Over at SFR HQ this week, we’ve welcomed a new intern by the name of Noah Hale. He’s young, he’s a fresh grad from the St. John’s College Annapolis, Maryland campus, and he appears to be at the stage of life wherein he wants to ravenously consume art and food, from things he knows and loves to the things he doesn’t yet. It’s quite heartening, actually, and pretty much all you need to know when it comes to our shared headspace while searching for lunch one recent afternoon.
A pair of dorks can work up a serious hunger while learning about a new mural in town (more on that in an upcoming issue of SFR!), but our original plan to hit a food truck in Eldorado ran into trouble when we couldn’t work out whether it was open or not. Instead, I pointed the car down Cerrillos Road, certain I’d know the right place to eat when I saw it, certain that Noah—who made a bit of a speech about where the hell has chile been for an East Coaster like him his whole life?!—was just plain pumped to become the mayor of Scarf City.
And there it was, like some sort of glowing beacon on the horizon: El Comal (3751 Cerrillos Road, (505) 471-3324). One of the places folks elicit when arguing over who has the best chile, the best sopaipillas, the best atmosphere. Located in a strip mall, El Comal presents the sort of unassuming image that adheres to the theory that, when it comes to some tiers of food, less flash equals best-class. In my searches online, the most info I could find is a fairly bare Facebook page and a 4.5 rating on Yelp (which is high). But that’s OK, because sometimes you don’t need the whole history of a restaurant to know the meal you just enjoyed was a nigh-perfect example of New Mexican cuisine served from some of the most friendly folks around (one of them called me “sweetie” and I absolutely loved it).
Besides, part of the experience was in the strange combination of elation and envy I felt in observing the new guy go to town on chile having only been in Santa Fe a week. Noah prefers red, he told me. I find this a rather interesting take because, in my experience, most newcomers gravitate toward green chile at first: It’s a little more immediate and bright, plus it’s great on eggs, pizza, ice cream. My guy, however, started asking questions about the stuffed sopaipilla with carne adovada ($11.75), so what could I do but tell him a sopa stuffed with pork slow-cooked in red chile and then smothered with more red chile and cheese might be the single greatest combination of things ever devised by humans? Let’s hand it to Noah, too—he demolished that dang thing while making statements of flavor nuance, sopaipilla delight and a commitment to spicy foods.
I stole his first idea, though, which was to order the tortilla burger ($12.25). Though I shy from red meat more often than not, El Comal’s unpretentious vibe had me thinking the kitchen probably produces a solid burger. The green leaned more toward sauce than chopped chile, and when it soaked into the tortilla and mingled with the included refried beans...well, let’s just say it won my heart. The red at El Comal, though, is the real star of the show. It’s bitter in just the right ways and slowly unveils a subtle richness the longer you spend with it.
We can all wax philosophical about our red rankings and La Choza this or Tomasita’s that, and while I’d never tell folks they were wrong about those places (because they’re not), I now believe El Comal deserves a spot on the list. At 10 ounces, the burger beat me, though. And despite how I imagined I’d make another meal of it, I didn’t have any problem finding a willing stomach for my leftovers upon my return to the office. Next time I’ll visit El Comal when I’m far more hungry.
Though the fried chicken sandwich came with a blue cheese dressing on the side, the guac from the appetizer proved the winning combination. (Alex De Vore/)
Road to the Roadhouse
For the second time in recent weeks, I found myself visiting my old stomping grounds out on Old Las Vegas Highway, and for the second time, it was all about food. It had been years since I visited Harry’s Roadhouse (96 B Old Las Vegas Hwy., (505) 989-4629)—the selfsame outskirts-based restaurant where I used to catch the bus to high school—and a lot has changed over time. Regulars flock to the gorgeous space and pleasant outdoor gardening projects. In the years since I popped by the house that Harry Shapiro and Peyton Young built, they’ve really gone to town on experience and ambiance. The staff proved quite friendly, too, navigating our twosome to a table quickly despite a lingering line of diners pacing the foyer and front patio.
Even so, by the time I had a glass of water in front of me and some time to peruse the menu, I was feeling that kind of hunger that makes a man consider rash decisions. That’s exactly how I ordered not just guac and chips ($9.25) and the fried chicken sandwich ($13.95), but a gargantuan slice of chocolate cream pie ($6.75). And you know what? It was worth every bite. The tortilla chips (made in-house) boasted that satisfying ratio of sturdiness to crisp; the fried chicken sandwich was a complete delight of flavors and textures—especially when adding some of the fresh guacamole from the appetizer and munching on the included pickle spear. And the chocolate cream pie? I’m still thinking about it now, days later.
My dining companion went the classic route with a red-smothered breakfast burrito ($11.95) that was reportedly excellent. Sadly, we’d just missed the brunch we were seeking (that’s a problem for folks like me who don’t get going before noon on the weekends), but it’s hats off to Harry’s for offering an item as beloved as the breakfast burrito all day long. Whoever manned the battle stations that day also knows a thing or two, too, about the difference between smothered and drowning, and my companion reported feeling sated but not over-fed. They had enough room for the lemon merengue pie, in fact ($6.50), a fluffy, sticky, sugary triumph in a long list of triumphs for the revered local haunt. So what’s the moral? Stop thinking you know someplace you haven’t been in ages, I guess—and that our server Josh was a heck of a guy whom everyone should shower with tips at their very first convenience.