ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In business at the same location for more than two decades, Zia Diner has become a Santa Fe food landmark.
Zia Diner opened on Dec. 31, 1986 – back in the days when the idea of Guadalupe Street and tourism raised a few questions. The Zia’s longtime owner, Elizabeth Koch, was hired to help open the restaurant. On the Zia’s website, she notes that the vision for the Zia was to make it “a home away from home for Santa Fe locals.”
A lot of beer and meatloaf, coffee and pie have been served since then, and the Zia continues to welcome locals and their guests. In a town where restaurants come and go with the seasons, longevity means that there’s something good going on behind the Zia’s front door.
WHERE: 326 South Guadalupe St. Santa Fe, 505-988-7008
FOOD: American comfort food with some New Mexican choices. Full bar.
HOURS: Open daily 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
AMBIANCE: Casual diner with a patio.
Although “Diner” is the Zia’s last name, you’ll find a Santa Fe take on the menu, with more unusual offerings in addition to cherry pie and turkey with stuffing and gravy. The popular meatloaf here, for example, includes green chile and pinon nuts. And what other diners mark dishes with GF for “gluten-free?”
On a recent visit, the Zia was out of two diner staples: burgers and chicken fried steak. We ask the waitress what happened and she said, “Big weekend!” We had plenty of other choices to pick from, both regular menu items and specials, including a strawberry and goat cheese salad. I went for another salad, the Zia’s classic Cobb. I love the presentation, with the tomato, crisp bits of bacon, shredded seasoned chicken, blue cheese and diced hardboiled egg lined up in rows on top of the fresh romaine, crowned with avocado slices ($10.95). Some Cobb salads are mostly lettuce, but this one is well proportioned. It’s plenty for lunch but not a belt-loosening extravaganza. Pies and cakes are good here, and they even serve a root beer float — something to remember when you order your meal.
My friend and I shared the excellent fish and chips, some of the best I’ve had. The mild whitefish filets wore just a whisper of crisp golden brown batter and arrived steaming hot. The two pieces, a “queen” serving, came with good fries, tarter sauce and malt vinegar ($8.95) .
I appreciate the Zia’s pies and usually order strawberry rhubarb. But, in the interest of research, I branched out and ordered green chile apple ($5.95). That’s right, apples and chile in a crust. Amazing proof that it pays to try something new. This pie is a trademark here for good reason. The crust, on the bottom only, is thin, tender and luscious. My grandmother could not have done better. The crumb topping, mixed with chopped pecans was great. And the filling? A fine combination of sweet, tart and spicy. The chile had oomph, but the baker applied it with a light hand so it didn’t overwhelm the apples. I’d have this pie again tomorrow and maybe order one to take home with me, too.
Our second dessert, the éclair ($4.95), was less successful. The dark chocolate outside had a rich deep flavor, but the custard was bland and the pastry tough. When our waitress recommended the dessert special, red velvet cake, we should have listened.
In addition to lunch and dinner, Zia serves breakfast. The menu is smaller, but includes most standards and, like the lunch and dinner offerings, New Mexican choices you don’t find at the average diner. We started with fresh hot coffee and Mexican chocolate ($4.95), a creamy milk chocolate treat flavored with a touch of cinnamon, served in a mug twice as big as a regular coffee cup. Then came our raspberry scone ($2.75). It had the right proportion of berries to cake. Instead of the hard, crumbly texture I’m used to in scones, this one was moist! Once I got over the surprise, I liked it.
We enjoyed the huevos rancheros ($7.95). The Zia’s version places a layer of beans between the blue corn tortillas, which makes the dish heartier than usual. The green chile sauce had an eye-opening kick.
The green chile rellenos and eggs breakfast was good, too ($9.95.) I liked the batter on these stuffed chiles – a touch of sweetness, a bit chewy and not too thick. The chiles had plenty of melted white cheese inside and came smothered in red and green chile sauce. They were topped with two eggs, over easy as requested, with good pinto beans and hash browns on the side.
Service was good, friendly and prompt. We enjoyed lunch on the covered patio, a quiet space just off the bar.