While reading “The Listening Path” last summer by one of Santa Fe’s most famous and prolific writers, Julia Cameron, I was astonished at the number of times she referenced having lunch at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill with colleagues, friends and other people she interviewed for the book. In fact, I was downright shocked. But as a fangirl of her work, especially “The Artist’s Way” that changed my life when I was in my mid-20s, I felt this was a personal invitation for me to visit one of her favorite local restaurants.
I had been once before with friends when we first moved to town, but decided I needed to return to this cavernous restaurant that opened in 2002, conveniently located in the DeVargas Center, with an open mind and see what I might have missed. And so we went back, again and again and again, and now the Santa Fe Bar & Grill is one of the top spots I go to when I don’t want to cook.
The space is approachable and loud, and always percolating with people. Busy servers move about while hungry customers engage in lively conversations with their tablemates. Sit at the bar or in the main dining area filled with cozy booths and tables. This is not the kind of restaurant that has you in and out too quickly, but it’s also not fine dining where too much time lingers between courses. In fact, this restaurant is just the right amount of everything. Part bar, part grill and part diner.
With an open kitchen, you can see the team hard at work making each plate to order and this is one of the main reasons I appreciate Santa Fe Bar & Grill. The food is homemade, the price points are equitable and the menu is expansive. With a second menu of solid and tempting daily specials that includes several steak and seafood options, there are plenty of reasons to eat here a few times a week. And with no variation in pricing from lunch to dinner, that’s another reason to be a frequent flyer.
Over our many visits, I have had the Pacific salmon too many times to count. The salmon is grilled to perfection, topped with a big dollop of saffron-jalapeño aioli and served with two, whole roasted Yukon gold potatoes and a medley of sautéed vegetables. This is my kind of wholesome meal and at $16.95, I’m not sure I can make it at home for this price.
My dining companion has been more than comforted by the Southwestern-influenced comfort foods the kitchen puts out. The meatloaf ($12.95) is made with ground beef and pork with a bit of green chile and asadero cheese to make an often boring meatloaf a standout. The chipotle-mushroom cream gravy takes this plate over the top as it skillfully combines with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables. The seasoned, half-rotisserie chicken plate comes with sautéed green beans, french fries and chipotle aioli ($13.95) and is another winning dish.
Salad seekers will find refuge in the assortment and the sensational poblano dressing is reason enough to order a salad at every visit. We like to start by sharing the small side salad ($6.50) that is actually enough for two people. Mixed greens are generously topped with sliced cucumbers, shaved carrots, sliced red peppers, grated jicama, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and red chile-garlic croutons. This is rabbit food that makes you feel good and once you smother it in that delicious poblano dressing, you will eat every bite.
The Grilled Gulf Prawn and Avocado Salad ($14.95) is a feast for the eyes and belly. Grilled shrimp, avocado slices and ripe slices of mango are served over a bed of spring greens and romaine, topped with candied pecans and tomatoes and a side of tasty red pepper vinaigrette. The Peppercorn Crusted Steak Salad ($14.95) is another viable option that is a hearty and healthy meal. This salad features a 6-ounce cut over romaine lettuce, avocado, asparagus, tomatoes, hearts of palm and grapefruit segments. The textures and flavors play well together and it can be made without the steak for vegetarians and replaced with grilled salmon for pescatarians.
Maybe you want bar food, and the Santa Fe Bar & Grill offers that as well. Choose from classic, half-pound ground chuck burger ($11.95) or a vegetarian burger ($12.95), a Reuben ($12.95), Chimayo Chicken Sandwich ($11.95) or a Galisteo Grilled Cheese ($9.95).
Though the menu is not filled with New Mexican food, there are select dishes that are customer favorites including Chicken Enchiladas ($12.95), Blue Corn Vegetable Enchiladas ($12.95) and two kinds of tacos. For taco fans, the Fish Tacos ($13.95) are made with mahi-mahi and really hit the spot. Soft corn tortillas are filled with lightly grilled fish fingers and topped with a savory slaw made with cabbage, radish and cilantro. Served with tomatillo salsa, a scoop of guacamole and a side of rice and black beans, this is a filling, protein-filled meal. Or go wild and replace the fish with lobster for a more decadent taco experience. If you need beef, the Grilled Mexican Steak Tacos ($13.50) are waiting for you.
From 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, happy hour is in full swing with $1 off appetizers, draft pins, house wine and the house made margaritas. Prefer take out? They have a variety of family style, take-out meals for four people. Priced at or about $50, this is a great way to solve the perennial question of “What’s for dinner?”
Whether you are feeding a family, with friends or by yourself, the Santa Fe Bar & Grill is open all day and promises you won’t leave hungry but you will leave with a smile on your face. And who knows, maybe you will even catch Julia Cameron dining at a nearby table.