I like casual, mom-and-pop restaurants, those little places you find throughout northern New Mexico where you can get a tasty meal, usually one that involves chile at a decent price. If you’re lucky, you run into a neighbor or hear some good stories along with your meal.
An acquaintance who works at a popular downtown restaurant recommended Chris’ Cafe to me several times and I put it on my mental “check-it-out” list. Then, there I was, driving down Cerrillos Road at lunchtime. I saw the cafe, sequestered in a row of commercial buildings near The Lofts. Lucky for me, hunger and curiosity combined with good timing. I pulled into the parking lot to give this modest-looking place a try. From the first fragrant aroma, I knew I’d made a good choice.
Owner Chris Valdez, a long-time cook, manager and server at Tecolote Cafe, opened Chris’ Cafe in early 2012. The restaurant has less than a dozen tables and nothing fancy on the walls. It’s spotless and the staff – friends and family of Valdez – welcomes customers as if each one had the potential to become a friend. Valdez himself circulated among the diners the day of my visit. It was clear most of the clients were returning guests.
LOCATION: 3568 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, 505-424-3566
HOURS: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays
The menu makes choices simple. At lunch, we could pick from two specials, pork chops or green chile chicken enchiladas, and/or the menu: burritos, tacos, enchiladas and burgers.
I decided on a burger, with cheddar cheese and green chile, of course ($8.50). The one-third pound beef patty from Harris Ranch was juicy and full of flavor. The green chile had the perfect heat for a cold afternoon and the bun was fresh. The lettuce, tomato, mild red onion and pickle on the side create a mini salad. I liked the cottage fries that came with it, a nice change from the normal French fries. Other topping selections include Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and bacon.
My friend ordered the daily special of green chile chicken enchiladas ($9.95) after an unsolicited recommendation from a woman at the next table. “Best in Santa Fe,” she said. “I always have them.”
We could see why. He liked them so much I practically had to beg for a bite. Like all the New Mexican food involving tortillas served here, the enchiladas feature blue corn tortillas instead of the more common and less costly yellow corn. The tortillas were wonderfully soft, and enchiladas grew from this yummy base.
The special included plenty of hot, tender chicken and ample cheese with freshly-cooked pinto beans and posole that still had a bit of chew. Very nice. Valdez’s green chile sauce is first-rate: smooth, spicy, fresh-tasting and satisfying. I didn’t try the red, but it’s on the list for next time.
The carne adovada, another reason for me to return, gets high marks from Valdez’s fans on Trip Advisor, and comes inside the tacos, burritos and enchiladas. You also can order a side of carne adovada or jalapeño bacon at breakfast or as a full breakfast with eggs, beans and potatoes. The breakfast menu is larger than the lunch options, unless you count all the variations of burgers, enchiladas, tacos and burritos available.
You’ll find most of the northern New Mexican mainstays here: huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos and quesadillas. For five bucks, you can get a pair of eggs cooked to order with potatoes and toast or tortilla and, for $9.50, eggs Benedict on English muffins with Black Forest ham, poached eggs, hollandaise and potatoes.
Three-egg omelets come in eight flavors and with a pick-your-own-fillings option. You also can get pancakes and French toast. I’m getting hungry all over again writing this.
Chris’ Cafe has a red and black sign out front and is just across from the Hampton Inn on Cerrillos Road. You can park in the big lot in front of the restaurant.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Chris’ Cafe was the positive, optimistic attitude of Valdez and his staff. They work hard and, at least the day of my visit, seem to enjoy it. Valdez checked with my friend and me to make sure all was well, noting that “if I don’t know what’s wrong, I can’t fix it.” That attention to detail should help this little cafe in an out-of-the-way place continue to succeed. I wish them well.
On a personal note, I’d like to thank all of you who read these reviews and especially those who share their thoughts, recommendations and objections with me. I value your reactions and suggestions.