Your faithful blogger just returned from a delightful holiday vacation in Taos, New Mexico. Feeling a desperate need for green chile after having consumed it three times a day for a week, she scoured the DC food blogs for a reminder of the 47th state.
And that’s how she found the Santa Fe Cafe in Arlington, Virginia, one of the only New Mexican restaurants in the DC metro area (the Anita’s chain is another option for the Virginians out there). The place was founded in 1988 by Kip Laramie, who was quick to plead modesty by stating that he was “cautious about saying it’s authentic” due to the distinct differences in food and flavors within the state itself.
New Mexican food is best known by the importance placed on both red and green chile sauces. While other ingredients like posole, blue corn, and sopapillas also make New Mexican cuisine unique, the chile is the star ingredient. (The fact that a Chile Pepper Institute exists at New Mexico State University should give you a clue as to how devoted New Mexicans are to their prima donna).
Santa Fe Cafe obliges spicy die-hards with entrees featuring either Hatch green chiles or Chimayo red chile sauce, like rellenos, enchiladas, and burritos. Or, if something else on the menus entices you, a bowl of the soupy mixture comes on the side for just $1 extra. Vegetarians will be relieved to know that both the green and red chile are meat-free, unlike many establishments that include beef or pork. Unfortunately, no New Mexican beers are offered at Santa Fe Cafe, but a number of good microbrews and Mexican beers make up the drink list.
It’s good to know that many a native New Mexican has found the place legit—a wall in the entryway features signed headshots of famous New Mexican leaders like Governor Bill Richardson, Senators Tom Udall and Pete Domenici, and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. Lujan’s authograph states that the café’s food is “just like mom’s cooking.”
Another great aspect of the restaurant is its emphasis on décor. Traditional New Mexican ornaments like pottery, ristas (strings of chiles hung to dry), images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and gorgeous rugs line the walls. San Pasquale, the patron saint of cooking, is also featured prominently. In particular I appreciated the stuffed armadillo that hangs perilously from an old speaker high above an unsuspecting booth.
DC is a haven for out-of-towners, but sometimes you just need a taste of your home state. Luckily, Santa Fe Café is here to satisfy the needs of our very own New Mexican diaspora—or at least those of us who hope to return soon.
To visit: 1500 Wilson Ave., Arlington, VA. 703-276-0361. A few blocks from the Rosslyn Metro, Dupont/Georgetown circulator, and 38B bus. Closed Sundays, and no breakfast/lunch on Saturdays.