SANTA FE, N.M. — Genius is at work on several levels at The Ranch House on Santa Fe’s far southern fringe. First and foremost, in a region not noted as a barbecue destination, it serves some of the best smoked meat we’ve ever tasted. Second, it’s nice enough for very special occasions, but still relaxing. No tie or heels required, but perfect nonetheless for an anniversary, a milestone birthday, or special guests. The service is superb and friendly, and the only problem we’ve ever encountered here has been the standing-room-only crowd in the lobby on Friday or Saturday night. Make reservations!
A recent Saturday lunch at The Ranch House reminded us just how great a place it really is. We were promptly seated in one of the comfortable booths. After some study of the menus, we started in with a cup of the day’s soup ($3.95), a vegetable and green chile stew studded with bits of prime rib. (Prime rib is a dinner special on Friday and Saturday nights.) The soup was very good, but was quickly eclipsed by our main courses.
One of my guests was clearly in a chile mood and took advantage of the day’s special, prime rib enchiladas ($10.95). They were excellent, with plenty of diced meat and a very spicy green chile sauce. The sides included calabacitas, which were perfectly cooked, and refried beans, again better than average.
My other guest ordered The Ranch House’s buffalo green chile cheeseburger ($11.95), which also came with a cup of refried beans topped with melted cheese. It too was excellent: satisfyingly thick, perfectly cooked to her specified medium, with plenty of chopped green chile and a slice of cheddar.
That left the barbecue choice to me, so I opted for the brisket plate ($13.50) with sides of potato salad and green chile cornbread. The generous serving of brisket was super: fall-apart tender, nicely smoky and accompanied by my choice of Ranch House signature sauces. I chose the less spicy of the two and loved the sweet, but tangy, flavor.
The potato salad was home-made, with large chunks of skin-on boiled red potatoes laced with scallions and celery, and swathed in a creamy dressing that I judged to be nicely free of mustard and just tangy enough to complement the meat.
The Ranch House cornbread is house-made, too, and served in extra-large portions. It’s a little too sweet for my taste, but that went well with the meat and plenty of green chile had been stirred into the batter.
At this point in the meal, we knew better than to order more than one dessert, so we split a dish of apple crisp à la mode. House-made, too, it was excellent: not too sweet, plenty of well-chopped apples and a dusting of crunchy topping. Warm, it nicely softened the scoop of vanilla ice cream atop.
By the time we’d finished, The Ranch House dining room was nearly filled. But it wasn’t noisy – among the myriad perfections here is the spacing of the tables. They’re nicely uncrowded, making conversation both easy and fairly private.
The restaurant space itself is stunningly designed: the ceilings high, the windows huge, the fireplace whimsically ornamented. The decor has just enough of the Southwest about it (a beamed ceiling, white walls, etc.) to ground The Ranch House in Santa Fe.