ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — How do you like to start your day? How about with a plate of pretty, petite pancakes named for a cloud? Or by diving in to a warm, well-stuffed breakfast burrito?
Cafe Fina does breakfast right and, on a recent Sunday, friends and I also discovered that this relatively new restaurant already has a loyal following. Most of the tables were filled and the staff hustled to deliver orders.
Owners Murphy and Annamaria O’Brien had a challenge here: how to distinguish themselves from the other two casual restaurants along the Old Las Vegas Highway: Harry’s and Bobcat Bite. They don’t focus on burgers, as does the Bite, and they don’t have liquor nor beer and wine, as does Harry’s. And, at this point, they also don’t have the long waits customers may find at either of those other restaurants.
Cafe Fina clients order at the counter from a simple paper menu, selecting among the seven breakfast entrées and/or the large assortment of yummy-looking scones, cinnamon rolls, croissants, cupcakes, coffee cake and more on display in a case and behind the counter. (You’ll even find gluten-free baked goods in the mix.)
The order-taker submits your choices electronically. You pay, then pick up your coffee, grab napkins and silverware from the self-serve counter, find the table of your choice in one of the two large dining rooms, and anticipate the arrival of your meal.
We started with an apple gallette, one of my favorite fall desserts, made here with skill and probably a touch of love. The attractive little crust shell filled with apples had just enough sweetness and a kiss of cinnamon. The apples were firm and the pastry light and delicious. I’d have this again. And again. It goes well with the fresh hot coffee served here.
LOCATION: 624 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, 505-466-3886
HOURS: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
I also enjoyed the Eldorado Omelet ($9.75), which featured eggs, sautéed mushrooms, ham, cheese, sour cream, scallions and guacamole. Although the green chile sauce that topped it needed more heat to please me, the dish was still a great way to start a day. (The red chile was hotter than the green.) Crisp hash browns and a perfectly toasted English muffin added to the breakfast feast. I appreciated the reasonable size of the serving too, large enough to satisfy without leaving me overstuffed.
The breakfast burrito ($8.95) contained plenty of scrambled eggs and bacon as well as the requisite potatoes. Some burritos skimp on the protein, but not here. Also wrapped inside the big flour tortilla were two kinds of melted cheese, a slightly sweet gouda and a mild New Mexican asadero. The burrito comes smothered with red or green chile.
The Huevos Motulenos ($9.75) were excellent, even though the “over easy” eggs arrived medium. The mixture of black beans and little green peas with salty, melted feta cheese and a bit of chile (both red and green, as requested) arrived atop a corn tortilla with another soft corn tortilla on the side. The crowning glory was the soft sweet sautéed banana.
The pancakes, called “cloud cakes” here ($8.95), lived up to their name. They had a beautiful lightness and arrived with fresh blueberries, slices of strawberry and a small cup of real maple syrup provided at no extra cost. You can order just one pancake if you wish, perfect for small eaters or for someone who just wants a taste.
Bacon and hash browns can be added to any dish for an extra fee. The restaurant notes many choices as New Mexico-grown and organic. Suppliers include Talis Wind and Niman Ranch for natural meats, and Taos Cow Ice Cream provides the all-natural super premium ice cream.
You can order from the breakfast menu all day, and espresso drinks along with regular coffee and Mexican hot chocolate.
If you come for lunch, available until 3 p.m., you’ll find the day’s soup, two salads, sandwiches, enchiladas and corncakes with chipotle shrimp. You can add fries, green beans with garlic and sesame oil or pretty little shashito peppers with garlic on the side. Lunch prices range from $8.95 to $10.75.
The staff at Cafe Fina gets a big thumbs up. Everyone we dealt with seemed genuinely interested in making sure our experience was first rate. Our coffee and water refills came with a smile, and food delivery went smoothly. Our party of five received all our breakfasts at once rather than some of us having to wait for the next shift, as often happens with groups.
I’d like this place better if it offered full service rather than the hybrid that now exists, but then they might have to charge more.
Cafe Fina, near the intersection of Old Las Vegas Highway and U.S. 285 as it heads toward Eldorado, is easy to find. There’s plenty of free parking.