Reading “The Listening Path” last summer by one of Santa Fe’s most famous and prolific writers, Julia Cameron, I was amazed how many times she referenced a lunch at the Santa Fe Bar & Grill with colleagues, friends and others she interviewed for the book. In fact, I was downright shocked. But as a fangirl of his work, especially “The Artist’s Way” which changed my life when I was in my twenties, I felt it was a personal invitation for me to visit one of his restaurants. favorite locals.
I had been once with friends when we first moved to town, but decided I had to return to this cavernous restaurant that opened in 2002, conveniently located in the DeVargas Center, with an open mind and see what I might have missed. And so we went back, again and again and again, and now the Santa Fe Bar & Grill is one of the best places I go to when I don’t want to cook.
The space is accessible and noisy, and always full of people. Busy servers move around while hungry customers engage in lively conversations with their table mates. Sit at the bar or in the main dining room filled with booths and comfortable tables. It’s not the kind of restaurant that has you in and out too quickly, but neither is it fine dining where too much time lingers between courses. In fact, this restaurant is just the right amount of everything. Part bar, part grill and part restaurant.
With an open kitchen, you can see the team hard at work preparing every plate to order and that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy Santa Fe Bar & Grill. The food is homemade, the prices are fair, and the menu is extensive. With a second solid and mouth-watering daily specials menu that includes several steak and seafood options, there are plenty of reasons to eat here a few times a week. And with no variation in price from lunch to dinner, that’s another reason to be a frequent traveler.
During our many visits I have had the Pacific salmon too many times to count. The salmon is grilled to perfection, topped with a big dollop of saffron-jalapeño aioli and served with two whole roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and a medley of sautéed vegetables. It’s my kind of healthy meal and at $16.95 I’m not sure I can make it at home for that price.
My dining companion was more than heartened by the Southwestern-influenced comfort food the kitchen offers. The meatloaf ($12.95) is made with ground beef and pork with a bit of green chili and asadero cheese to make an often boring meatloaf stand out. The chipotle and mushroom cream sauce takes this plate over the top as it combines skillfully with garlicky mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables. The half-roasted seasoned chicken plate comes with sautéed green beans, fries and chipotle aioli ($13.95) and is another winner.
Salad lovers will find refuge in the assortment and the sensational poblano dressing is reason enough to order a salad every visit. We like to start by sharing the small side salad ($6.50) which is actually enough for two people. The mixed greens are generously topped with sliced cucumbers, grated carrots, sliced red peppers, grated jicama, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and red chili garlic croutons. It’s rabbit food that makes you feel good and once you’ve smothered it in that delicious poblano dressing, you’ll eat every bite.
The grilled shrimp and avocado salad ($14.95) is a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Grilled shrimp, sliced avocado and sliced ripe mango are served on a bed of spring greens and romaine lettuce, garnished with pecans and sun-dried tomatoes and served with a savory red pepper vinaigrette. The Pepper Crusted Steak Salad ($14.95) is another viable option that is a filling and healthy meal. This salad features a 6-ounce cut on romaine lettuce, avocado, asparagus, tomatoes, hearts of palm, and grapefruit segments. The textures and flavors play well together and it can be done without the steak for vegetarians and replaced with grilled salmon for pescatarians.
Maybe you want bar food, and Santa Fe Bar & Grill delivers that too. Choose between a classic half pound ground chuck burger ($11.95) or a veggie burger ($12.95), Reuben ($12.95), Chimayo chicken sandwich ($11.95 ) or a Galisteo grilled cheese ($9.95).
While the menu isn’t filled with New Mexican dishes, some dishes are customer favorites, including chicken enchiladas ($12.95), vegetable and blue corn enchiladas ($12.95), and two types of tacos. For taco fans, Fish Tacos ($13.95) are made with mahi-mahi and really hit the mark. Soft corn tortillas are filled with lightly toasted fish sticks and topped with a savory slaw made with cabbage, radish and cilantro. Served with tomatillo salsa, a scoop of guacamole, and a side of rice and black beans, it’s a hearty, protein-packed meal. Or indulge and swap the fish for lobster for a more decadent taco experience. If you crave beef, the Grilled Mexican Steak Tacos ($13.50) are waiting for you.
From 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, happy hour is in full swing with $1 off appetizers, pins, house wine, and homemade margaritas. Do you prefer to take away? They have a variety of take-out family meals for four people. Priced at around $50, it’s a great way to answer the perennial “what’s for dinner?” question.
Whether you’re feeding a family, friends or alone, the Santa Fe Bar & Grill is open all day and promises you won’t leave hungry but you’ll leave with a smile on your face. And who knows, maybe you’ll even spot Julia Cameron having dinner at a nearby table.