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Diner fare with Southwest flair at Plaza Café Southside

The Plaza Café Southside’s green chile apple pie is a successful signature item.

The Plaza Café Southside’s green chile apple pie is a successful signature item.

SANTA FE, N.M. — There aren’t too many places in Santa Fe where you can order both a first-rate milkshake and a martini. The Plaza Café Southside offers that option and much more. This low-key, family-friendly spot is a favorite restaurant for many Santa Fe folks, including me.

One of the best things about the Southside is the variety on the menu. Most traditional diner favorites are here – burgers, steak and eggs, chopped salad, BLT’s.

And, for those of us who call chile our comfort food, the Southside offers burritos, blue corn enchiladas, even a Frito pie. There’s a bakery case with made-from-scratch pies, cakes, cupcakes and other treats. Hungry yet?

Southside prides itself on using local suppliers, grass-fed beef from New Mexico heritage ranches, and cage-free eggs.

Speaking of eggs, breakfast is perhaps the café’s most popular meal and it’s served all day. I had never come for dinner, so friends and I gave it a try. The verdict? Mostly good, with some great dishes and a few missteps.

In addition to the extensive regular menu of comfort food, Southside offers nightly dinner specials. And special they were.

Of everything we ordered, I loved the scallop appetizer on the specials menu the most, and I’m not a die-hard fan of scallops. It was a simple dish. The three large, plump fresh scallops had been grilled, but not overcooked.

They were artistically stacked in a tower and plated with a pair of sauces, one mild and one spicy. The scallops retained their natural mild flavor and sweetness and carried the memory of the ocean. A nice surprise in a the sort of restaurant where one wouldn’t expect first-class seafood.

Speaking of fish, the fish used to create the fish and chips and the fish tacos is fresh cod. As for the fish of fish and chips, it arrived wrapped in a crisp batter, slightly spicy and piping hot. The serving size was generous. The strongly flavored slaw had a vinegar dressing and an abundance of fennel, celery seed and red cabbage. It was decidedly different from the traditional bland and creamy style usually served with fish and chips. The skin-on fries were good.

The same cod plays a central role in the restaurant’s fish tacos. I was surprised to learn that you can only have the fish tacos one way, battered and fried. Why not grilled or blackened?

When the tacos arrived at the table, the fish was warm but not hot, a disappointing contrast to the wonderfully hot fish in the fish and chips. I suspect the tacos were assembled before the rest of our meal because the corn tortillas had grown soggy from the sauce.

I enjoyed the perfectly soft and ripe avocado slices that topped them and the side dishes. The whole pinto beans, served in a bowl with a bit of cheese and their own cooking juice, were fresh and good and the Spanish rice was moist and tasty.

Both meat dishes my friends and I sampled also were delicious. The ribeye steak, another of the evening’s specials, was exceptionally flavorful. It was thin, about half an inch thick, and had been trimmed but retained enough fat to keep it juicy. Tender? Indeed, and it was cooked medium rare as requested. The steak sat on a bed of sauteed onions, a nice compliment to the meat. Instead of mashed, baked or fries, we received soft diced potatoes in a creamy tarragon sauce.

Chicken-fried steak is a standard here, as you’d expected in a diner. Southside’s gets the Hungry Rancher stamp of approval. The large tender piece of beef had a crisp shell of breading and arrived with a puddle of cream gravy and fries.

We shared two desserts. The red velvet flan is a specialty here, a layer of red velvet cake on top of the classic egg custard. I usually enjoy this, but this time the cake tasted old and the caramel sauce had a burned flavor. We should have sent it back.

Our other dessert, the green chile apple pie, is also a Southside trademark. The pie had light, flaky crust, and the thinly sliced apples worked just fine with the green chile. The pie wasn’t too sweet or too spicy. The serving, at least the slice we got, was easily enough for two.

Service was good throughout the evening. Our waitress was personable, informed and attentive.

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