SANTA FE, N.M. — Harry’s Roadhouse has been open for business out on Old Las Vegas Highway for only a quarter century – Harry is shaking his head, ONLY?! – and for some reason, it seemed to me that it had been open much longer. I have such a vivid recollection of a turkey meatloaf and mashed potato with mushroom gravy lunch there that I had put it a decade earlier. For once, it wasn’t earlier than I thought. And I know what you’re thinking. Mashed potatoes and turkey meatloaf? My kid can make that. Yes, but can your kid make it so good that it’s memorable 25 years later?
And this is the case with almost every item on Harry’s vastly various menu, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Seven days a week! How does he do it?
Everything from traditional Mexican chilaquiles with tomatillo salsa, or lemon ricotta pancakes in the morning, to grilled salmon tacos (organic, sustainably farmed salmon from British Columbia), superb burgers (veggie, locally raised buffalo, or beef), perfect thin-crust pizzas (my favorite in town), or the aforementioned turkey meatloaf, still on the menu, at lunch.
And for dinner, pick from the wildly popular vegetarian Buddha bowl with black rice, quinoa, garbanzo beans, pistachios (!), roasted sweet potatoes and more, Vietnamese caramelized catfish with jasmine rice and baby bok choy, and Indian lamb curry over basmati rice. Not to mention the traditional northern New Mexico fare, or any of the number of pasta dishes or evening specials, such as the delicious roast free-range chicken with Tuscan bread stuffing and chicken livers, and sautéed Brussels sprouts we enjoyed recently after an appetizer of succulent fried oysters with Cajun remoulade sauce and crisp, fresh coleslaw.
For dessert, want pie? Have they got pies, and how. Some you’ve never imagined, all fresh and homemade. The lemon meringue we shared was pluperfect.
Bingo! And talk about generous portions and value?! The best. Speaking of which, a list of Bests for Harry’s is about as long and tasty as their menu.
Best Restaurant Name around – noir-ish tones of James M. Cain, no cutesy Southwesty allusions. Best Location and dramatic vista, morning, noon, night and especially evenings, with a newly and beautifully remodeled enclosed front porch area. Best Bar around, umbrous, but not too dark, a mute, unobtrusive TV above bar that elicits so little notice that Jonathan will gladly put on an NHL hockey game on request, and no one objects.
Best Nachos, hands down. And I know: Like the meatloaf or pasta, everyone thinks nachos? No big whoop. Anyone can make nachos. Wrong. There’s a way we do it; and then there’s the correct way, and it starts, as do Harry’s, with homemade chips. Sorry, but after 100 years out here, I am something of a nachoficionado.
And last but not least, Harry’s has the Best Margarita in town (and not for value alone, though that is a definite plus), properly served in a Martini glass, in its individual shaker.
We prefer the bar neighborhood for the informality, eavesdropping possibilities and general conviviality, but Harry’s is a real family joint, too, and there is a dining area to fit almost any mood, featuring works by local artists in revolving, monthlong, solo exhibitions. The front room with Formica-top counter and bustling kitchen beyond, and those great old tables (ditto Formica) always reminds me of grandma’s kitchen in the country. Talk about a comfort zone.
In appropriate weather, the back garden courtyard with handsome hollyhocks is out of a French flick, or you can simply observe the drama from the enclosed rear porch. And a sizeable, cheery, high-ceilinged middle room rounds out the distinctly individual venues for the fun, romance and drama of dining out to unfold.
In short, if I had one more evening in Santa Fe, it might start at Harry’s with a ‘margie, nachos, a sunset and thou! And who knows, Bogie just might step in for a bite. Maybe on his way to Painted Desert. You never know.