Carne Adovada is listed on the menu as a Friday special. I asked if there was any left, and whether the kitchen would stuff a sopiapilla with it, and they agreed. This is a dish that I often use as a benchmark.
Carne Adovada Stuffed Sopaipilla
I always order this favorite smothered in Red. Gives me a good chance to evaluate the Red. This version is delicious: smoky, medium dark, complex, and about 8 on my 1 – 10 piquancy scale. Probably too hot for tourists, but I am a fire eater and could have had it a tad more hotter. There is a link to the recipe below that appeared in Heat Seekers Web site. This is not Heat Seekers stuff compared to the brimstone that the show’s stars are used to.
The carne was very good. Tender, tasty, and juicy. Therewas a small amount of frijoles refritos mixed in, but not enough to mar the texture of the dish.
There is no cumin in the red, but there is a small amount of flour that was not objectionable. The recipe starts with “Make a roux,” which should be a familiar first step to those of us who cook Creole and Cajun. I have been told that the Carne Adovada contains a little cumin, but I could not detect it. This dosh is one of the better Carnes that I have tasted. And Jane loved the red.
Jane loves to try Chiles Rellenos. These are lightly battered and slightly crisp, but the very delicious green chile was a tad watery, and ruined some of the crispiness. The chiles are thick and very tasty, of medium piquancy, and the Jack cheese stuffing is tasty and perfectly melted. She thought them as good as any she has tasted, and I agreed. Very good. Won’t hurt tourist’s tongues.
Sopaipillas with Honey Butter
These are some of the very best sopaipillas we have had. Tender, flaky, and without any trace of the cooking oil. They are served with a small cup of honeyed butter, which is simply delicious.A real taste treat. Eat ‘em while they are hot. The squeeze bottle on the table contains real New Mexican honey, and is not diluted with some stupid syrup. Every place should do this.
If you’re not having dessert, order another basket of these beauties.
The desserts here are scratch made. I got hooked on Natillas several months ago, and can’t get enough. You really want this custard warm: never hot or cold. This is very sweet stuff.
For something different and much less sweet, you need to try the cheesecake.It is quite fabulous. No kidding.
I am also a cheesecake freak. I like cheesecake thick and dense, and not too sweet. I want to taste the cheese. The cheesecake I make at home is an adaptation of that made famous at Lindy’s in New York.
What sets one perfectly done cheesecake apart from another is the topping. Here we were served a scratch-made cajeta (caramel) with piñon nuts. The cajeta is made from piloncillo, a Mexican unrefined sugar from cane. It is not too sweet, but just right. Delicate. And the piñon adds a bit of crunch and a slightly smoky taste that blends well with the delicacy of the cajeta. This is probably the best dessert that I have had in Santa Fe.
So, Tomasita’s lives up to its earned fame. I find nothing second-rate about it. Wonderful food, wonderful service, and a beautiful place. I don’t care if there are lots of tourists there. There are lots of tourists eating in Cafe Pasqual’s, the most popular restaurant in Santa Fe. Tourists gotta eat someplace, and they might as well go to places that serve really good food.
What others are saying…
Gil Garduño — New Mexico’s Sesquipedalian Sybarite
“Tomasita’s serves over 80,000 pounds of chile every year, every ounce of that having been grown in New Mexico. Both red and green chile are beloved by locals and critics alike. It’s a chile for which warnings are posted for out-of-town guests in bold red proclamation: “The chile is hot!” Please ask your waitperson for a sample or order it on the side. We are not responsible for too hot chile!
“The greatness of Tomasita’s chile is validated by the hordes of patrons lining up half an hour before the restaurant opens up to get seated. Most of them don’t mind waiting for a table. The waiting area is spacious and you’ll invariably run into other prospective guests debating the official New Mexico state question “red or green” and its manifestation in the entrees at Tomasita’s.”
“It’s serious Southwestern Sting as chefs Roger Mooking and Aaron Sanchez challenge their palates with smokin’ hot Santa Fe red and green chili [sic]. Then, it’s true ‘hot’ chocolate made with some of the hottest chili [sic] peppers out there. But there can only be one Chili Champion, and the boys’ showdown is a pulled-pork sandwich so hot, that even the chili-loving locals can’t take it.”
Here is a recipe for Tomasita’s Red Chile.
Santa Fe Reporter — Best of Santa Fe (07.23.2009)
“Best New Mexican Restaurant …
Whether You Want Rellenos or Tamales
“Even though its fame grows by the minute and crowds grow by the hour, Tomasita’s remains a favorite because it hasn’t lost the quality that made us love it in the first place: authenticity. Sure, it’s a big, busy restaurant, but Tomasita’s doesn’t feel like a chain. It offers simple, humble but authentic New Mexican food, served by fleet-footed servers who can tell you exactly what’s in every dish.
“It used to be quaint and anachronistic that Tomasita’s was housed in an old train station building. Now Rail Runner Express trains come and go all day, picking up and dropping off passengers right behind the restaurant, making the setting feel relevant again. Those trains have been a business boon for Tomasita’s, which benefits from hungry commuters just grabbing a quick margarita, as well as tourists who come to sample the famous red and green chile, the smothered enchiladas and the stuffed sopaipillas.
“You can expect to wait for a table, but also expect the wait to be worth it.”