When you need a respite from the chaotic world – or want to escape Santa Fe, but can’t quite manage an official getaway, Opuntia Cafe awaits. This restaurant’s second iteration has it perched on a corner of the second floor that avails both views of the bustling Railyard and the peaceful Sangre de Cristo mountains.
Though way-finding signage is obscure at best, head towards the Violet Crown and you’ll spy a double door across the street with a poster in the window indicating Opuntia is upstairs. You can either take the 36 stairs, which will give you a nice burn in your thighs, or you can arrive via the elevator. Either way, you will breathe a sigh of relief when you open the door to this modern, plant- and-light-filled space.
A minimally decorated lobby offers a display of curated teas and coffees for purchase along with plants which set the tone for your dining experience and signals that this is a place where you can sit back and relax. A hostess will seat you in one of three rooms.
The spacious main dining area features an open kitchen and cozy booths with bolster pillows, two-top tables and high-top tables, which are strategically placed around an array of plants and a pond in the center of the room. The back room opens up to the Railyard and can easily accommodate larger groups, while the long and narrow patio holds about 20 chairs, many of which are at a bar to provide customers with a bird’s-eye view so you can watch the world go by.
As you look around, you will immediately sense this does not feel like the stereotypical Santa Fe restaurant – and I mean that as a compliment. Throughout the interior space, you fill find countless intentional touches that make you stop and think. From the concrete floors and wooden tables to the plants growing from the walls and a lovely, not-your-average white paper napkin that is sturdy enough, Opuntia is a space where you can enjoy a meal, a casual conversation with a friend and some tea as well as a work space. Even though the music is audible, you can still have a conversation and still think while enjoying the sounds.
A complimentary carafe of water will arrive at the table, but don’t miss out on the extensive, two-page beverage menu filled with interesting teas and coffees, as well as a full bar. Black teas, green teas, white teas, pu-ehrs, oolong and herbal tisanes, tea lovers will want to study the menu and choose something esoteric like the Velvet Cacao pu-erh ($5) or the Moon Bud white tea ($8.50). Coffee aficionados will appreciate choosing from a small sampling of organic, direct trade and locally-roasted coffee drinks. Being a matcha lover, I ordered an iced matcha latte ($5.25) and my friend could not pass up iced hibiscus tea ($4.25). The hibiscus tea was not presweetened and he liked that, but I was surprised when I realized my iced matcha latte was made with whole milk. I should have requested something nondairy, but was so engrossed in the beautiful space I didn’t even think about this because most servers mitigate this oversight by asking what kind of milk you want.
For those interested in adult beverages, the signature bar menu consists of 11 creative drinks ($15), a short wine list offers by the glass ($10) or bottle and there are plenty of beer and cider options in 10 ounce ($5) or 16 ounce ($8) pours.
The seasonally-inspired breakfast menu is served until 11:30 a.m. with plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free bowls, plates and toasts, along with a few dishes like Chai Spiced Granola ($10) and Breakfast Tacos ($13). My dining companion and I ordered the Breakfast Hash ($15) and the Omelet ($15). The Breakfast Hash includes two poached eggs on a generous bed of sautéed kale, roasted sweet potato and potato chunks and comes with a not-too-spicy roasted tomatillo salsa and sourdough toast with Heidi’s raspberry jam. This nourishing bowl comes with your choice of seared ham, bacon or avocado.
My omelet featured calabacitas, tomatoes, green chile and goat cheese with avocado on top and a side of arugula salad with raw spinach, roasted beets, sliced red peppers, radishes and slightly sweet walnut vinaigrette. While both dishes were good and good for us, we felt the food lacked salt. Because there is no salt and pepper on the table, we had to ask the waiter who dutifully brought us both. Once we did a bit of shaking on our dishes, we were pleased with the outcome and ate every bite.
As someone who shops at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market and supports locally grown, I was delighted to enjoy a generous serving of Heidi’s jam with my sourdough toast. This is another way Opuntia shows intentionality and it felt good. But it tasted even better.
The young staff is friendly and all have a glow about them. Maybe it’s the tea or the healthy bowls, but they are hip, kind and inspirational. Considering how many restaurants struggle for staff, Opuntia seems to have nailed this part of the equation and deserve recognition for building a good working environment.
Speaking of things that are good for the environment, plant lovers will want to take a stroll around the restaurant as most plants are for sale. Another intentional element, the plants are conducive to thriving in the high desert. Lots of cactus and succulents abound and they have a planting space to the side of the bar where they can care for the plants. There is also a display of pottery by Whiskey and Clay available for purchase which further lends to the natural, calming environment.
The next time you need a break from reality or The City Different, step up to the second floor of Opuntia for a deep sense of relaxation, a healthy dose of food, a sip of something new, a sensational view and a place to score a new indoor plant.