Even old haunts where you’ve memorized the menu can make for uncomfortable outdoor dining options these days, depending on the feng shui of their patios. Recently, however, the verdant exterior setups at both of Iconik Coffee Roasters’ Santa Fe locations have made me feel more at home than ever.
The al fresco spaces at Iconik’s industrial-chic Lena Street flagship and at Iconik Lupe, its newer, baroque-bohemian Guadalupe Street outpost, make the most of their different environs. At either café, beside rafters and planters vining with flourishing flora, it’s possible for laptop loungers or casual lunch dates to soak up a relaxed sense of socially distanced well-being. That feeling of security is aided by consistently interesting food and well-made drinks from menus that share the same DNA but have evolved into totally distinct experiences.
The original Iconik menu has expanded and contracted over the years since it opened in 2013, although it hasn’t run too far afield of its most heavy hitters. Breakfast includes such standards as a burrito or a Benedict alongside veggie-celebratory standouts such as shakshuka or a ratatouille breakfast bowl. Lunch and dinner feature salads, sandwiches and gussied-up classics: sliders, tacos and a patty melt. But on two visits over the past month, it was a fleet of newer, Asian-inspired entrées that stood out.
One afternoon in midtown, wildfire smoke and gusty winds might have ruled out patio dining elsewhere. But the concrete rectangle alongside Lena Street has grown into its landscaping to feel like a vined oasis and the shaded portal provided ample shelter from the chaotic weather.
A couple of steaming bowls of noodles placed on a small table were perfectly executed, too. A heap of silken ramen ($10) in a miso-coconut broth was topped with red peppers, mushrooms, kale and a poached egg. The Malaysian laksa ($9) went another way with rice noodles, a verdant coconut curry, and fibrous greens accented by cilantro, pea shoot sprouts and lime.
A rosy-pink salmon fillet ($12) was perfectly cooked and well-portioned under a sweet sprinkle of ponzu sauce and black sesame seeds, alongside a lightly buttery mélange of toothy cauliflower, broccoli and carrots over fluffy white rice. A side of citrus-spiked shishito peppers ($6) were buttery and piquant, and both plates were quenched by Iconik’s delicate iced teas (lavender mint and apricot brandy, $3.50).
Across town, at the edge of the Railyard, Iconik Lupe was carved out of a cavernous Catholic school and opened two years ago. The café’s newly expanded patio spills from its Art Deco, wrought-iron-lined concrete terrace into a grassy, shaded outdoor annex of tables. Everywhere you look, makeshift planters sprout a riotous jungle of tomatoes, sunflowers and herbs.
The creative hybridity of the 1929 building’s architecture seems to inspire its small breakfast-lunch menu, which is similarly eclectic. That translates into feats of fusion cuisine, such as the Okonomiyaki waffle ($10.50), derived from a Japanese pancake containing shreds of cabbage, waffled with thin-sliced ham into a crisp delicacy. It’s ribboned with tangy mayonnaise and soy sauce, scattered with scallions and radish, and topped with a yolky poached egg – and it’s an uncommonly good savory breakfast. Pair it with another triumph of hybridity – the horchata latte ($5.25), a cinnamon-scented elixir of the Mexican rice milk and sprightly espresso.
A Lupe fan favorite is the Egyptian dukkah avocado toast ($8), which amounts to a savory salad of mixed greens and juicy cherry tomatoes over a dense slab of organic multigrain sourdough. The bread is slathered with avocado chunks and showered with a heady spice blend that includes dusted pistachios – add an impeccably poached egg for $2.
With Lupe’s new tacos ($4.50 each), you can go in two directions: Mexicana, a fluffy scrambled egg, chorizo and Gruyere striped with chipotle aioli or Bim Bop, with a chunk of Korean barbecued beef over a tuft of white rice with sprouts and sriracha. A more virtuous fill-up, however, is the Grainbow Bowl ($12), which seemed like three nourishing mini-meals in one. Its medley of grains and veggies is anchored by lovely pearls of gluten-free tabbouleh, a dollop of red-chili-flavored hummus, cucumber, tomato, feta, slivered almonds, pistachios, parsley and yellow-curried cauliflower.
It seems that many Iconik loyalists came for the interesting coffee and stayed for the excellent food – rest assured, however, that the coffee has not suffered. Iconik roasters put third-wave coffee brewing techniques on the map in Santa Fe, and the company continues to chart new territory, in terms of beans. The Lupe and Lena locations are the only places in the United States to offer the new Costa Rica Honey F1 Hybrid, a barista told me excitedly. Her enthusiasm was infectious as she eagerly described the complexities of this honey-processed coffee, in which coffee cherries are left to dry with their fruit coating on, allowing them to retain certain sweetnesses and acidities.
A sensible Folgers drinker might scoff at Iconik’s wild-sounding tasting notes (for the Costa Rica, it’s green apple, blackberry jam and puff pastry). But a brewed cup ($3.25) of the Costa Rica from Lupe reminded me why people seek out specialty coffee in the first place. One sip was startlingly brassy at the front, then mellowed into a more caramel, sticky toffee place. Toward the end of the cup, I tasted the puff pastry exactly.
This is nerdy stuff, but it’s worth getting into if you dig complexity. Like a well-designed patio, a cup of coffee can contain multitudes.