Enchiladas are a staple of Northern New Mexican cuisine. Many of Santa Fe’s restaurants, from drive-thru joints to high-end establishments, feature the dish. Although the basic ingredients remain the same, the city offers many creative approaches to this archetypal food.
The Classic: Posa’s El Merendero
3538 Zafarano Drive, Santa Fe
1514 Rodeo Road, Santa Fe
Posa’s El Merendero, a strip mall restaurant dwarfed by a neighboring Albertson’s, appears forgettable from the outside and functional on the inside (most people order to-go). But Posa’s classic enchiladas are definitely memorable. The restaurant serves up the standard varieties: beef, cheese, or chicken. With the latter, marinated rotisserie-style chicken is shredded and bundled inside thick flour tortillas. This enchilada plate is sprinkled with cheese and accompanied by the traditional sides of rice and beans. Customers have a choice between a tortilla or sopaipilla (hint: never turn down a sopaipilla). Prices lean toward budget-friendly. Overall, Posa’s enchiladas are a no muss, no fuss, great taste experience.
The Twist: Mucho Gusto
839 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe
It doesn’t matter whether you define gusto as taste, liking, or pleasure, because Mucho Gusto’s Suiza Enchiladas deliver all of the above. The addition of feta cheese lends an unexpected sharpness to the dish that plays off the warming green chile sauce (fairly mild). Chunks of chicken are encased in rolled corn tortillas then topped with a tomatillo sauce that provides the perfect burst of heat. Mucho Gusto’s Mexican rice is rich with tomato and paprika, and the restaurant substitutes Santa Fe’s ubiquitous pinto beans with earthy, refried black beans. A slightly healthier option is the grilled shrimp enchilada, which pairs onions and mushrooms with juicy shrimp, nestled between flat blue corn tortillas. (It is traditional for Northern New Mexican enchiladas to be open-faced rather than rolled).
The Vegetarian: La Choza
905 Alarid Street, Santa Fe (it’s tucked back off Cerrillos, close to where the road intersects with St. Francis Drive)
La Choza, the sister restaurant of The Shed, may not have a James Beard Foundation Award, but it offers equally delectable food minus the throngs of tourists. Summer squash, zucchini, mushrooms and petite broccoli florets are rolled inside dense blue corn tortillas. The cheese contributes a dash of saltiness but, to really dial up the flavor, dribble chile sauce over the enchiladas. It’s a rapid, jujutsu-style kick to the gut that true heat seekers will adore. Even the rice leaves a little spice in its wake (but that’s akin to battling a toddler rather than taking on a martial arts master). Definitely order your meal with one of La Choza’s cinnamon-dusted sopaipillas.
The Educational: Casa Chimayo
409 West Water Street, Santa Fe
Casa Chimayo may be one of Santa Fe’s newer additions but it draws on old recipes, crafted by the owners’ ancestors, who were travelers along El Camino Real. The restaurant’s mission is to “promote Northern New Mexican culture via culinary heritage.” Yep, that’s right, by tucking into rolled enchiladas with chicken so moist that it melts like cheese, you’re snacking on a piece of history. Now that’s my kind of education. Casa Chimayo is one of the rare Santa Fe restaurants where you can order an enchilada on the side, in the event that you’re too full of the made-to-order guacamole to contemplate a complete meal. Interested in a smaller plate? Consider the plantain molé enchilada. Although all the elements of this dish are soft, the complex combination of earthy molé sauce mingled with sweet plantains overrides any lack of textural interest.
The Splurge: La Plazuela
100 E. San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
La Plazuela, a restaurant housed in a converted patio at La Fonda Hotel, oozes with atmosphere. Trickling water from the fountain blends with the distant strains of Spanish music; actual trees – dotted with fairy lights – stretch to the two-story ceiling; and painted pictures decorate many of the glass panels that make up the walls. This is the ideal place to turn enchilada night into date night. The Filet y Enchiladas isn’t cheap (it’s chargrilled filet mignon), but the serving is sufficiently gargantuan to satisfy a linebacker. This enchilada is ninety percent queso fresco, with barely enough corn tortilla to contain the cheese. Green chile sauce complements the blaze of heat left by the red sauce and the mandatory sopaipilla arrives with a jug of warmed honey.