Food, glorious food … those words from the musical Oliver pop into my mind whenever I see a little cart parked on the street with a scintillating scent wafting out from beneath an umbrella. Santa Fe is justifiably renowned for its contributions to the culinary landscape of the global community. But discovering a burrito master or a hot dog king right on the corner brings the city’s food scene to life in a sensory way: the blue sky above, the fresh taste of chopped cilantro, the creamy guacamole you simply have to lick off your fingers, the piquant aroma of new-crop chile. Let your appetite lead you on a tasty southwestern adventure as you sample inventive food stands sprinkled throughout the City Different.
Meet for a Mighty Meaty Meal on the Santa Fe Plaza
The granddaddy of Santa Fe street carts is parked at the corner of East San Francisco Street and the Old Santa Fe Trail. Look for the sign that says “Roque’s Carnitas” and your juicy treat will most likely be served up by the carnita king himself. For more than 20 years, Roque and his partner Mona have been grilling beef and chicken to perfection, then packing it into a flour tortilla with peppers, onions, and their secret sauce.
The word “carnita” translates literally to “little meat,” but that doesn’t mean the portions and flavor are small. Roasted corn can be part of the equation when it’s in season, and there are always tamales, both meat and vegetarian green chile-cheese, on the menu. Line up for lunch between mid-April and mid-October when Roque and Mona are open for business. And when you place your order, don’t forget the homemade lemonade, which is the perfect complement for enjoying your carnitas on a Plaza park bench.
Santa Fe Is Hot-Diggity Dog Delicious
When you crave a hot dog, make the most of your hankering at Chicago Dog Express. Get these Vienna Beef babies with the accoutrements of your choice: sauerkraut (of course), pickles, cheese, onions, even Christmas-style chile (that means red AND green, side by side). Beware, if you ask for fully-loaded, you’ll need both hands to hold the poppy seed bun. In a nod to Chicago ethnicity, Polish sausages are on the bill of fare as well for those who like that unmistakable spicy flavor. If you’re in the mood for the Santa Fe classic, order a Frito Pie. For the uninitiated, that’s beans, chile, and cheese ladled over a bag of Fritos, served here with a scatter of little green peppers that Chicagoans know as “sport peppers” on top.
Even an average day in Santa Fe is extra-special for me if I stop and grab a hearty breakfast burrito to go from Chicago Dog; they’re some of the best in town, and that’s saying something in a town that loves the breakfast burrito. The location, at the corner of Cerrillos Road and Paseo de Peralta, has limited parking, so build in some time if you go at the peak noon hour.
Take a Detour from Downtown to Discover El Chile Toreado
A food cart by a tire store — now that’s down-home hometown. El Chile Toreado always has a line outside, full of folks deciding between tacos and burritos in a variety of styles and fillings. The word “toreado” refers to lightly toasting the chiles before serving, so with “toast” in mind, start your day the Southwestern way with a chorizo breakfast burrito to cook up ideas for the adventures that lie ahead. The line is longer during the noon hour, when locals who work nearby stop by for lunch tacos. The choices range from lamb, chicken, beef, chicharron (pork cracklings are my guilty pleasure), and lengua (tongue) for those who are ready to try an authentically Mexican protein choice.
Cheese quesadillas, which are two flour tortillas griddled until their cheesy innards melt into creamy deliciousness, are on the menu too. I like mine “sinconazada,” which means you can add a meat choice inside. And in a cozy twist on the multiculturalism of Chicago Dog’s Express, El Chile Toreado serves up hot dogs and Polish sausages tucked into a big, soft bun. When there’s something for everyone, no one goes hungry!
Take a Taco Timeout at Jarochos Taqueria
A taco may well be my favorite fast food, with its just-right balance of flavor and filling. And when fast food highlights an authentic Mexican regional style, things only get better. A trip to Jarochos Taqueria, parked on the grounds of Jackalope, a favorite Santa Fe souvenir spot, takes you south of the border to Veracruz, Mexico. Broadly referring to a person, thing or style from that region, the term “Jarocho” also applies to the spices and preparation at this little stand. Beef barbacoa tacos come fully-loaded on warm corn tortillas with a side of spicy salsa. Homemade + corn tortilla = love.
The cheese-sprinkled chicken tostada designated as “Sabor Jarocho”— the taste of Jarocho — is packed high on a bed of lettuce; and horchata, the rice drink that becomes an addiction for those who sojourn awhile in Mexico, is a perfect complement. The burritos are filled plentifully with beef, chicken, veggies or lengua.
Circle Back to the Plaza for El Molero Fajitas
Dueling smoke puffs waft from the Plaza, opposite Roque’s, where El Molero Fajitas sets up on another corner to tempt passers-by with the aroma of pure grilled deliciousness. This colorful pink cart always has a horde of hungry folks waiting in patient anticipation. The cart is open and serving at almost every downtown festival and every day of the year regardless of weather. Everyone stays busy in this active family-owned-and-operated business. Both chicken and beef are on hand to make an ample portion of juicy fajitas and tamales too, that inexpensive staple for cornmeal-loving foodies like me. In contrast to the carnitas over yonder, El Molero lathers their meaty treat with sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, and salsa instead of onions and peppers. Be warned, this is a two-fisted meal, and you’d best find a spot to sit or you’ll risk dipping the tips of your new bolo tie into your lunch!
On Foot or at the Wheel, Be Prepared for a Food Detour
We locals love the depth and variety of Santa Fe’s legendary restaurant scene, but if your navigator says, “Stop, I see a taco stand,” get ready to spice up your day with some succulent exploration. You can savor both the taste of the unexpected and the pleasure of discovery as you treat yourself to a memorable food experience. Whether you’re strolling around the Plaza or cruising the town by car, you and your crew will be glad you grabbed the opportunity to sample the many flavors of the Santa Fe from a street-side perspective. Buen Provecho!