I didn’t expect Santa Fe, New Mexico, to be as small as it is – at least, not the touristy areas. Although the adobe buildings are crammed with people and arts and crafts that are a blend of Native American, Mexican, and cultural fetishization, this shopping area lasts for just a few blocks before it peels off into featureless commercial plazas for things like gastroenterologists, real estate agents, and chain supermarkets. I’d say a maximum of two days can be spent in Santa Fe, one day gawking at the wares and one day in the gallery district, which is home to dozens of galleries with interesting folk art and regional fine art.
The New Mexico State Capitol is literally across the street from this tourism area. I was shocked to find two mulberry trees there that had dropped more mulberries to the ground than I have seen my entire life in the much colder Pacific Northwest. I always like it when public streets are lined with fruit trees. It seems like every street has at least one apricot tree, grown for shade, and abundant with tart-yet-sweet fruits. The only other place I’ve been with so much unapologetic fruit on the trees is Athens, Greece, whose streets are lined with orange trees that produce a sour, salty, nearly bitter orange that is either the best or worst kind of citrus depending on your tastes.
Santa Fe is the home of George R. R. Martin, the guy who authored the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones franchise, currently the world’s hottest literary property. ASOIAF is famed for its extremely long, lush, and detailed descriptions of what characters eat.
So it was a surprise to everyone when GRRM revealed: “I love food…But I’m not a foodie, I eat like a peasant. My favourite foods are barbecue and Mexican.”
His favorite Santa Fe restaurant is a family restaurant called Maria’s. I checked it out but didn’t have it in me to wait in a 30-person line, so I made a quick Google search and headed over to Tortilla Flats. (Hey, the name is Steinbeck-y.)
On his blog, GRRM wrote “Santa Fe is full of great places to eat NEW Mexican food, which is a little bit different (and considerably hotter) than other Mexican food.” This turned out to be true. The Bowl of Green Chile I ordered ($5.49) burned my face off, but it was delicious so I endured through every bit.
The Taco Plate ($12.59), two brisket tacos with refried pinto beans, calvacitas con maiz (squash and corn) was just as good. I didn’t expect to like the brisket so much but it had a great chew while remaining tender. The beef flavor was forward but not greasy.
To the left of the picture above is a red soup, the soup of the day ($4.49). This was a spicy soup with beef brisket. The broth, which had a strong flavor yet had clarity, reminded me of the Vietnamese beef noodle soup pho.
All three orders came with a tortilla or a sopapilla. Having never had a sopapilla, I didn’t know what they were, so the waitress explained that they were fluffy breads eaten with honey from the squeeze bottles on the tables. This sounded interesting, especially as a dessert-y complement to main courses. Tortillas come as accompaniments at Mexican-influenced eateries everywhere but they either have a neutral (most common) or savory flavor profile.
The combination of the lightness and squishiness of the sopapillas and the thickness of the honey was perfect. If you haven’t tried one of these simple wonders, you are missing out.
We had ordered a flan with caramel sauce ($4.69) to end the meal but didn’t think we could finish them because of how generous the portions were, especially with the soups and the sopapillas. We kind of just sat around the flan pushing it off on each other until we finally tried it.
This is the best flan I’ve ever had. Unlike some flans, which are watery and thin, and therefore less stable, this flan was remarkably creamy, smooth, and thick. Like, creme brulee smooth. I’m a huge fan of egg custards of all types, from French creme brulees to Chinese egg custards to Japanese tamago sushi – this is one of the best egg desserts I’ve ever had. This dessert is certainly not filler or an obligation. Definitely not an afterthought. I can’t imagine a better end to a meal.
3139 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico