...And They Were My Favorite Things I Ate All Year
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When it comes to writing about food, I’d like you to imagine I’m saying, “It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it,” in the most cloyingly sarcastic voice I can muster. No, it’s not that hard. It’s actually kind of the best, even if I originally had no interest in doing it (I like to keep my food-ing and work-ing separate, or did, anyway). And though I don’t subscribe to that irritating axiom that doing what you love means you’ll never work a day in your life, I do, however, concede that writing about food and restaurants isn’t the worst thing to happen to anyone. And this year was especially tasty, too.
Just last week, for example, I learned La Fogata Grill is one of the finest restaurants in town. For years I’d considered it one of those downtown eateries that required a parking hassle to visit. Now, though, I realize it’s worth the extra 10 minutes to track down a spot if it means I’ll get to eat that mole, those tacos, that elote.
That seems to be something we’re great at here—factoring in long wait times or dubious parking opportunities and letting them dictate our lives. It’s why most folks I know avoid La Choza these days. Oh, the food’s great there, no question, but who wants to hang around for 90 minutes to get at it? Having dined there just recently with a friend, I suppose I’ve been known to do that hanging around. They’re nice at La Choza, too, even if I didn’t write about them this year, so we’ll forgive the wait times.
Or say you’re taking a drive into account. On the one hand, the thought of putting on shoes and heading anyplace that takes longer than 12 minutes to reach sounds like hell. At NOSA, though, out by the town of Ojo Caliente, a 45-minute trek is worth it in some respects, mainly for the date purée I recently sampled. Seriously, if you see that purée on the menu, book your rezzie ASAP.
Same goes for Loyal Hound, where you don’t need a reservation but where it’s worth a drive no matter where in town you live. I hail from the Railyard, for example, and wind up dining at places like Tune-Up and Second Street Brewery out of convenience. For work reasons, though, I sucked it up and traveled the extra eight minutes for Loyal Hound’s fish and chips (plus pork sliders). ‘Twas wise, indeed.
I tried a combo plate at Valentina’s this year, which also worked very well for me; and I found the greatest key lime pie in the world at Tesuque Village Market (the tres leches was no joke, either). The latter was also worth the drive. Side note: The drive is a great reason to not drink, which is a real concern the more I age and whither. I also spent much of the year re-trying old standbys I’d spaced during the COVID times. Adelita’s Mexican Restaurant, for example, served up a fine carne adovada dish wherein the pork was cooked brilliantly and the chile was so fine (like, foine, fine).
I also delved into a little fine dining this year, and was floored by the quality at Palace Prime. Admittedly, they saw us coming from a mile away, so maybe the service was so excellent because of my community gravitas (I’m joking, relax). Still, the steak was divine according to the red meat eater I brought along (who hails from Texas, so he knows), and my salmon might have been the only truly properly-cooked piece of fish I’ve ever had in retrospect. If I’m being honest, it’s been a minute since I’ve checked in over there, but memories of chef Doug Hesselgesser’s food still dance in my head from time to time. Sadly, though, I don’t make regularly-do-fine-dining money. Again, that reminds me it’s not such a bad job.
Palace Prime brings me to my next point, actually, which is how much that restaurant’s original chef, Fernando Ruiz, slaps. Sure, Ruiz and the good ol’ PP had a mysterious falling out shortly after the spot opened, but it seems both are doing exceedingly well—particularly as Ruiz ultimately joined forces with former Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek to work toward opening Midtown taco joint Escondido, which we’ll probably see sometime this upcoming spring or summer. I don’t know what Kadlubek knows about doing restaurant stuff, but I do know Ruiz isn’t the kind of guy who’d sign on with idiots. Even cooler, Ruiz helped us out on a story wherein SFR staffers took chefs shopping and then they shared their recipes (Stop, Shop & Cook; July 20). Not only did he spend well under the $40 limit we set, he made some of the greatest pork tacos I’ve ever tasted; and that brought me back to the world of pork after years of vegetarianism. Educational opportunity/restaurant Open Kitchen founder Hue-Chan Karels helped us out on that story, too, and I spent a super-fun afternoon watching her cook and hearing her stories; same goes for YouthWorks! chef Jackie Gibbs and Jeffrey Kaplan of Rowley Farmhouse Ales, though others interfaced with them so I only know what I read: The food was outstanding.
SFR folk also spent what I’m now realizing is an inordinate amount of time at Paloma and the people who work or worked there. Not only did I have a killer meal one evening with a friend from out of town (hats off to the fish tacos from chef Nathan Mayes), but former SFR calendar editor Riley Gardner and the writer of The Fork newsletter made a pretty cool mini-documentary about the restaurant’s former pastry chef, Jessica Brewer. She’s at The Compound now, though, which seems like a tough blow for Paloma, but we bet they’ll be OK since the space on Guadalupe Street is so pretty and all and the drinks are so fab. Mayes also opened the Esquina Pizza side hussle this year. I admit that I balk at the prices still ($17 for the simple margherita seems steep, sorry), but definitely enjoyed the neopolitan-style crust and myriad topping options.
If I’m being completely honest with you, though, the best pizza I had in 2022 came from Pranzo. It just did. Chef Steven Lemon knows his way around arugula and mushrooms. I know, I know—at least some of you are from or have lived in New York City at some point, and I’m a stupid idiot for liking pizza wrong. Look, all I know is that Lemon’s was perfect (and you can ask anyone at SFR—we only use that word in regards to food when we really, really, well and truly mean it). Sue me. Or better yet, chill out about pizza. Oh! I shouldn’t forget, though, that self-trained pizza chef Chris Van Dyne did me so right with a couple of pies from his shop, Cosmic Pie Pizza. I particularly loved his garlic cream/mushroom pizza, and last I heard, he was trying to get a brick and mortar something going. Fingers crossed. The Tender Fire Pizza pop-up should also go perma-phsyical at some point, too. Neat!
Van Dyne, Lemon, Ruiz, Karels, Brewer, Kaplan, Mayes and the others weren’t the only ones making big moves this year, though. I simply must mention chef Rocky Durham’s recent move to Poland. Like, he did this literally just because he wanted to help out the people of Ukraine, and that’s kind of huge. He’s still doing it as you read this. Who among us hasn’t said we wish we could do something in times of crisis and then instead ripped the bong and watched Frasier reruns? Durham actually did it. I’m friends with his mom on Facebook, too, and she’s proud as hell. She should be.
While I’m talking about chef stuff, though, I should mention that Opuntia’s original executive chef Kim Müller died from cancer some months back, which stings for the folks over there. Müller led a pretty interesting life, from opening Izanami at Ten Thousand Waves to working with culinary programs that supported kids. Rest in power, you knife-wielding champion.
I also continued my breakfast burrito quest this year, though the entire reason you’re currently in the midst of 1,500-ish words’ worth of stream-of-consciousness is because I didn’t eat enough burritos. Regular readers are no doubt familiar with the ongoing series, So You’re Looking for a Breakfast Burrito; I somehow only got through three entries on the list in 2022. Sure, that’s six different restaurants, but still—not enough. Maybe I’ll recap what I’ve learned so far once I hit Vol. 10—I’m up to seven so far. Know this, though: Everyone needs to put more eggs into their breakfast burritos, and I’ll die on that hill. If your breakfast burrito is more potatoes than eggs, fix your life. Know, too, that the original Pantry location and newly minted Midtown spot Cuco’s Kitchen made the finest breakfast burritos I ate in 2022.
Thing is, there’s still more time to eat. And I might just go do that. Before I go, though, I’m making a resolution to eat on the Southside more. Puerto Peñasco is calling my name, as is PC’s Lounge. I want to stop at food trucks I keep driving by and promising myself I’ll visit. When you write about food, you can pretty much go wherever you want. Somebody tell past Alex that it does indeed get better someday.