One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 is to have more fun. And for me, fun often translates to dining in one of Santa Fe’s terrific restaurants. My new-ish favorite place to seek culinary and adult beverage adventures is Paloma, which opened in the Railyard district last summer. The corner location has hosted numerous restaurants and bars that came and went, some lingering longer than others. Creating a welcoming ambience in the space is tough, but new owner Marja Martin has done a fantastic job warming up the room, giving it the feel of a charming Mexican hacienda. Martin, who comes from a catering background, has done her homework and put together a menu that’s more rural Mexico than Tex-Mex or New-Mex. It’s got a buzzy scene and casual feel (with comfortable seats) that encourages lingering.
It became my “local” this past winter, and many a Sunday brunch found me sipping the Paloma cocktail with El Jimador Blanco tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juices, and splash of Squirt: purely medicinal. The handful of egg-centric dishes includes some creative takes on classics like breakfast tacos, chilaquiles, and steak and eggs, but it was the enchiladas Suizas with poblano, queso Oaxaca, and creamy tomatillo sauce that stole my heart and my palate.
Brunch or dinner, I always start off with the zippy salsas, guacamole, and the best queso in town; add some fall-off-the-bone braised short ribs if you arrive really hungry. Martin whisked her young chef, Nathan Mayes, to Oaxaca last year to do research, and he discovered an organic masa that inspired their fabulous house-fried com chips. The chips are more of a disc and are perfect for scooping up the smoky chipotle, tangy tomatillo, and zesty pico de gallo salsas. Be careful—they’re addicting! The queso has a nice green chile kick that may require a second cocktail; this time try a bracing blood orange margarita with float of diAmore orange liqueur—delish!
If you are a taco fan—and who isn’t?—order a couple of combo plates and compare the five varieties. A table favorite has been the cauliflower version with toasted marcona almonds, golden raisins, and briny olives, a clever play on crunch, salty, and sweet. The lamb barbacoa in smoky adobo sauce could well come right from a roadside stand in Puebla, while the crispy baja sea bass fish taco will remind you of that seafood shack you discovered in the seaside town on your last trip to Puerto Vallarta; wonderful authentic flavors abound.
Your gourmet Dallas friends will get a kick out of the fancy roasted marrow bones with pickled vegetables, and the vegetarians in your life will be very happy with the mushroom sopecitos appetizer that boasts little masa cups filled with black beans, huitlacoche (com fungus), and salty Cotija cheese, or the fajita platter with grilled oyster mushrooms sitting in for the usual skirt steak. My favorite main course has been the sea bass Veracruz that is both delicate with its tender grilled fish, and tangy with a tomato, olive, and sweet pepper sauce gussied up with preserved lemons and fried capers. Chef Mayes has a deft hand with Mexican ingredients and confident use of salt and citrus; I predict he has a long and tasty career ahead of him.
The dessert menu changes, but if the churros are on offer, try them. A friend who shared them with me was so entranced he waved Martin over to our table to encourage her to open a drive-up window offering the cinnamon-sugared treat! The gracious Ms. Martin adds a classy tone to the lively atmosphere. Her charm and sparkle adds to the fun (as does our sharing of local restaurant gossip whenever I dine there). Are you ready for more fun this spring and summer? The outdoor patio will open any minute! See you there!—JV
Paloma 401 S Guadalupe, palomasantafe.com
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