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Upgrade of cafe a priceless acquisition

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Now that the summer tourist season has arrived, many Santa Fe residents pack up their guests and head to Museum Hill. Here, amid the piñon and chamisa, are four of Santa Fe’s top-notch museums and, I’m pleased to say, a nice little spot to grab lunch, a snack or a cold drink.

The Museum Hill Cafe, originally opened in 2002, has been under new management since last summer. The result? No more long lines to order at the counter. No more staff confusion when it comes to who wanted what. Museum Hill Cafe is now a full-service restaurant with upscale service.

On both of my recent visits the staff was polite, well-informed and professional. Ordering at the counter has its place, but it’s nice to be treated like a guest, and that’s the new order of business at Museum Hill.

Museum Hill Cafe
LOCATION: 710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, 505-984-8900
HOURS: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily and 5-8 p.m. Fridays
BEER AND WINE

The food is better, too and the fabulous views of the Jemez Mountains and the easy free parking remain, a bonus to savor. Patio seating for 50 and indoor places for 85 or so are available, and now you can make a reservation. The restaurant can get busy, so if you want to be spontaneous, come early or late, or plan to wait a bit.

The food, based on my samplings, ranges from good to great. Perhaps in keeping with the eclectic nature of the museums here, the menu includes a nice range of offerings, from smoked duck flautas to Thai beef salad, a burrito and a patty melt. I had a Reuben sandwich that would have made the cafe worth a trip even for folks who aren’t visiting the museums.

In the tradition of offering visitors a place to stop for food, some museums have made their restaurants considerably more than snack bars, as much a showplace as the museum itself. Musee d’Orsay in Paris, for example, offers food that draws Parisians as well as visitors to an opulent dining room where the servers wear white gloves. The Centre Pompidou, Paris’ exceptional contemporary art museum, has a great rooftop restaurant. New York’s Metropolitan Museum offers several dining choices including a rooftop martini bar and a gourmet restaurant with a $40 lobster appetizer. The Getty Museum in Malibu, when I last ate there, had a menu that celebrated California cuisine complete with locally grown, in-season tomatoes, avocados and citrus. About 25 percent of major museums offer restaurants. I’m glad Museum Hill has a restaurant Santa Fe can be proud of.

At Santa Fe’s Museum Hill Cafe, the menu includes sandwiches, burgers, daily specials and some vegetarian offerings. There’s usually a soup of the day and house-made dessert.

I sampled the excellent quesadilla, filled with chicken and cheese and enhanced with side servings of guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. This was a tasty, ample lunch. I also tried the shrimp tacos. The two tacos, each wrapped in a pair of soft corn tortillas, arrived hot with plenty of bite-sized pink shrimp inside and a generous serving of napa cabbage. They could have used more seasoning for my taste, but I suspect it’s easier to let the customer add hot sauce than to tone things down for those who aren’t used to our southwestern flavors. The deluxe Reuben was a great sandwich with lots of meat, cheese and sauerkraut, nice fresh rye bread and a good dressing.

Museum Hill offers house-made desserts, but my friends and I were too full to try them. That gives us a reason to go back.

The cafe offers coffee drinks and beer and wine and plans to begin serving sake cocktails. On Fridays, when the museums here are open until 8 p.m., the cafe stays open as well with a special menu of tapas and red and white sangria.

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