A couple weeks ago, my sister and I were on the Plaza holiday shopping for our parents, feeling both uninspired and hungry. It was really cold that day, and nothing sounded nicer than tucking into a warm bowl of soup.
With low expectations and even lower blood sugar, we dipped into a restaurant neither of us had noticed before, Palacio Café (209 E Palace Ave., 989-3505).
The Palacio is a fairly small and intimate restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch daily.
The lunch menu offers a good selection of soups, salads and sandwiches, all in the $8-$10 range. They also serve one obligatory New Mexico staple: chicken enchiladas, which the table next to us seemed to enjoy—but then, they looked like tourists.
Zoe and I both ordered the soup and half sandwich, reasonably priced at $8. I had the arugula sandwich, which sucked, and green chile stew, which they serve everyday and was pretty tasty. She had the BLTA(vocado), which was good, and the tomato-basil soup of the day, which was unremarkable.
But let’s accentuate the positive. The green chile stew was a hearty cup of goodness: the definition of comfort food and worth going back for. It was loaded full of green chile, big chunks of potato and bits of ground meat, which I thought were pork, but were actually beef.
“We want to offer something that the other places don’t,” Damián Muñoz, who with his wife Maria took over the establishment in March 2012, tells SFR.
He cites the aforementioned enchiladas, Palacio’s huevos rancheros plate and the stew as his bestsellers.
“It’s all about pleasing the client,” Muñoz, who worked at The Shed for 20 years, says. “We measure our success by the number of clean plates we get back.”
Not too salty, not too spicy, the stick-to-your-ribs cup o’ stew made me feel good inside as soon as I started eating it.
Zoe’s BLTA was comforting, too. Normally, I like my BLTs on a heartier type of bread, but there’s something nostalgic about a BLT on toasted white sandwich bread. It reminded me of the lunch truck BLTs I lived on while I was in grad school in Philly. I’m not sure if avocado on a BLT qualifies as nostalgic, but whatever, it’s delicious. My only complaint is the price: $8 for a couple strips of pork fat sandwiched between some white bread seems a little steep, but so be it.
The “A La Arugula” sandwich was definitely the low point of the meal. The sandwich was by no means gross; it just wasn’t good. The roasted garlic spread tasted a little off; the roasted red peppers and onions were flavorless; and the thing was swimming in balsamic dressing. But by far the biggest food foul in this case was the bread. They called it a “hoagie roll,” but it was a glorified hot dog bun, squeezed within an inch of its life between a panini press. You’re a sandwich shop. Bread matters.
The tomato-basil soup was just OK. It tasted really flat, and lacked the acidic bright flavors you associate with tomato. The soup would have also benefited from the addition of fresh herbs.
Does hunger make the best sauce? Who’s to say? I wouldn’t write the place off, though. The staff was super friendly, and the food arrived to our table in about 15 minutes. The green chile stew and BLTA were good, and make for a solid lunch when sold as a half-half combo.
My other piece of unsolicited advice to increase the number of clean plates: Use better bread. Santa Fe has some kick-ass bakeries; take advantage of what they have to offer.
At a Glance
Serving: breakfast and lunch daily
Menu: soups, salads and sandwiches
Recommendation: green chile stew
Order up: under 15 min.