Having not seen my dear friend Benji for some time, I texted him Saturday evening:
“Available for a brunchy/lunchy thing tomorrow?”
“Mondo!” he texted back. “Devil’s morning.”
Indeed, with the power of the devil behind us, by noon Sunday, we were scouring downtown for parking near Aztec Street, where relatively new (I said “relatively”) eatery Zacatlán (317 Aztec St., (505) 780-5174; Brunch, lunch and diner Thursday-Sunday) has been, according to my friends, kicking ass and brunching for real. Yes, Zacatlán’s owner/chef Eduardo Rodriguez has non-brunch menus inspired by the Southwest as well as his homeland of Zacatlán, Mexico, too (I’m particularly enamored by, but have yet to try, items like the fish tacos)—but this was Sunday, dammit, when eggs are practically the law.
In fact, we even felt a little off ordering chips and guacamole ($10) as a starter, especially as the first bite of the day, but upon receiving hot chips so fresh they seemed to have been made right when we ordered them and guacamole so wonderfully textured between creamy and chunky, the decision paid for itself a hundred times over.
That’s not even getting into the white tablecloth dining room and friendly staff that was attentive but never hovered. For an old-school Santa Fean such as myself, dining in the location of the former Aztec Café coffee shop might have felt weird. Here, instead, Rodriguez has crafted Xanadu. In other words, you’d never know a bunch of teens who smoked too much and were constantly in search of weed hung around this location a million years ago. Instead, it’s a nicely appointed dining room that rates someplace near the feel of fine dining but without the pomp and circumstance; it’s comfortable and welcoming, but clean and professional.
Once inside, we perused the weekend brunch menu, phasing from disappointment over what seemed like a scant, few offerings at first to excitement over a lack of clutter. Some brunch places I won’t name cram so many variations of bread and eggs onto a menu that it feels overwhelming and under-focused. At Rodriguez’s Zacatlán, you’ll find a couple starters, a handful of main dishes and just three desserts (including churros that we tragically had no room to consume)—it’s a testament to the idea of value aligning not with overabundance, but with quality. I could just kick myself for not having gone sooner.
Ever the good sport, Benji allowed me to select his dish—the Southwestern Surf and Turf Eggs Benedict ($18) with both ham and salmon. Looking for an old standby, I selected the huevos rancheros ($12.50); eggs over easy, no meat, salsa on the side and served atop house-made corn tortillas with just the right-sized dollop of guac on top. As I’ve established, Rodriguez’s guacamole is a revelation and added both texture and flavor to the expertly cooked eggs. The tortillas were revelatory as well and straddled a combination of crispy at the edges but absorbent enough to soak up the yolk. Beneath it all, I discovered a bed of flavorful rice that carried a complementary hint of herb. In a nutshell? Best huevos rancheros I’ve had in Santa Fe in years.
Huevos rancheros on house made corn tortillas with salsa, guacamole and some of the best-cooked rice of all time. (Alex De Vore/)
Benji, meanwhile, opined that you wouldn’t think salmon and ham would work together so harmoniously in the same bite—but somehow did. The poached eggs atop the English muffin were firm and runny in the right ratio, he said; the hollandaise never congealed like it has been known to do elsewhere. Peppering in guacamole-laden chips throughout the meal worked, too, and is a must for any fan of the crispier textures. In fact, let me just ask if you’ve ever crumbled fresh tortilla chips into your egg dishes? You can and most definitely should.
Zacatlán serves up a damn fine cup of coffee, too, and all for a fairly affordable price point. For some (including this guy), it is perhaps a bit of splurge. This is downtown Santa Fe dining, after all. But it’s oh-so-worth it. We’ve even discussed returning as soon as possible to sample other menu items—the chicken and waffles alone is almost enough to make me go back to eating meat...just once to get the idea of it. Even better, at noon on a Sunday (being the brunchiest day and hour of the week), we had no trouble securing a nice table.
So I’m just going to say it: Add Zacatlán to your must-try list immediately. Even outside my own experience, I’ve never heard a bad thing about the place. In Santa Fe, where the dining business runs a tad competitive and the options are seemingly endless, that’s saying something. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to Aztec Street for some more chips and guac, and it’s probably time to assemble a party for dinner. Those Zacatlán churros are mine.