What is it with casual Valley restaurants putting us on a patio where we're face-to-face with the car bumpers that crowd strip malls? Carlsbad Tavern is having none of that. This funky, New Mexican eatery had adapted its building along busy Hayden Road to take advantage of its virtues.
Originally a seafood restaurant, the property wraps around a Disney-style "pier" overlooking an "ocean" that's more blue-painted concrete moat than splashing shore. Thick, tall stucco walls seclude the patio in a cozy, quiet courtyard decorated with wagon wheels, hanging chiles and a fountain.
It's a fine, fair-weather spot to kick back and sip on a major margarita and enjoy specialty dishes like Santa Fe duck ravioli (crispy chipotle pasta with smoked duck and Brie cream sauce), carne adovada or a searingly spicy habanero cheeseburger (with a free glass of milk to extinguish the flames). For a comfortable price -- about $8 at lunch, $15 at dinner -- and a laid-back outdoor experience, park it at Carlsbad Tavern.