As we close the first month of 2022, many of us are evaluating how we managed (or didn’t manage) our new intentions. Whether we gave up alcohol for Dry January, added more steps to our daily routine or focused on eating more vegetables, there is a collective effort to focus on our health at the beginning of the year. Though it can be a challenge to find restaurants that offer nutritious options in Santa Fe, there is one that consistently provides easy access to healthier meals every day.
Nestled off of the artsy and industrial area of Baca and Cerrillos, Counter Culture Cafe is a quirky spot that attracts a young, diverse clientele with an accessible and global menu. Open every day, their approach is simple. Order at the counter from the chalkboard menus and someone from the kitchen delivers your food when it’s ready. No tipping required, and bussing your table before you leave is highly suggested.
What owner Jason Aufrichtig started in 1996 continues to be a successfully executed and appreciated breakfast and lunch restaurant that provides customers with well-priced, quality dishes without a lot of fuss. With plenty of long, communal tables, guests drop in and out casually and it can be easy to chat up those sitting nearby or stay quiet while you read a book or newspaper or work. But plenty of two- and four-top tables abound. If it’s cold outside and there is a fire burning in the corner, the tables nearby are sure to keep you warm and cozy. And if it’s a beautiful day, there are patios in front and off the side for outdoor dining.
The breakfast menu is available all day and starts with a simple Two Egg Plate ($9) served with homefries and toast, or El Grande, which ups the Two Egg Plate with a pancake and syrup ($12). For something heartier, try the Smothered Burrito ($10.50), Huevos Rancheros ($10.50) or an omelet ($12). Sweet options include pancakes ($11), Belgian waffle ($10.50) or French toast ($11). But this isn’t a boring plate of French toast. It’s their gargantuan and gorgeous housemade cinnamon roll that has been sliced, dipped in egg batter and then cooked and served with real maple syrup. This may not fall into the wholesome category, but once in a while, it can’t hurt.
Because I could eat salad with every meal, I love that Counter Culture serves the breakfast frittata ($13) with a side salad. Any time we can get a few more greens into our diet is a good thing. For lighter options, they also have oatmeal ($7.50), granola parfait ($9) and a plate of brie and seasonal fruit ($7) served with a baguette and the signature Chimayó chile walnuts.
But the real attraction and the most popular meal of the day is lunch and they are busy until the doors close. It’s hard to get me to veer from the Fall Salad ($12), which is a heaping plate of organic mixed greens with perfectly roasted beets, tangy blue cheese, spicy Chimayó chile walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. The ratio of ingredients and flavors is sublime and it’s never overdressed.
When I have gone off course, I sampled the Asian plate ($11) which includes spring rolls, half an order of sesame noodles and mixed greens. While the plate is gorgeous, the noodles are far too sweet for my taste and it didn’t work. However, the Middle Eastern salad plate ($13) did win me over with a robust and colorful combination of a delicious Greek salad, four bite-sized pieces of crispy and spinach-stuffed spanikopita, hummus topped with a few Kalamata olives and a side of warm pita bread for dipping.
On several visits, my dining companion has enjoyed the simple soup, salad and sandwich plate ($11.50). Choose any half-sandwich and a cup of soup of the day along with a generous serving of mixed greens. This plate is overflowing and good for you but you won’t leave hungry.
Feeling like something warm and hearty on a cold winter day, my husband once opted for the housemade meatball grinder ($9.50) with provolone and Parmesan, which turned out to be a knife and fork meal. On another day, he had what he claimed is the “best tuna salad sandwich in town.” Counter Culture’s tuna salad is made with walnuts, celery and mayo, and topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion and sprouts to make a substantial and memorable sandwich that will never be dull.
If you lean vegetarian or vegan, Counter Culture has plenty of options. They use seitan with the spring rolls ($10.50) and tofu in the bánh mì ($13). In the sandwich arena, choose from Hummus ($9), Portobello ($13) or a Caprese ($12) which are sure to satisfy. And they typically offer at least one vegetarian soup each day. When the vegan split pea ($6) is on the menu, we can’t resist sharing a bowl. Tender split peas are cooked with carrots and onions to make a soup that is grandmother worthy.
You might wonder why one out of every four tables has a plate of haystax. This is Counter Culture’s version of house cut fries and they are thin, crispy and addictive. Haystax come with the burger ($12.50) and a few of the other more serious sandwiches, but place an order ($4) for the table and you’ll fit right in.
Because all of their baked goods are made in-house, I recommend you get one treat for everyone to share. The cinnamon rolls ($6.45) are huge as is a slice of Bundt cake ($6.45) which is served with plenty of icing.
Though Counter Culture Cafe was once known for only accepting cash, they entered the 21st century last year and now accept electronic payments, which is a big leap forward. But, luckily, nothing else has changed over the last 25 years and that’s why everyone keeps coming back to Counter Culture Cafe.
Read more about the Santa Fe food and hospitality scene at Heather Hunter’s blog, “The Cowgirl Gourmet in Santa Fe,” at thecowgirlgourmetinsantafe.com.