Tomasita’s–Santa Fe, NM

Tomasita’s
500 S. Guadalupe St.
Santa Fe, NM
(505) 983-5721
Tomasita's

Tomasita’s


Tomasita’s web site states that it has been a family run operation for over 40 years, which reveals at least two important facts. One is that it is family run, and this may be an explanation for the fact that (to my taste) it has such good food. I had recently visited El Bruno’s in Cuba, New Mexico (another popular family run restaurant), and I thought this and Tomasita’s had equally good food largely stemming from their nature of being local small scale restaurants. The only thing that really matters is that they have good recipes that are prepared well, but family owned restaurants tend to be particularly adept at this.

The fact that it has been operating for over 40 years is another important piece of information for me. This would mean that they opened sometime in the late 1970’s, and this would be the correct timeline for the memory I have of another restaurant which I believe was in the same building (an old railroad depot). It was actually the depot for the narrow gauge railroad which went north through northern New Mexico. The restaurant previous to Tomasita’s, though, had a name something along the order of Santa Fe Station, making me think that this was the old station for the Santa Fe Railroad (the real Santa Fe Railroad station was north of this location a couple of blocks, and is now the terminus for the commuter train from Albuquerque). The restaurant I remember was upscale and served steaks. I have tried to look it up on the Internet and I cannot find any information about the former restaurant. The real point to me, though, is that I think the conversion of the building from an upscale restaurant to a traditional New Mexican one is a sign of progress in a city where the real estate prices seem to dictate that it have more and more upscale restaurants, but fewer of the affordable ones.

My first visit to Tomasita’s was on a busy day, but it was the off-peak period of the afternoon. There was a wait for a table, and I imagine that the waiting time gets much worse during peak period. Otherwise things went smoothly, and I was pleased with the service as well as the food. The price was in a range that I once thought was high, but compared to similar restaurants (even in cities not as expensive as Santa Fe), the prices here seemed very reasonable.

The menu has a large number of choices (so many that I think some of them would not be considered traditional New Mexican cuisine). They also have daily specials but I did not check the prices on these, and they are not listed on their on-line menu. For me, though, my usual choice at restaurants serving northern New Mexican food for the first visit (as well as most subsequent visits) is blue corn enchiladas. Sometimes I try other things, with the stuffed sopapilla being at the top of the list. I do believe that if you have other dishes that are your favorite this will influence your list of favorite restaurants, but I do want to explain that my rating of this restaurant is based primarily on the enchiladas.

Chips and Salsa

Chips  and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips and Salsa were very good, but I did not think they were notably better than at other restaurants. I was happy that they had different colored chips (some blue and some red). The problem with these was that the waiter did not bring them out until I asked for them. This usually means that you have to pay extra for the chips, but in this case it was just that the waiter forgot (not a problem for me as long as they do not spring me with any surprises on the bill).

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas with blue corn tortillas

The Blue Corn Red Enchiladas had all the required elements that I think make them good: flavorful and traditional tasting red chile, a spice level that goes just to the perfect point without being overly spicy, high quality cheese, and the blue corn tortillas that are almost totally missing in southern New Mexico restaurants but which are almost universally available in the northern part of the state (usually for an extra charge, though, as they are here).

There are quite a few choices involved when ordering enchiladas, such as red or green (the green is almost always the spicier of the two), blue corn or regular (I think the blue gives it a better flavor), stacked or rolled (usually the northern NM restaurants make stacked their default), choice of meat (I go with the plain cheese version at least until I find out which others are especially good), and onions or no onions (normally I omit the onions but in northern NM I find that they put in less onion than in other areas and it has less of a strong onion taste, so here I go with the onions).

One thing I really liked about the dinner is that they brought out the Sopaipillas with the meal without me even asking for them so that I could eat them with the red chile which was spicy enough that I really appreciated a sopaipilla to help tone down the heat.

Another thing that toned down the heat was the serving of Pinto Beans that, along with the cheese that topped it, had an excellent flavor and was another reason I love northern New Mexican cuisine.

The green chile is said to be good here as well, but I did not try it on this particular visit.

The Dining Room

Tomasita's main dining room

Tomasita’s main dining room

The dining room is in a converted railroad station where much of the original architecture is on display, and the high ceiling and large windows perhaps make it appear more spacious than it actually is.

There is also an outdoor patio, and the web site says there is a private room that can accommodate parties of up to 20 people.

Other Notes
This was definitely among my best experiences with northern New Mexican cuisine in recent years, and I cannot think of past experiences where the enchiladas were really any better than here.

Some reviews say The Shed has better New Mexican food than Tomasita’s, but it was a very popular day with visitors and the parking situation made it so that going to The Shed was not feasible (The Shed is located just off of the Plaza so the traffic was for many destinations other than The Shed itself).

I have to say, though, that the food at Tomasita’s was as good I expected that The Shed would be, so I was not the least bit disappointed with coming here instead. I do not know if the food (especially the enchiladas) are actually better at The Shed, but I would probably not recommend going there on a Saturday during the summer tourist season as I tried to do.

Tomasita’s has another location in Albuquerque which is said to be good as well. Personally I am glad I chose this location because of the higher elevation, crisper air, scenic landscape, and historic setting of Santa Fe. If you cannot make it to Santa Fe, though, I am sure the Albuquerque restaurant would be fine (not to say that Albuquerque does not have its share of crisp air, scenic landscape, etc.).


Tomasita’s Web Site


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Blue Corn Red Enchiladas, Pinto Beans, Salsa, Sopaipilla

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas (Blue Corn)
star 5 Pinto Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopaipilla

Porter’s–Farmington, NM

Porter’s Restaurant & Smokehouse
2210 E. 20th St.
Farmington, NM
(505) 327-5979
Porter's

Porter’s


First of all, I want to clear up some confusion about what Porter’s is. The official name of the restaurant is “Porter’s Restaurant & Smokehouse.” When looking at different web sites I saw that it was everything from a steakhouse to an American restaurant to a barbecue restaurant. The answer is that it is all of these things under one roof, and I think they must be awfully busy preparing all these different types of food. After examining the menu, though, I asked one of the employees if this was a steakhouse that had barbecue or a BBQ restaurant that had steaks, inquiring about the restaurant’s true specialty and what is popular with local people. Her reply was that it was a barbecue restaurant that had steaks, keeping this in context that she was only saying what was most popular and not necessarily what was the best food.

A second question some may have may be “why was I in Farmington in the first place?” All right, this is probably not a question anyone has, but I will give an answer anyway. It is quite notable that Farmington has one of the last remaining K-Marts in New Mexico, and in fact in the entire country. Last year I visited the K-Mart in Roswell which has since closed, and it is very uncertain what will be the fate of the remaining stores. It seems that the K-Marts have items that you cannot find anywhere else because of the fact that they do not jettison items as quickly which are not the top sellers, while the typical big box stores do not have as much patience for anything which is not earning them the top profit margins. K-Mart has good items, but just ones that are harder to find.

Also pretty hard to find, though, is good barbecue. New Mexico has become one of the top barbecue states in recent years, but of course not all restaurants in any state are of equal quality.

I told the staff that I was from Oklahoma and that I had high standards for barbecue, and after the meal I let them know that this restaurant passes the test. I would classify it as Texas style barbecue rather than Oklahoma–two of their best items are beef ribs and brisket which are known as being Texas specialties. I could not pin down the origin of the sauce but it was more spicy than in most Oklahoma restaurants (and more spicy than most I have tasted in Austin).

Moreover, I found out that their most popular item was the beef ribs, and that people literally make trips from all four of the Four Corners states to eat it. This is not a reflection of there being very little competition, but the fact that these ribs are so good that really anyone would come here who had a reasonable means of doing so. I did not know any of this before coming to the restaurant, but I am glad I found out.

The staff also let me know that the beef is locally sourced, and I think that not only the beef BBQ but also the steaks are known to be of very high quality.

BBQ Plate

BBQ plate

BBQ plate with beef rib, sausage, and brisket

First of all, I should disclose that this was not my meal for the evening. Having previously eaten at El Bruno’s in Cuba, I had only samples of the meat while my friend and traveling companion (also named Steve) ate most of the meal. The BBQ plate includes three meats which are your choice, and you can choose side dishes as well. I do not remember whether Steve asked for recommendations or not, but I believe the rib and brisket are always his first choices at barbecue restaurants. I did not eat very much of any of them, but I thought all three meats were very good.

Of course I discovered that the Beef Rib is the restaurant’s specialty. This item is almost non-existent in Oklahoma, although I have had some recently in El Paso (which largely serves central Texas style BBQ). The beef rib at Porter’s included a very large portion of fat, but there was enough meat for both of us to cut off a reasonable serving and to be very satisfied (although I had a smaller appetite as was satisfied more easily). This was honestly the tenderest and most flavorful beef rib that I think I have ever eaten, and it was through asking the staff how they did this that I found out about the local sourcing of the meat.

The Brisket had a very good quality that I almost never get in Oklahoma, and which is not universal in the Texas barbecue world which includes El Paso. This was also a very good barbecued meat, which I would get as a supplement to the ribs (also in contrast to the rib’s high fat content, the brisket is very lean).

The Sausage was also very good, and I would say it was one of the best I have had anywhere. However, I am not that big a fan of BBQ sausage, so for me this was another item which took second place to the rib.

The sauce had a very good bite and in Oklahoma I would classify it as “spicy,” although it is not really at the level that New Mexicans think of as being extra spicy. The sauce went very well with the rib and sausage. For anyone who happens to see this blog before going to Porter’s, though, I would say to order the brisket plain with the sauce on the side. This brisket most likely would have been very good plain without any sauce, but I did not get to taste it this way.

The restaurant does give you a choice of whether you want sauce on the meat, on the side, or not included. I did like the sauce on the rib and the sausage.

Other Items
There is a popular buffet which I think includes all the BBQ items but not the steaks. I believe they also have regular meats which are not smoked on the menu and the buffet. The buffet is supposedly a bargain if you are fairly hungry. When I went the buffet was already closed (shortly before the restaurant’s closing time) but they did have the same type of soft serve ice cream machine I find at many barbecue restaurants in Oklahoma.

Summary
I did not have a large sample of this restaurant’s food, but I did try the beef rib which is what people “drive from Durango” in order to eat. This was an exceptional rib, and even more so because it had enough meat to satisfy what I would judge to be a normal meat portion when I consider the size of an average meal.

My other general recommendation is that prices here are extremely good for the amount and quality of food that you get.

There are other barbecue restaurants in Farmington that come up higher on the Yelp ranked list of restaurants, so I cannot say which one is actually the best. For beef ribs, though, it seems to be Porter’s.


Porter’s Web Site


RATING: 24

Cuisine: BBQ, Steaks
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer & Wine

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Beef Ribs

Special Ratings
star 5 Beef Ribs
star 5 Brisket
star 5 Sausage

El Bruno’s–Cuba, NM

El Bruno’s Restaurante y Cantina
6453 Main St.
Cuba, NM
(575) 289-9429
El Bruno's

El Bruno’s


I have made two treks to Cuba, New Mexico in recent years in which I stopped to visit the famous El Bruno’s Restaurant (famous to me, at least, because I read about it on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog). The trips happened to be thirteen years apart, and in this time the original restaurant burned down and was relocated across the street (there is only one main road in Cuba, so you are technically correct when you say it is across “the street”).

On my first visit in 2006 I stopped to buy some salsa, but I was so impressed by the restaurant itself that I took photos of the restaurant and patio area to catalog its New Mexico style architecture and decor. I have included some photos from the old restaurant farther down on this page, and perhaps some readers will remember the original El Bruno’s. When I heard about how devastating the fire was, I was surprised that the mural from the old restaurant remained intact (and is shown in both the before and after photos). The new El Bruno’s has a pleasant patio area, but I am still a little saddened by the loss of the old one because it was such a special atmosphere.

El Bruno's front entrance area

El Bruno’s front entrance area

When El Bruno’s moved across the street I understand that it took over a former Tastee Freez, which is now the kitchen area. They expanded this area with the addition of a large dining room and patio area. El Bruno’s also has an Albuquerque location, but for anyone who goes to the restaurant in Cuba I think they will find the setting especially relaxing and enjoyable.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

They brought out the sopapillas with my meal before I could really dig into the chips and salsa. The chips and salsa were excellent, but especially notable to me were the very flavorful and fluffy Sopapillas.

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas with regular corn tortillas

There was a mix-up on my order because I ordered Enchiladas with blue corn tortillas but they came with the regular tortillas. They were happy to correct the mistake, and in the meantime I ended up with photos of both versions.

Blue corn enchiladas

Blue corn red enchiladas

The Blue Corn Red Enchiladas did not look much different outwardly, but the blue corn flavor was really excellent (for some reason they seemed to have more flavor than some others I had tried). In addition, I liked the fact that both these and the enchiladas with regular tortillas were served flat without the customer having to ask for it, and that the sopapillas were brought to the table at the beginning of the meal. These are important parts of what I conceive as traditional New Mexican cuisine.

The most important part, of course, was the chile. I decided to go with the red chile because this is almost always what I like best (and I believe the reviews indicated that this was the best one to order). I thought the flavor was very near the top of all the ones I had tried in New Mexico in recent years. I have not made it to The Shed in Santa Fe or some other restaurants where the chile might be a little better, but honestly I do not know how anyone could make it any better than at El Bruno’s. The sauce had a deep red color, it was spicy to just the right point, and the flavor seemed to include enough spices to make it interesting but it had nothing that detracted from the chile flavor. As far as I was concerned, these enchiladas gave me everything I could want in a New Mexican style meal.

The cheese was very good as well (something that cannot be taken for granted at all restaurants). Along with the excellent sopapillas, these enchiladas seemed perfect to me.

Meat sauce

Meat sauce in a side dish

There was one twist to my order, however. They asked if I wanted it with meat sauce, and I said no but please give me a little bit in a side dish so that I could try it. They also mentioned that more people ordered it with meat sauce than with the plain (vegetarian) sauce.

The above photo shows the small bowl they brought, and I tried it both in the bowl and on the enchiladas. According to the menu, the meat is the Herrera family’s favorite red pork chile recipe. I liked it in the bowl, but on top of the enchilada it changed the flavor so that other flavors did not come out as much, and I was glad that I had only ordered the meat sauce on the side. There are some restaurants where I think the meat sauce has a better flavor than the plain sauce (notably Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque). At El Bruno’s, though, I definitely thought the regular red chile sauce was the one to get.

The beans and rice were excellent, but I was more focused on the sopapillas which really were an excellent enhancement to the enchiladas.

Photos of the Old Restaurant

The old El Bruno's

The old El Bruno’s

I took photos of the old restaurant in 2006 shortly before it was destroyed by a fire. This building was located on the east side of the highway, while the current building is across the street on the west side.

Mural

Mural at the old building

This mural fascinated me so much that I took a photo. Fortunately it survived the fire, and now is at the new restaurant.

The old patio

The patio at the old restaurant

The patio at the old restaurant seemed like a very relaxing place to eat a meal or spend some time, but at the time I was only able to buy some salsa and then be on the road again. Fortunately they were able to rebuild, and now have a restaurant in Albuquerque as well.

Other Notes
Enchiladas are the item I order at almost all New Mexican restaurants, so my rating of this restaurant reflects how I think the enchiladas compare with others I have tried. I did not try the green enchiladas, but they have good reviews (I just happen to prefer the red at most restaurants).

The red chile was spicier than many I have tried, to the point that sopapillas with honey caused a noticeable cooling of the mouth (the reason I do not wait until dessert to eat the sopapillas). However, the chile was definitely not insanely hot, and I think they did it just right not only on the flavor but also in its heat index. A wide range of items are listed on the menu, though, where it looks as if you can get different heat levels down to none at all if you wish.

Their salsa is for sale in bottles at their Cuba and Albuquerque locations.


El Bruno’s Web Site


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full Bar

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Blue Corn Red Enchiladas, Chips, Salsa, Sopapilla

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas (Blue Corn)
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopapilla