In the heart of downtown Santa Fe, Casa Chimayo offers an unadulterated taste of northern New Mexico’s famous chile. We may be accustomed to calling enchiladas, posole and the like “New Mexican food” but, at Casa Chimayo, it’s “the cuisine of New Spain” and the restaurant’s website is complete with history lessons.
Owned by folks with deep roots in Truchas and Chimayó, the restaurant’s down-home dishes are named for assorted relatives. Needless to say, the chile comes straight from Chimayó. We enjoyed lunch there recently with a bowl of pork and red chile posole, and some of the best enchiladas we’ve had in town.
We started with an order of guacamole ($12). Made to order, boasts the menu, and we thought so. Served in the traditional stone molcajete, this chunky version arrives wonderfully fresh, laced with pieces of tomato, a hint of onion and plenty of chopped cilantro. The unusual, slightly puffy chips were nicely hot from the oven.
I chose a bowl of posole, thoughtfully available in both large and small portions. I chose the small ($6) and, with the warm flour tortilla, it was plenty. Tasty, too: heavy with tender chunks of pork balanced with just enough posole, all swimming in delicious (and picoso) red Chimayó chile sauce.
My companion went for the enchilada plate ($14 with an egg). She chose the beef filling and Christmas chile. What we both liked best about the enchiladas were the blue corn tortillas. They were soft and tender, not usually the case around town, and cradled a generous amount of beef.
The red chile was the same as in the posole and suited her Texas craving for spicy hot. The green was good too, but different: not very hot, but nicely chunky and deliciously flavorful.
The accompanying standards included frijoles de la olla – home-style beans that didn’t come out of a can and a feature of the house. The rice was a cut above, too.
Casa Chimayo’s desserts are straight out of the northern New Mexico past, with just a few modern touches, like goat’s milk flan and choco-flan cake. We stuck to tradition with a dish of Stella’s natillas ($6.25) and Grandma Tita’s pastelitos ($5).
The natillas satisfied my guest’s craving for flan (she drew the line at the goat’s milk offering). This soft custard – softer than the sturdier flan – was nicely flavored with cinnamon.
I enjoyed the pastelitos, really apple turnovers, made with a no-nonsense and very tender pie crust and napped with soft whipped cream. Simple, homey, delicious.
Traditional bread pudding, or sopa, which in northern New Mexico includes cheese, is the dessert I’ll try next time when I go back for my very own plate of those enchiladas.
Not everything on Casa Chimayo’s menu is old-fashioned comfort food (that goat’s milk flan is one example). The dinner menu includes many dishes that would be at home in Santa Fe’s fancier nouvelle-Southwest places but, in general, all of the Casa Chimayo presentations stay firmly rooted in the mix of culinary habits that resulted from Spanish colonization of pueblo territory via Mexico.
The sides for chile-laced chicken or steak, for example, run to “pueblo pudding,” a variation on corn mush or polenta, we assume, and quelites in season. Known in English as lamb’s quarters, this is a common wild herb hereabouts, but hardly standard restaurant fare.
Casa Chimayo was less than crowded the mid-December day we dined. The service was very good – anticipatory without any hovering. We enjoyed the rustic decor – bright colors on the walls, colorful tile on the tabletops and some good (and some middling) folk art. Casa Chimayo also has a patio and a full liquor license, raising the prospect of summer margaritas with those enchiladas.