Tag Archives: road food

6 Ways to Eat Out Three Times a Day, Without Becoming Fat

Do you really need all that toast at breakfast?

Do you really need all that toast at breakfast?

“How do you stay so slim eating all those road-trip restaurant meals?” people often ask me. The answer? Wearing loose clothes to hide the little tire that gets pumped up by about five pounds after a month of steady grazing on volumes of fatty, starchy foods I certainly wouldn’t inflict on my body back home. It all tastes great at the time, but I know there’s a starvation diet in my near future. Still, it could easily be worse, say 10 or more pounds worse. But I’ve learned a few tricks to keep the ballooning at bay.

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Albuquerque, New Mexico

It doesn't get more authentic than this at Taqueria Mexico in Albuquerque

It doesn’t get more authentic than this at Taqueria Mexico in Albuquerque

Sure, Albuquerque—or Burque as the locals like to call it—spreads out seemingly forever in a metropolis of “just” 900,000. Believe me, I’ve experienced it, driving from place to place and suffering interminably long, unsynchronized lights. You can view the sprawl by hiking, driving or taking the world’s second-longest tram to the top of the overlooking Sandia Mountains; the nearby cliffs make a good sunset photograph.

Despite the auto focus, there are lots of bike and foot trails both in the hills and urban areas, helping Albuquerque earn Men’s Fitness magazine’s fittest U.S. city in 2007. The preponderance of low-rise adobe-style buildings is also charming, especially in quiet neighbourhoods. Visitors from around the world flock here in early October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. With more than 600 hot-air balloons, it’s the world’s biggest such festival.

Of course, Albuquerque is outshone by its much smaller but funkier neighbour Santa Fe. But spread throughout the city, you’ll find plenty of fine places to eat, especially those featuring New Mexican cuisine.

It’s the noon rush hour, and Golden Crown Panaderia is slamming busy. People are lined up deciding whether to order a pizza, a meat and cheese sandwich, a big salad or just some puffy loaves of bread and treats from the bakery. I don’t mind, as it gives me time to watch the staff scurrying around and to admire the old, festive adobe building and Christmas lights in the glassed-in porch. My personal-sized pizza is a delightful, four-slice lunch, highlighted by the blue corn crust I’ve chosen over the standard green chile dough.

Hey, it's New Mexico, so of course I have to go for the blue-corn crust on this little pizza gem at Golden Crown Panaderia

Hey, it’s New Mexico, so of course I have to go for the blue-corn crust on this little pizza gem at Golden Crown Panaderia

Golden Crown Panaderia
1103 Mountain Road,
Tuesday to Saturday 7 am-8 pm, Sunday 10 am-8 pm. Closed Monday
Golden Crown Panaderia on Urbanspoon

It’s not often I enjoy a fine meal and wish I’ve ordered something else. But such is the case at *Taqueria Mexico, a tiny, colourful place where you squeeze into an available table or grab a free stool. In my defense, it’s the second lunch I’ve had in an hour (I’m doubling up on road-food research), and a couple of loaded tacos (asada/grilled beef and crispy seafood) is the perfect, large snack for just over $4. But then I make the mistake of looking around me and spotting a couple of customers picking the flesh off a nicely grilled, whole Mojarra fish. Across the way, a guy and a girl are digging into coctels de camaron, large glass goblets stuffed with lime-marinated shrimp in a Clamato base. The highlight is watching the guy crush at least half a dozen packages of crackers into his soupy cocktail, turning it into a bready stew.

A couple of loaded asada tacos at Taqueria Mexico for just over $4

A couple of loaded asada tacos at Taqueria Mexico for just over $4

Taqueria Mexico
415 Lomas Boulevard NE
Monday to Saturday 7 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday
Taqueria Mexico on Urbanspoon

Located in an old two-car garage, Michael Thomas Coffee makes a fine, albeit somewhat pricy Americano. It helps that they roast their own beans, right behind the espresso machine, and are well versed in pulling their shots. They also sell a range of coffee-making systems from Aeropress to Chemex and Clever brewers, though they don’t make handcrafted drip coffees—something about it taking too long. On a warm Albuquerque afternoon, it’s nice to sit under an awning in the courtyard and watch folks go to and from neighbouring new-age health businesses.

Nice java at Michael Thomas Coffee, enhanced by the nice courtyard surrounded by new-age health businesses

Nice java at Michael Thomas Coffee, enhanced by the courtyard surrounded by new-age health businesses

Michael Thomas Coffee
1111 Carlisle Boulevard SE
Monday to Friday 6:30 am-6 pm, Saturday 7 am-2 pm, Sunday 9 am-1 pm
Michael Thomas Coffee on Urbanspoon

Amazing food comes out of this tiny kitchen at Sophia's Place

Amazing food comes out of this tiny kitchen at Sophia’s Place

Colourful *Sophia’s Place is in a little, wood-beamed old adobe building, with crowded counter service and bathrooms out back. It’s a great spot for Mexican-themed breakfasts such as tacos and quesadillas (both somewhat unusual in the a.m.), along with standards like big burritos and huevos rancheros. But I’m here for the weekend special of heavenly blue corn pancakes, topped with strawberries, blackberries and, the piece de resistance, piñon nut butter; a plentiful half order of two cakes is only $5. Sophia’s also serves lunch and dinner. Look for the duck enchiladas, at night, when they have them.

Can't beat the blue corn pancakes, topped with fresh fruit and piñon nut butter at Sophia's Place

Can’t beat the blue corn pancakes, topped with fresh fruit and piñon nut butter, at Sophia’s Place

Sophia’s Place
6313 4 Street NW
Weekdays 7 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-9 pm, Sunday 9 am-2 pm
Sophia's Place on Urbanspoon

The Grove Cafe & Market is a more upscale place, with better-groomed customers and somewhat higher prices for breakfast and lunch. But the payoff is quality ingredients and good execution in a relaxed, spacious environment. For example, the chef makes daily small batches of mozzarella, which can be savoured in an olive-bread sandwich accompanied by local tomatoes, arugula and basil ($10). At breakfast, fresh fruit is mounded on the pancakes and comes in a small dish with my poached eggs, perched above lovely, thin slices of toasted sourdough ($6.75). The breakfast sandwich features a thick layer of freshly scrambled egg, squeezed into a house-made English muffin, also for under $7. Oh, and the coffee is Intelligentsia.

First-rate poached eggs perched on sourdough at Grove Cafe

First-rate poached eggs perched on sourdough at Grove Cafe

The Grove Cafe & Market
600 Central Avenue SE, Suite A
Tuesday to Saturday 7 am-4 pm, Sunday 8 am-3 pm. Closed Monday
Grove Café & Market on Urbanspoon

I previously mentioned the *Guava Tree Cafe as one of my favourite sandwich places on a recent road trip. It features Cuban-style sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas, featuring an unleavened corn-meal bread. My pernil sandwich is a fantastic mix of slow-roasted pork, sweet caramelized onion, Swiss cheese and garlic sauce, prepared by a whirling dervish of a cook. Add a side of yuca crisps and a coconut flan for dessert, and I’ve got a full Caribbean dining experience.

The pernil sandwich is the bomb at Guava Tree Cafe

The pernil sandwich is the bomb at Guava Tree Cafe

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 11 am-3 pm
Guava Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Is it just me, or are some microbreweries just hard to find, located in an obscure spot that’s easy to drive past, especially at night, and even before you’ve had a pint? Fortunately, the effort to get to Nexus Brewery is well worth it. With my first sip of their malty Scottish ale, I’m transported to the Highlands. It’s one of about 10 ales and stouts available in the long taproom, with lots of patio seating and a garage door that opens on warm evenings. Chase your brew, if you wish, with something to munch on. I’d recommend the chopped pork sliders or the signature fried pickles.

Fine Scottish ale at Nexus Brewery

Fine Scottish ale at Nexus Brewery

Nexus Brewery
4730 Pan American Freeway East, NE, Suite D
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm
Nexus Brewery on Urbanspoon

Frontier Restaurant is definitely an Albuquerque institution, across the street from the University of New Mexico. It’s built for the masses, sprawling over five rooms and taking orders at up to eight stations. A green light goes on when a station comes open, and your order number is called out over an intercom when the food is ready, usually in scant minutes. Frontier has something for everyone, at nearly any time of the day or night. Want eggs at suppertime or enchiladas after midnight? No problem. New Mexican food? All the bases are covered, as they are for American standards like burgers and sandwiches. I’m here mostly for the spectacle and thus just order a small, well-flavoured bowl of posole, a thick soup featuring pork and hominy (hulled corn kernels), which along with a large tortilla sets me back $2.05. Frontier definitely isn’t fancy, but the food is cheap and plentiful, and the place is dripping with character.

Green means go: A unique ordering system at Frontier Restaurant

Green means go: A unique ordering system at Frontier Restaurant

Frontier Restaurant
2400 Central Avenue SE
Daily 5 am-1 am
Frontier Restaurant on Urbanspoon

If you’re hankering for real, old-fashioned New Mexican chile, you’d best head over to Mary & Tito’s Cafe. Their cooks have been doing it right for decades, using Salem, New Mexico chiles unadulterated by powder or other fillers. This dedication was recognized by a 2010 James Beard award. They make a first-rate green chile but are famous for their red. To avoid being distracted by rice and beans, I go for an a la carte order ($7.50) of their signature carne adovada (cubed pork), which arrives as a mound of tender, slow-simmered meat covered in bright red, full-flavoured chile. The burn is intense but manageable, though beads of sweat are soon forming on my forehead.

Mary & Tito's and its classic  red chile is an Albuquerque institution

Mary & Tito’s, with classic dishes like this red carne adovada, is an Albuquerque institution

Mary & Tito’s Cafe
2711 4 Street NW
Monday to Thursday 9 am-6pm, Friday-Saturday 9 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
Mary & Tito's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Road Food Trip From Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico

Sugar Nymphs Bistro is a quirky spot with fabulous food in tiny Penasco, New Mexico

Sugar Nymphs Bistro is a quirky spot with fabulous food in tiny Penasco, New Mexico

On the scenic High Road between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico and along a considerable stretch of artist studios, the nondescript village of Penasco is nonetheless in the middle of nowhere. Yet *Sugar Nymphs Bistro (“City Cuisine, Country Atmosphere”) is a destination restaurant, as we discover when pulling up to a long line of vehicles for Sunday brunch. It could be the reputation of co-owner and former Greens chef Kai Harper Leah. But ultimately it boils down to the outstanding food, which isn’t vegetarian like the famed San Francisco restaurant (and eponymous cookbook) where she once toiled. The carnivorous creations include a dense, moist green chile cheeseburger, steak quesadilla, chipotle pork loin and grilled peach salad with chicken and goat cheese, all served with complimentary scones. Save room for a mouth-watering piece of maple pecan pie. If you have to wait for a table, head across the road to view the fantastic sculptural works of artist Nicki Marx, intricately incorporating feathers, claws and other natural materials.

A superb cassoulet special at Sugar Nymphs Bistro

A superb cassoulet special at Sugar Nymphs Bistro

Sugar Nymphs Bistro
15046 State Road (Highway 75), Penasco, New Mexico
Summer hours: lunch Monday to Saturday 11:30 am-2:30 pm, dinner Thursday to Saturday 5 pm-close, Sunday brunch 10 am-3 pm. Phone 575-587-0311 for hours the rest of the year
Sugar Nymphs Bistro on Urbanspoon

On a stormy, blustery mid-April day, there are still tourist tie-ups in Taos; God forbid what the place is like in prime season. Still, there are lots of folks going to visit New Mexico’s premier mountain resort to ski, hike or just gawk. Just don’t count on me joining Julia Roberts and Donald Rumsfeld in buying a ranch here. An eatery tip: Continue north on the main drag, past the traffic jam near the historic plaza, and you’ll find a couple of great local hangouts.

*Taos Diner operates two places: a southern location, geared more to the downtown tourist crowd, and a more utilitarian northern spot, which attracts more locals. I obviously head to the latter for a light, morning bite. The Hot Chick is a nicely-crumbed buttermilk biscuit squeezing together an egg, sausage patty and spicy sriracha mayo. It’s first rate and a Taos bargain at $3.95. A nearby, wide-eyed guy is gamely tackling a monster breakfast burrito (only $8.95). Wanting something egg free? Try the organic fried potatoes topped with chile and cheese. Lunch features burgers made from local, grass-fed beef.

The Hot Chick, with its egg, sausage and biscuit, makes a great light breakfast for under $4 at Taos Diner I

The Hot Chick, with its egg, sausage and biscuit, makes a great light breakfast for under $4 at Taos Diner I

Taos Diner I
908 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte (also at 216B Paseo Del Pueblo Sur), Taos
Daily 7 am-2:30 pm
Taos Diner on Urbanspoon

Things are a little more upscale a block south at Gutiz, a Latin-French-focused diner with interesting creations like a scrambled-egg tower, Parisian crepes and an Andouille sausage-chile bowl at breakfast and a variety of sandwiches on house-made French bread at lunch. I dig into a nice French toast made of homemade sweet bread, topped with a blueberry reduction and fresh fruit (well, other than the blueberries.)

French toast made of house-made sweet bread smothered in fruit at Gutiz

French toast made of house-made sweet bread smothered in fruit at Gutiz

Gutiz
812B Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, Taos
Tuesday to Saturday 8 am-3 pm
Gutiz on Urbanspoon

Nearby, Lela is running the laid-back *The Coffee Spot, where I get a nice, strong Americano for only $2. But the real find here are monstrous, and I mean monstrous, Rice Krispies squares and chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies—both gluten free and only $3 (half price if there are any left after 3 pm).

Lela holds up monstrous Rice Krispies squares and cookies at The Coffee Spot

Lela holds up monstrous Rice Krispies squares and cookie at The Coffee Spot

The Coffee Spot
900 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, Taos
Monday to Saturday 7 am-5 pm
The Coffee Spot on Urbanspoon

A few minutes north of Taos is Arroyo Seco. A few shops on a bend in the road, this tiny place is refreshingly casual and worth walking around for a few minutes; there’s a couple of nice public gardens. Check out Taos Cow for great ice cream, coffee, breakfasts and sandwiches. Next door, Abes Cocina y Cantina sells tasty tamales made from hand-ground corn.

I’m pretty much the only Anglo in Torta’s Rainbow, a quick, unadorned Mexican food place in sprawling Espanola, on my way back south to Santa Fe. But the friendly owner greets me in English, and the bilingual menu helps me decipher authentic Mexican items like tongue and tripe tacos, brisket burritos and fresh limeade and tropical juices (aguas frescas). I’m here, though, for my first true torta, a big oval Mexican sandwich, in this case served on an oversized, toasted hamburger-like bun. It’s dense with my choice of desebrada (moist, shredded beef), lettuce and sliced tomato and avocado. I pour a little dish of green salsa over this mix to kick things up a notch; hey, I’ve been in New Mexico a good five days. It’s a damn big sandwich for $5.65, and I can happily tick torta off my virginal Mexican food list. But I’m not quite ready to give tongue a try.

A massive shredded beef torts for under $6 at Torta's Rainbow in Espanola

A massive shredded beef torts for under $6 at Torta’s Rainbow in Espanola

Torta’s Rainbow
7745 North Riverside Drive, Espanola
Daily 9 am-8 pm
Tortas Rainbow on Urbanspoon

Sensational Santa Fe, New Mexico

Fabulous art, plaza and views at Museum Hill overlooking Santa Fe

Fabulous art, plaza and views at Museum Hill overlooking Santa Fe

What can I say about Santa Fe? It’s a funky, artsy place with a much bigger cultural footprint than its population of 70,000 adobe-style- dwelling folks would suggest. It boasts some 300 art galleries, the third most in all of America, and has a summer-long opera in a semi-outdoor theatre. Its Museum Hill houses the world-class Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (the latter’s gift shop had the best, affordable southwest jewelry we saw in New Mexico). And its Railyard district, close to downtown, features the fine Santa Fe Farmers Market (Tuesday and Saturday mornings) and some avant-garde galleries.

At any of these places, you’ll see elegant, gray-haired women with arresting eyewear, jewelry and haircuts; if they’re not active or retired artists, they’re certainly patrons of the arts. In sum, Santa Fe is one of the few U.S. mountain state cities I would list as a destination in its own right.

What's a visit to Santa Fe without a gallery opening?

What’s a visit to Santa Fe without a gallery opening?

Not surprisingly, Santa Fe has attracted an enviable list of top chefs. While many of their innovative restaurants are beyond the price range of this road-trip blog, there are still lots of tasty, creative choices for the frugal traveller. Though this may be a place where you splurge once or twice.

I pull into *Counter Culture Cafe, in a dusty parking lot off Cerrillos Road, thinking I’ll just get a coffee. But I walk in to discover a full-scale eatery, with big plates of huevos, pancakes, meatball sandwiches and cold sesame noodles swinging by. You name it, they’ve got it (even huge, icing-slathered cinnamon rolls), living up to their motto “every entree served anytime.” I opt for something light—brie and Chimayo-chile walnuts alongside seasonal fruit—chased by a full-bodied Americano. CCC has that Santa Fe retro rustic look, with concrete floors, aluminum chairs and plexiglass-covered pine tables. It’s a nice place to hang out, and work your way through the menu.

The Counter Culture Cafe has a cozy, retro feel along with a fine, eclectic menu

The Counter Culture Cafe has a cozy, retro feel along with a fine, eclectic menu

Counter Culture Cafe
930 Baca Street, Santa Fe
Sunday-Monday 8 am-3 pm, Tuesday to Saturday 8 am-9 pm. Cash only
Counter Culture on Urbanspoon

Tecolote Cafe, a relaxed family-run place since 1980, definitely has a catchy slogan: Great Breakfast, No Toast. Instead of the latter, you get a basket with a mini biscuit, muffin and cinnamon roll, or a tortilla. Tecolote also has a twist on New Mexican breakfast standards. Its Huevos Yucatecos, for instance, surrounds the usual tortilla, eggs, cheese and chile mix with fried bananas. And my Sheepherder’s Breakfast is a delightfully refreshing bowl of grilled new potatoes, jalapenos and onion, topped with red and green chile, melted cheddar and my choice of two poached eggs. The menu warns the restaurant is not responsible for the chile being too hot, but I find the lingering heat just right. Oh, Tecolote actually does serve toast but just the French variety, from one of six house-made breads.

Rounding up some eggs in my Sheepherder's Breakfast at Tecolote Cafe

Rounding up some eggs in my Sheepherder’s Breakfast at Tecolote Cafe

Tecolote Cafe
1203 Cerrillos Road (a block from Counter Culture Café), Santa Fe
Tuesday to Sunday 7 am-2 pm. Closed Monday
Tecolote Cafe on Urbanspoon

I’ve already covered *Bobcat Bite in a recent best burger post: Forget being my first green chile cheeseburger. It was in the top five burgers I’ve ever eaten: 10 ounces of medium-rare heaven. The bad news is a rental dispute recently forced Bobcat to move out of its low-beamed character joint. The good news is the owners are relocating to Garrett’s Desert Inn and renaming the place Santa Fe Bite, with a planned opening date of late summer 2013.

The name and the location's changing, but there's no disguising these fantastic green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite

The name and the location’s changing, but there’s no disguising these fantastic green chile cheeseburgers at Santa Fe Bite

Santa Fe Bite
311 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe
Wednesday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm, Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday
Bobcat Bite Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I practically wilted when I bit into this croissant at Clafoutis

I practically wilted when I bit into a buttery croissant at Clafoutis

It’s disconcerting in Santa Fe to be greeted with “Bonjour, monsieur.” But at *Clafoutis, I’m truly entering a French cafe and all the excellence and attention to detail that brings. It’s a world where baker/co-owner Philippe Ligier turns out mouth-watering brioche, tartine (like a little pizza), tarte au fromage and chewy baguettes, along with fruit tarts to die for. There’s a full breakfast and lunch menu, but I go for the early morning simplicity of a superb double-shot Americano, without too much diluting water, and a warm, plain croissant (a bargain $1.85). The latter is such a perfect combination of buttery, flaky and soft that I quickly order a second. Clafoutis is situated in a beautifully restored old building, with a washed-wood ceiling and artful decorations, naturally, on the walls. This place has it all: excellence, creativity, ambience and charm. If you hit only one place in Santa Fe for a coffee and sinful treat, make it here. “Au revoir. Bonne journee,” says elegant Anne-laure Ligier as I leave. “A bientot.”

Co-owner Anne-laure Ligier brings French elegance to Clafoutis

Co-owner Anne-laure Ligier brings French elegance to Clafoutis

Clafoutis
402 North Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe
Monday to Saturday 7 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday
Clafoutis on Urbanspoon

I’m not a big fan of Santa Fe’s tourist-centric downtown core, but I realize most visitors want to wander past, and through, the high-end shops and to check the historic plaza off their list. Okay, you’ve already paid for parking or walked a ways to get here. You might as well get something to eat and drink. Luckily, there are two good choices, at either end of a third-floor mall. Even better, you can hit both without leaving your seat.

Let’s start things off with a pint at Marble Brewery’s Santa Fe Taproom. From the 10 or so beers on tap, I get an excellent Irish Red seasonal, glad I order a 21.5-ounce glass so I can savour its full-bodied, well-rounded flavour. On a nice day or evening, you can join the masses on the taproom’s patio, overlooking said historic plaza.

Now, this is what I call a pint: 21.5 ounces of liquid amber at Marble Brewery Taproom

Now, this is what I call a pint: 21.5 ounces of liquid amber at Marble Brewery Taproom

Marble Brewery Taproom
60 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
Sunday to Thursday noon-11 pm, Friday-Saturday noon to midnight
Marble Brewery Tap Room on Urbanspoon

If you don’t feel like moving down the beautifully-covered tile corridor, you can order a savoury pie from *Rooftop Pizzeria right from Marble Brewery’s Taproom. Indeed, I watch a server constantly hustling duck and artichoke and fresh mozzarella pizzas down the hallway to beer-swilling patrons. Rooftop boasts arguably the best thin-crust pizza in New Mexico. I pick a New Mexican theme for my plentiful 12-incher—green chile with a fair kick, toasted piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust—alongside tender chunks of chicken, cotya and asadero cheese and alfredo sauce. It goes down nicely with another pint of red.

Chicken, piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust add up to a fabulous pie at Rooftop Pizzeria

Chicken, piñon nuts and a blue-corn crust add up to a fabulous pie at Rooftop Pizzeria

Rooftop Pizzeria
60 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm, with slightly reduced winter hours
Rooftop Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Like folks in many parts of the world, New Mexicans can be particular about their cuisine. So it is with enchiladas, typically a chicken-and-cheese-filled tortilla doused in chile sauce. Rolled and side-by-side is best, say some. No, say others, get them stacked, with chile sauce between and on top of the layers (and sometimes with an egg on top). At *The Shed, a downtown adobe hacienda and Santa Fe landmark for six decades, I go for stacked, just to see what the fuss is about. I’m not normally a fan of the undistinguished rice and mashed beans that come with much Mexican food. But the accompanying pinto beans here are whole and flavourful, as is the posole—a hominy-like corn stewed with pork, garlic and red chile. As for stacked versus rolled, I can’t say. I’m too bowled over by the red chile this third generation of the the Carswell family is rightly famous for. Using chiles from the New Mexican mecca of Hatch, The Shed’s version is freshly ground, thick and concentrated, the best I’ve had on this three-week eating journey. Only at meal’s end do I notice the two pieces of French garlic bread, which I use to sop up the last bits of chile.

I went for the stacked enchiladas at The Shed, but it was the red chile that blew me away

I go for the stacked enchiladas at The Shed, but it’s the red chile that blows me away

The Shed
113-1/2 East San Francisco Street
Monday to Saturday, lunch 11 am-2:30 pm, dinner 5:30 pm-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Shed Creative Cooking on Urbanspoon

Forget the chains when it comes to fast-food Mexican. Instead, seek out independent, hole-in-the-wall gems like El Parasol, which has grown from a little taco stand in the late 1950s to five family-owned New Mexico locations, each marked by a colourful umbrella logo. I go to the Cerrillos Road location twice—once for a warm breakfast burrito filled with egg, potato, cheese, chorizo and chile and again at lunch for a nice, handmade chicken tamale and a deep-fried shredded beef taco. It’s good, authentic stuff for only a few bucks. It’s mostly a takeout place, with benches around the spartan perimeter for waiting or hoovering down your food.

Handmade chicken tamale and deep-fried beef taco at El Parasol

Handmade chicken tamale and deep-fried beef taco at El Parasol

El Parasol
1833 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe
Monday to Friday 7 am-8 pm, Saturday 8 am-7 pm, Sunday 9 am-3 pm
El Parasol - Santa Fe North on Urbanspoon

For me, the atmosphere at Tune-Up Café shares top billing with the food. Set in a quiet neighbourhood away from the tourist mobs (other than devoted fans of the Food Channel’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives), the restaurant welcomes customers with festive outdoor lighting and an indoor, informal intimacy of mostly local, younger people sharing long tables. The lone bathroom is also worth checking out for its big bouquets of fresh and artificial flowers and a nice ceramic sculpture on the wall. The El Salvadoran influence of chef Jesus Rivera can be found in tamales wrapped in banana leaves, pupusas (thick, crispy cornmeal tortillas stuffed with flank steak and cheese), and mole chicken enchiladas.

The Tune-Up Cafe is a character place matched by some fine El Salvadoran-influenced food

The Tune-Up Cafe is a character place matched by some fine El Salvadoran-influenced food

Tune Up Cafe
1115 Hickox Street, Santa Fe
Weekdays 7 am-10 pm, weekends 8 am-10 pm
Tune-Up Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Museum Hill Cafe is one of the best lunch stops in Santa Fe, almost for the location alone. It’s situated on the lofty, expansive patio between several great museums and beside magnificent sculptures and gardens. There’s great art on the cafe walls inside and expansive views outside of the valley below and mountains beyond. The food is tasty and inventive, with menu specials such as beef and mint soup, curried lentil salad or, when we visit, a Mediterranean plate of dolmades, lamb wrapped in cabbage, pierogies and Greek salad. Top it off with a nice Illi-brewed coffee or Italian espresso and you’re ready for a couple more hours of museum wandering.

A fabulous Mediterranean plate at the Museum Hill Cafe

A fabulous Mediterranean plate at the Museum Hill Cafe

Museum Hill Cafe
706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-3 pm. Closed Monday
Museum Hill Cafe on Urbanspoon

Chugging Into Carbondale and Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Nothing like a dog to draw customers into your Steamboat Springs restaurant

Nothing like a cute puppy to draw customers into your Steamboat Springs restaurant… or read your blog

I’m resuming my road trip through Colorado, hitting a couple of high mountain towns.

After following the tortuous road over Independence Pass (12,100 feet) and down into Aspen, Highway 82 heading west is a smooth, four-lane freeway, complete with high-occupancy vehicle lanes (I’m not sure where all this commuter traffic is heading, though). Beyond the chi chi town of Basalt, I pull into Carbondale. It partly made its early living supplying potatoes to miners in Aspen. The tradition continues, with Carbondale acting as a cheaper bedroom community to the resort. One cool thing, at night, is skies dark enough to see the stars, or the start of a meteorite shower when I’m there.

Looking for some spirited nightlife in this otherwise quiet town? Just stop for an excellent ale or two at Carbondale Beerworks (647 Main Street, Monday to Thursday 4 pm-11 pm, Friday till 1 am and weekends 2 pm-11 pm) especially during one of their boisterous Trivial Pursuits nights, when the cheers, cowbells and clinking of pint glasses make it hard for waitresses to be heard calling out orders for high-end dogs, wings and fries. Once the show’s over, many of the young patrons hop onto their bikes and wobble off into the night. If you want to pick up some distinctive Colorado microbrews to go, drop into Main Street Spirits (“Buy your ale in Carbondale”), where Rosemary lets me fill my own assorted six pack. 389 Main Street. Monday to Thursday 10 am-10 pm, Friday and Satuday 10 am to 11 pm.

Trivial Pursuits night packs them at Carbondale Beerworks

Trivial Pursuits night packs them at Carbondale Beerworks

For an early-morning eye opener, be sure to stop at The Blend Coffee Company. They make great coffee, whether it’s the house espresso blend or a nice pour over. This is coffee with rich, complex flavours, primarily from Denver-based roaster Novo. Let’s see: great coffee, cozy atmosphere, friendly, accommodating staff (Greg let me sample the drip brew before I order). Think it warrants a *.

Great pour overs at The Blend Coffee Company in Carbondale

Great pour overs at The Blend Coffee Company in Carbondale

The Blend Coffee Company
1150 Highway 133, Carbondale
Weekdays 6:30 am-5 pm, weekends 7 am-5 pm

*Village Smithy Restaurant (“We reserve the right to serve everyone”) is humming minutes after the 7 am opening. Customers are streaming into the 1904 house and tucking into hearty omelettes, breakfast quesadillas and pancakes or Belgian waffles mounded with fresh fruit. My breakfast is simple but first class, nailing all the details. The eggs are perfectly over easy, the hash browns hot and crispy, the slightly sweet apple-chicken sausages nicely grilled and the two pieces of multi-grain toast (you really don’t need four) covered edge to edge in butter and accompanied by a pot of fresh raspberry jam. The kicker is a delicious, house-made salsa that I dip everything in.

First-class breakfast at Village Smithy Restaurant in Carbondale

First-class breakfast at Village Smithy Restaurant in Carbondale

Village Smithy Restaurant
26 South 3 Street, Carbondale
Daily 7 am-2 pm
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Now, here’s a concept: give customers samples to help them decide what to order. That’s what The Lost Cajun does with its soups. When you sit down in this small Frisco eatery, you’re given three little Dixie cups of gumbo—one a Gulf shrimp and crab in a dark roux and another a spicy chicken and sausage—along with my favourite, a creamy shrimp and lobster bisque with a mild bite. Then, to cover all the bases for you readers, I actually switch gears and order a breaded and fried catfish po boy, a crunchy treat inside a garlic-buttered mini French loaf.

Catfish po boy at The Lost Cajun in Frisco

Catfish po boy at The Lost Cajun in Frisco

The Lost Cajun
204 Main Street, Frisco
Sunday to Wednesday 11 am-8 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-9 pm
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Steamboat Springs has hot springs, of course, ski hills and all the usual outdoor sports that demand the Colorado emblem that goes with this lifestyle: the Subaru wagon. I swear that in five minutes of sitting on a street corner, I watch 20 Subarus go by. Almost as popular in these parts are half-ton trucks. I’m guessing you can tell who’s a Democratic or Republican supporter simply by what they’re driving. I’ll let you guess who’s who. Most of the town’s restaurants can be found on or just off the main drag, Lincoln Avenue.

The emblem of outdoor, active Colorado: the Subaru wagon

The emblem of outdoor, active Colorado: the Subaru wagon

This lovely old brick building is home to Creekside Cafe & Grill

This lovely old brick building is home to Creekside Cafe & Grill

On a long road trip, I’m always looking for something different, especially for breakfast. So when I peruse the menu at *Creekside Cafe & Grill, I’m ready to move right past the usual eggs Benedict with hollandaise atop an English muffin until I see a version with a quarter pound of shredded corned beef. When I hear the corned beef is seasoned, cooked and pulled apart in house, I’m on board. And I must say it’s a delight, with the tender, slightly salty meat nicely balancing the lemony sauce. Creekside also offers a corned beef hash, large enough, the waitress tells me, that many folks take the leftovers home to make a pseudo Reuben. Creekside looks after the small details, making their own breads, biscuits, hamburger buns and gluten-free granola; you can buy a bag of the latter to go. When I say I’m hitting the road right after breakfast, the waitress even offers to refill my coffee in a to-go cup. Nice.

Eggs Benedict on a mountain of corned beef at Creekside Cafe & Grill. Yum.

Eggs Benedict on a mountain of corned beef at Creekside Cafe & Grill. Yum.

Creekside Cafe & Grill
131 11 Street, Steamboat Springs
Daily 6 am-2 pm
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I don’t get a chance to eat at Winona’s Restaurant & Bakery (I’ve just polished off a big breakfast at Creekside). But judging by the recommendation of two locals and the full house by eight on a Saturday morning, I’d say it’s well worth a breakfast visit. The restaurant is famous for its cinnamon bun, featured in Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, and big enough to feed a linebacker. Winona’s also makes highly regarded French toast, Belgian waffles and creative pancakes such as apple streusel, banana granola and chocolate strawberry.

A full house for breakfast at Winona's Restaurant & Bakery

A full house for breakfast at Winona’s Restaurant & Bakery

Winona’s Restaurant & Bakery
617 Lincoln Avenue, Steamboat Springs
Daily 7 am-3 pm
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5th Street Market & Deli is a good destination for a quick, hot pastrami, turkey-bacon or roasted pepper sandwich. My grilled meatloaf sandwich with melted provolone and arugula greens on a rectangular panini hits the spot; it comes with a small pasta salad. At $10, the price is a little steep, though perhaps not by resort standards.

Grilled meatloaf sandwich at 5th Street Market & Deli

Grilled meatloaf sandwich at 5th Street Market & Deli

5th Street Market & Deli
435 Lincoln Avenue, Steamboat Springs
Monday to Saturday 10 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-3 pm
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Just up the street, and down the stairs, The Steaming Bean has nice java (including French press) and smoothies. Besides the usual breakfast treats, it also offers toasted bagels, homemade granola and oatmeal with blueberries. 635 Lincoln Avenue. Daily 7 am-6 pm
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