Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Santa Fe is known internationally as a culinary destination. While our reputation is typically defined by the fine dining restaurants that rack up annual acclaims and accolades from the media, there are even more restaurants that fuel the city’s workers and residents without any recognition at all. These are the restaurants where the locals go.
Driving along St. Michael’s over the years, I have passed the Sunrise Family Restaurant hundreds of times without paying much attention to the nondescript building. But the continual online chatter, commentary and recommendations made me realize I may be missing out. Never one to judge a book by its cover, the always-packed parking lot is proof this place is worth exploring.
Behind the faded signage and scruffy exterior is a bustling, boisterous and clean restaurant that cranks out quality food at reasonable prices every day for everyday people. The staff moves at a quick pace as they serve a full restaurant and accommodate those waiting for a table or picking up take-out orders. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunrise serves hearty American, New Mexican and Mexican breakfasts and lunches all day.
The sounds of plates clanking, forks and knives in action, the phone ringing, glasses filling with ice, people talking (and not talking) while eating, and a strong melody of Spanish conversations fills the air, while Latin music can be heard faintly as background noise in this unpretentious, but cozy, setting. Dressed in black Sunrise Family Restaurant T-shirts, most of the staff is family and, after 10 years of operation, they work together like a well-orchestrated symphony to keep water, tea and coffee cups filled to the brim. Unlike some restaurants, where the coffee is over-roasted and the iced tea is weak, both the hot coffee and the iced tea here are strong and flavorful. The staff is constantly in motion as they deliver a steady stream of hot plates, bowls and platters from the kitchen to hungry diners. Tables of couples, families, multiple generations, friends, singles and kids create a family-friendly atmosphere.
When I was a Sunrise virgin, I tested the kitchen’s skills and ordered a quintessential Santa Fe breakfast plate: chile relleno omelet with “half and half.” Rather than the touristy way of asking for “Christmas,” Sunrise offers diners the option of half red sauce and half green sauce. Neither sauce was too piquant, but flavorful, and that’s what you want. A fluffy, three-egg omelet is stuffed with two lightly battered and fried chile rellenos stuffed with cheese. Served with a side of home fries and refried beans, this generous plate of food is enough to keep you sated all day long – though many will be hard-pressed to clean the plate.
Over the course of a few visits, my dining companion thoroughly enjoyed the chile relleno omelet, a big plate of classic huevos rancheros, and a combination plate of two fried eggs with savory and tender carne adovada, refried beans and home fries. On my return visit, I ordered the breakfast Geronimo’s Executive Chef Sllin Cruz swears by – the chorizo and egg breakfast burrito, another typical Santa Fe breakfast. A flour tortilla is filled with scrambled eggs cooked with spicy chorizo, topped with your choice of red and/or green sauce, and a light sprinkling of melted cheese. Once again, I went for half red and half green sauce, and tried the hash browns this time with a side of tasty refried beans.
Having sampled the various options for breakfast sides, I recommend the home fries over what appeared to be frozen hash browns that lacked flavor. Similarly, I vote for the refried beans over pinto beans.
Sunrise offers breakfast specials during the week for $6.75 and, on the weekends, the breakfast specials vary, as does the pricing. Typically, the specials are posted on a sign when you walk in, but be sure to ask your waiter about the specials before you order. When we visited on a busy, but late, Sunday morning, there was no specials posted, so we presumed they were offered only during the week. After we ate, we enquired about the specials with the waiter. He informed us they had specials every day and that today’s special was eggs Benedict. We felt like we had missed out because we didn’t know. But this gives us another reason to return as we are curious about the Sunrise interpretation of eggs Benedict. A choice of green chile or red chile hollandaise, perhaps?
Our waiter assured me everything on the menu is popular and mentioned tat some of the top-selling breakfast dishes include the breakfast burrito, huevos rancheros and the omelets. Popular lunch dishes are the steak and enchiladas plate, fajitas and the combo burger. Some locals claim Sunrise has the best Frito pie and green chile cheeseburger, so it feels safe to say that their diverse menu offers something for everyone.
While the entrance may be intimidating to those who don’t frequent dives, rest assured that, behind the door, is great food served in a festive and friendly Mexican atmosphere. And, with the rising prices of food, knowing the plates are all priced at or about $10, makes it easier to slide into Sunrise Family Restaurant without a load of cash in your pocket, yet still savor a hearty plate of homemade food from scratch, made with plenty of love and rooted in family tradition.
Read more about the Santa Fe food and hospitality scene at Heather Hunter’s blog, “The Cowgirl Gourmet in Santa Fe,” at thecowgirlgourmetinsantafe.com.