Cafe Pasqual’s, Santa Fe, NM
As Ben and I left Boulder early this morning, I suddenly felt extremely disappointed that we didn’t make it to The Kitchen, a restaurant my mother has been telling me about for years, quite possibly her all-time favorite dining destination. And we really should have eaten there last night because the Mexican restaurant highly recommended from a local the night before, proved to be more than disappointing. (Sorry Mama, I really should always listen to what you say.) It was not all bad, however, the highlight being the Pink Cadillac, a margarita served in a 16 oz. canning jar — it was awesome.

Anyway, we made a lot of headway today, changing our route due to weather from I-70W to I-25S, traveling over 400 miles before lunch, which we enjoyed in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Cafe Pasqual’s, another recommendation in the Stern’s Roadfood book. As we pulled into downtown Santa Fe, snow — lucky for us — dumped from the sky, discouraging many locals to stay home and enabling us to find a table at Cafe Pasqual’s without waiting, a rare feat apparently any day of the week.

We soon learned why. These pictures don’t do the food justice — every bite was incredible. Ben ordered the carne asada, the meal arriving to each of the three business men sitting at the table next to us, a plate of grilled marinated Niman Ranch beef (hanger steak we think) with guacamole, salsa fresca, black beans and grilled sweet red peppers. And I ordered the plato primo, a plate including one chile relleno, a vegetarian tamale, cilantro rice, salsa fresca and refried beans. Stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese and onion, and lightly battered and fried, the chile relleno, we both agreed, was the highlight of our lunch spread.

Everything — the salsas, tortillas, beans, rice, masa — however, tasted fresh and delectable. So enamored by this corner cafe, we even tinkered with the idea of staying over night: check out the breakfast menu. We loved the decor and the staff too, though our waitress, as Ben says, totally “dominated” us, somehow tempting me to begin my meal with a Mimosa — organic, freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with sparkling California white wine — and finagling the two of us to share a piece of blackberry pie for dessert, neither decision we regretted ultimately. Oh, and I also walked out of there with a cookbook — Café Pasqual’s Cookbook — a purchase which actually needed zero encouragement from the staff. Filled with artwork, stories and recipes from the cafe, this book promises to provide hours of entertainment on the last leg of our trip west.

This is the plato primo: a chile relleno and a vegetarian tamale served with cilantro rice, salsa fresca and refried beans. It is much tastier than it looks.