ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The abundance of good local eateries in Santa Fe must be a challenge to our hotels. Some – La Fonda’s beautiful La Plazuela comes first to mind – are so good that you often see locals there. I love the lovely food and patio at Hotel Santa Fe and Encantado’s classy Terra restaurant with its million-dollar view of the Jemez. Inn of the Anasazi, La Posada and Bishop’s Lodge are all worth a trip for dinner. Hotel St. Francis and Hotel Chimayó, both now part of the Heritage hotel group, also have good restaurants.
The Lodge at Santa Fe (also part of the Heritage group) has long struggled with its restaurant, at one time abandoning in-house food service all together. The current incarnation, Los Cuates, is the best restaurant this location has seen in my seasoned memory. The theme is New Mexican. Los Cuates operates several successful and popular restaurants in Albuquerque, including an outlet at the Albuquerque Sunport.
On the plus side, Los Cuates has a beautiful view of the mountains from its enclosed sun porch. A full bar, also with views, adjoins the restaurant. There’s lots of free parking and a big menu of New Mexican specials. Although there were a few bumps with the food and service, the restaurant seems to be getting its act together.
LOCATION: Upstairs at The Lodge at Santa Fe, 750 St. Francis Drive, Santa Fe, 505-992-5800
HOURS: Open daily. Breakfast 7-11 a.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner 5-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
The appetizers include the standards such as nachos, guacamole, chile con queso, a quesadilla, chips and salsa, and a Fiesta Platter, which includes a sampling of the most popular choices, including both blue corn bean and beef taquitos ($11). Since it was lunch, we munched on the complimentary corn chips after a quick taste of some odd salsa: thick, sweet, dark brown like barbecue sauce and spicy.
My three friends and I were in the mood for New Mexican food – a good thing, since 90 percent of the choices are chile-inspired. The menu is huge. Although it said the lunch specials were limited to weekdays, our waitress told us to just ignore that and order whatever we wanted. You can get full meals, “lite” lunches or a la carte choices, There’s a six-item menu for children up to age 10 and senior citizens. The only things I didn’t see here were menudo and chicos.
The roast beef burrito, selected from the “Favorites” section, was very good. It was full of shredded, tender roast beef inside a soft flour tortilla, smothered with plenty of chile sauce and finished with a bit a cheese and a fresh garnish of chopped iceberg lettuce and diced tomatoes. It came with deliciously creamy – not greasy – refried beans topped with a bit of melted cheese. The chile was good here. The green had a nice fresh taste and considerable heat. The red was smooth and flavorful, less hot but still good ($11).
The Large Enchilada Plate included three enchiladas with your choices of ground beef, shredded beef, chicken, carne adovada or standard cheese. We ordered the chicken enchiladas and found them satisfactory and filling. The menu said the enchiladas came with rice, but we got the yummy beans ($11.25). The serving was large enough to provide a second meal.
Both these entrées came with disappointing sopaipillas, pale, flat and undercooked. Unfortunately, another dining buddy ordered a sopaipilla stuffed with ground beef ($8). When it came, we all wondered if it really was a stuffed sopaipilla. It was so limp, the filling had been put on top. The lodge’s sister restaurant, Tia’s Cocina at the Hotel Chimayó, has great sopaipillas. They ought to borrow the recipe. Or take them off the menu.
There were four of us at the table (and about a dozen diners in the restaurant when we visited), but our waitress delivered only three lunches. She realized she had forgotten to place my order and rushed back to the kitchen as soon as she had delivered our meals. I took it, a $9 combination plate, to go, and shared my friends’ lunches. Although she was friendly and energetic, she forgot to refill our water and we had to remind her of what kind of chile we’d ordered and if we wanted chicken or beef. (And she was taking notes!)
She didn’t inquire if we wanted coffee or desserts that, according to the online menu, are limited to ice cream, sherbet and ice cream pie.
Our lunch for four, with one to-go order and two iced teas, was $47.87 with tax before tip. Santa Fe tastes are different from those of our neighbor to the south; we’re pickier. Los Cuates will need to make some changes it if wants to become a memorable place for New Mexican food here in Santa Fe.