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Find authentic Santa Fe flavor at Tomasita’s

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tomasita’s is one of Santa Fe’s landmark restaurants. If you ask visitors to our city, especially first-timers, where they plan to eat, this New Mexican restaurant at the Rail Yard district will probably be on their short list. After nearly 40 years of serving up chile, sopaipillas, as well as beer and margaritas, Tomasita’s has a template for success that has served it well.

The first thing you’ll notice on a busy evening is that the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. You notice this because the large waiting area may be chock full of folks, with others lined up in the bar. On nice days, the overflow spreads outside to the entrance porch. You’ll have a chance to meet a lot of Texans, Californians and Europeans if you decide to wait.

Off season, however, can be a different story. Last week, friends and I came for lunch on a Friday, arriving around 12:30 p.m. and we didn’t have to wait at all. In fact, there were some empty tables. Maybe we were lucky, but this time of year in general is ideal for revisiting those restaurants you love, but not enough to wait half an hour or more for a table. Even some places that usually require reservations will welcome you without them.

LOCATION: 500 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe, 505-983-5721
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Tomasita’s has a large menu that features many of our New Mexico traditional dishes, some American classics, and bar food to accompany its popular margaritas. The ambience is pleasant, although it can get noisy when the place is packed. The restaurant, a former station of the old Chile Line railroad, occupies two large rooms and a smaller bar area. The brick building sits a stone’s throw from the tracks. At lunch, we enjoyed the natural light streaming in from the windows. In the summer, Tomasita’s uses its patio as an additional dining space.

I hadn’t eaten here for a while, and was delighted to find that the food was better than I remembered, delicious from first bite to last. Despite its popularity with visitors, the meal satisfied my chile-lover’s palate. Carne adovada, the day’s special, was full of red chile fire, the kind of satisfying heat that gives a glow to a February afternoon. I especially appreciated the way the kitchen served the tender marinated pork with an abundance of thick, spicy sauce. I took at least half of it home. The meat, like many of the New Mexican choices, came with refried pinto beans topped with a dollop of melted cheese and a large serving of Spanish rice.

We tried the green chile sauce as part of the cheese enchilada plate. It had plenty of flavor and was just hot enough. I liked the light taste of fresh chile. You can add an egg, chicken, beef and even shrimp, if you wish, to the enchiladas. They come flat with the same sides of pintos, rice and garnish of tomato and lettuce that accompany the adovada.

I had never tasted the chalupas here, so I was glad when a friend ordered them. She got two corn tortillas fried into bowl shape, filled with ground beef and refried beans and topped with a garnish of fresh lettuce and tomato and then a scoop of guacamole. Sour cream and salsa came on the side. They looked great.

The menu offers a nice range of other New Mexican dishes including some vegetarian options as well as burgers, steaks, pork chops and a few salads. A sopaipilla with honey butter comes with all the entrees and daily specials.

The sopaipillas are good here, light and nearly greaseless. I like them better with honey than with honey butter, but I’m sure keeping the cute, bear-shaped bottle from getting sticky is a never ending aggravation for restaurants.

Since there was a belated birthday involved in our gathering, we finished with a dessert sopaipilla. This dish seemed intended for a party. Inside the large sopaipilla sits a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Outside is strawberry sauce and five little clouds of sweet whipped cream. We shared it, and it was plenty, perhaps more than enough. The coffee was fresh and hot, a perfect counter balance to the cold sweetness.

Service was efficient and polite; the kitchen quick. Our lunch for three, with iced tea and coffee, was about $41.

Restaurant Week in Santa Fe returns for a fourth year, Feb. 24-March 3. More than 50 Santa Fe restaurants are participating with prix-fixe dinners that range from just $25 for two to $20, $30 or $40 per person. Many also will be offering lunch specials. For information:

Following Santa Fe’s event, Restaurant Week continues in Taos (March 3-10), and Albuquerque (March 10-17).

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