The history of hornos in New Mexico dates back to the 16th century and represents a deep and powerful connector to our intercultural history that blends Native American and Spanish heritage – those who first introduced us to bee-shaped, mud adobe outdoor ovens. A horno is an iconic symbol of pueblo and native New Mexico cooking and found throughout our region.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I recently attended a “Hands-On Horno Baking” experience with Norma and Hutch Naranjo in Española. Through Heritage Inspirations, several friends and I went to the Naranjo’s home and prepared three different recipes in one of two hornos Hutch Naranjo built in their backyard that date back more than 30 years.
But the horno to which I refer in this review has been around much less time, since the 2021 summer solstice, though it feels like this restaurant has been here forever. Since opening Horno on Santa Fe’s tony Marcy Street, chef David Sellers and his wife and business partner, Heather Sellers, have been cooking and serving up serious dishes in an unpretentious manner. Their food, style and setting continue to receive consistently rave reviews by everyone who visits.
Of the name, David Sellers said, “Horno is a metaphor for the heart of the kitchen.” And the food speaks to everyone’s heart in a big way. Because I have had three memorable meals at Horno, this restaurant remains at the top of my list when I want a lovely dining experience, but without the fine dining price tag.
Whether you want dinner or when you really want to dine, Horno hits all the right notes. The patio is welcoming and many people love it, but I prefer the indoor space. It’s cozy without being expansive. The staff is attentive without being intrusive. And I like the room with the bar which has big windows so you can still connect with and see what’s happening outside. White walls are just austere enough to make the dark wooden floors feel sexy and oh-so Santa Fe. The lighting is just right and I recall they dim the lights at seven o’clock to make you sit back, relax and enjoy the Horno experience. Horno has a very intentional wine list and the staff is ready to assist if you need guidance.
While everything is not made in the oven, David Sellers has created a menu based on what he likes to eat. And since he’s got good taste, knows good food and knows how to cook, trust that you are in capable hands and let the menu speak to you. Diverse but not wildly crazy, the menu is inventive with an array of reasons to return on a regular basis.
The Grilled Octopus and Iberico Chorizo ($19) appetizer is a must-have. The first time I went, my dining companion had this as her entree and the portion is enough to stand in for a light meal. Crispy and tender octopus and oily Spanish chorizo are a match made in heaven. Add a few potatoes and squid ink aioli and this is a dish I order every time.
Being a lover of vegetables, I was drawn to the Miso Roasted Vegetables ($11). Compared to the octopus dish, this appetizer did not win me over. Tuna tartare is a favorite dish, so we ordered that as well. Horno’s cold and raw Tuna Tartare ($17) is served over a hot risotto cake. That hot and cold combination didn’t work for me and one of the parts was extremely salty. But this has been the only miss among so many hits.
The Roasted Beet Salad ($13) was a welcome surprise in that David Sellers’ interpretation is not your ordinary, everyday beet salad that is overplayed in most restaurants and worthy of reinvention. And reinvent this salad is exactly what David Sellers has done. Believe me when I say the beet salad is outstanding. Tender, roasted golden beets and spring mix mingle with cucumber slices and dill vinaigrette. There is a generous and crispy sprinkling of pumpkin seed and piñon granola which take this salad to a whole new level. Add tofu feta and this salad is a first-place winner and an ideal choice for vegans.
I also enjoyed the Caesar Salad ($12) which features long romaine lettuce leaf dressed with a delectable garlicky dressing and topped with focaccia croutons and anchovies. This is another stellar interpretation of a classic salad with a David Seller’s spin.
When I visited for my birthday, I had the Fish of the Day (Market Price), which was snook, a Panamanian fish and one of my favorites. This dish made my special day seem even more special. Served over faro with seasonal vegetables with a dill, caper and butter sauce, it was perfection on a plate.
Because Horno makes fresh pasta daily, my dining companion and I dove into two pasta dishes – Maccheroniala Chitarra Carbonara ($14) and Squid Ink Cappellini ($24). The classic carbonara is an appetizer but eats like an entree. Rich and thick with butter, diced pancetta and plenty of Parmesan, this dish sings loudly and is worthy of sharing. Alternatively, the squid ink pasta is light and delicate with a savory seafood broth and crab crumbled on top.
What I have missed in previous visits but will keep me visiting Horno on the regular include the Beer Battered Fish Sandwich ($18) with a jalapeño tartar sauce on a brioche bun. Sandwiches are served with your choice of salad or fries, and I say yes to the fries.
When I visited the restaurant for a charity event recently, the Pollo Mattone ($24) was a show-stopping dish that had everyone at the table who didn’t order the chicken jealous. A half-chicken is roasted and served with polenta and vegetables and this generous serving will likely provide you with lunch the next day. The Bouillabaisse for Two (Market Price) is another dish that I promise to try on a future visit. Clams, mussels, fish and shrimp sit in a saffron broth with a dollop of a classic Provencal rouille, a mayo-like concoction made with breadcrumbs to give it extra heft. This is a dish that will definitely keep you coming back for more.
In Horno, David and Heather Sellers have created a restaurant where you can visit once or twice a week or where you go for special occasions. The space, the menu and the service are exemplary, comforting and kind – three things that we all need a lot more of.