It’s said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Whether you believe that or not, there’s nothing like a traditional New Mexican breakfast to start your Santa Fe day. Try a breakfast burrito smothered in either red or green chile. Ask for “Christmas” and it will be smothered in both. Another local breakfast favorite is huevos rancheros: eggs on a corn tortilla covered with chile and often cheese, served with refried beans. Each restaurant offers its own take on New Mexico cuisine, invariably involving chile and heat. After all, it’s a chile town!
If you’re not a fan of spice, other breakfast options on local menus run the gamut from a standard American breakfast of eggs, toast, meat and potatoes to pancakes, French toast and signature dishes. If you’re in a hurry, grab a hand-held burrito on the go from El Parasol or one of the roadside stands scattered around town. Santa Fe has iconic breakfast places such as Café Pasqual’s and Tia Sophia’s that have been written about extensively. Here are some local favorites that you may not have heard of.
The Pantry has been serving up New Mexican favorites since 1948. The retro eatery, on Historic Route 66, is a popular morning spot. Their breakfast burrito smothered in your favorite chile is plumb and delicious. The chile packs a bite and wakes you up. The breakfast sandwich, a combo of scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese and green chile folded in a flour tortilla and served with fresh salsa, is a hot seller. Want something unique? Huevos Consuelo, named for the cook who invented it, is a mix of tomatoes, onions, garlic and spicy yellow peppers. If you’re not in the mood for spicy, try a classic American breakfast. Pick from favorites including chicken fried steak, slow-cooked corned beef, biscuits with country sausage gravy and pancakes or waffles.
The 50s style Plaza Café Southside, a diner-style eatery, is an offshoot of the historic Plaza Café opened, in 1905. (Located on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, it’s currently closed due to a fire in 2010. It’s scheduled to reopen in sometime in the first half of 2012.) The Southside location with its 50s diner feel is a great place to start your day. The menu has lots of breakfast options. For a taste of New Mexico, order one of the Platos Nativos. The Huevos Divorciados (two eggs served on corn tortillas with sides of chipotle and tomatillo salsas, guacamole and beans) in this section of the menu doesn’t show up in many local dining spots. There’s good news for pancake and French toast fans; pure maple syrup is an option. If you want lighter fare, order the house-made pumpkin granola and house-baked muffins and pastries. A touch of neon, cherry red upholstered booths and vintage photos of the original Plaza Café from the 1950s remind diners of a bygone era.
Tecolote Cafe, a perennial breakfast favorite, often has a line out the door. The wait is worth it. The restaurant’s motto is “Great Breakfasts, No Toast,” but don’t despair; what they have is better. All breakfasts come with a choice of a bread basket or tortillas. Go for the basket. It features their in-house, fresh baked muffins and biscuits; cinnamon rolls are added on Sundays. Their cottage fries may be the best breakfast potatoes in town. The breakfast burritos are wonderful. Get them smothered in green (our favorite), red or Christmas. If you like your potatoes inside your burrito as we do, ask; they served them on the side here. For something different, try the nutty Atolé Piñon Hot Cakes made with blue cornmeal. Tecolote is also known for their French toast; there’s always a selection of delicious-sounding breads posted on the wall. If you are a fan of real maple syrup, you can order it.
Above: French toast choices at Tecolote.
Above: Eggs Benedict at Tecolote Cafe.
Clafoutis offers a taste of France. This bakery/café, owned by a French couple, caught on immediately and has been busy ever since. Start your day with a freshly baked croissant or one of their other classic French baked goods paired with a bowl of café au lait. The small breakfast menu offers ham and egg croissants, crepes, omelets and more; Saturdays bring beignets. Don’t leave without grabbing one of their tempting pastries for later. Clafoutis is a great option if you’re staying within walking distance of the café at 402 North Guadalupe Street. Parking here can be challenging. For information call (505) 988-1809.
While we’re talking bakeries, breakfast at the Chocolate Maven is always a great experience. The extensive menu at this bakery/café has something for everyone. The Eggs Benedict arrives covered in a perfect Hollandaise and there are two variations on the traditional dish, Eggs Florentine and Eggs Madison. If you want to taste all three, order the Ménage a Trois. You won’t find the Tex-Mex dish Migas or the Mexican Chilaquiles in a lot of places in town; they have them here. If you want something lighter, there are croissants and other breakfast pastries to choose from. If seating is available (or you don’t mind waiting), opt for the downstairs dining room with its glassed-in view of the bakery’s production kitchen. It’s fascinating to watch the bakers ply their craft. On your way out, grab a treat for later.
Above: Pick up a tempting pastry after breakfast at Chocolate Maven.
Some places serve breakfast all day and others have designated breakfast hours. Check with the restaurant of your choice for hours and days of operation. These are all popular spots and can get crowded, especially on weekends. If you aren’t a fan of waiting, check with the restaurant before you go. Eating early or late is a great way to avoid the crowds. A word of warning: try the chile before ordering it as part of or on top of a dish. Most places won’t take the dish back if it’s too hot for you. No matter where you chose to eat it, breakfast is a perfect start to your Santa Fe day.
As a former hotel concierge and owner of a travel concierge and trip-planning business in Santa Fe, the writer may have at some time been a guest of some of the restaurants mentioned in this post. These experiences have not influenced this post in any way.
Note from Don Nadeau: Billie Frank was a concierge at two Four-Diamond hotels in Santa Fe for over four years. She is co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, a travel concierge and trip-planning service. She also has a blog, Santa Fe Travelers, and you can follow her on Twitter.
I thank Billie and food writer and former executive chef Steve Collins, also co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, who provided the photos here.
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