Working Girl Blahs

Cafe Santa Fe's New Mexican cuisine tastes like the same old thing

But I'm also grateful, this Wednesday, that this is my job. Because it's not my money paying the tab for the meal, a thoroughly average rendition of classic New Mexican cuisine. I'm adventurous. I always want to see and try new things. Yet who has the cash to inspect every potential place that might — or might not be — a treasured-Tuesday kind of thrill?

I'd stopped in days before and was mildly impressed with a paint-consistency guacamole nicely bloomed with hot yellow peppers. Chips were fine, sludged in fiery orangish-red salsa purée. A tamale plate was okay, too, a special-request combo of one pork in red chile and one chicken in green chile bundle. Good, gum-searing chile, but the masa was wet and mushy, with too meager meaty filling. I left feeling flat, glad that I'd come for a solo tasting.

Now, on Wednesday night, I've brought a buddy, but I'm feeling flatter. I ply her with wine, but there's no sparkle in this woman's eyes. The conversation is merely polite as we trade forkfuls of a breakfast dish, chorizo and eggs. It's making me as sleepy as if it were 8 a.m., this chorizo that could well be spicy hamburger, bloated with cheese and paired with nicely soupy beans and pan-fried potatoes, yet hardly better than what I could make at home.

Cafe Santa Fe owner Carla Mollica cooks a killer chile chicken casserole.
Erik Guzowski
Cafe Santa Fe owner Carla Mollica cooks a killer chile chicken casserole.

Location Info

Map

Cafe Santa Fe

393 W. Warner Road
Chandler, AZ 85225-3441

Category: Restaurant > Coffeehouse

Region: Chandler

Details

Guacamole: $3.50
Tamale plate: $7.50
Chorizo and eggs: $5.50
Posole: $5
Green chile chicken casserole: $8.25

480-814-0084. Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

393 West Warner, Chandler

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One Algonquin pal had ordered Richardson's posole at our Tuesday lunch, and she was so happy she giggled over the soup bowl of hominy, pork and red chile broth ladled over a flour tortilla. I merely go through the motions with my Cafe Santa Fe posole — the hominy is almost crunchy, the pork cut in too-big, too-firm chunks, and, until a side of red chile is stirred in, the thin broth is one-dimensional oregano.

It's usually too quiet in Wednesday kinds of places, understandable since my job is to discover what no one else has. Still, it would take a lot of energy to fill this strip mall shop, looking like a tiny converted sports bar with mirrored walls, disco lighting on the ceilings, teal lounge furniture and a big screen showing sitcoms.

For more successful dishes like the Cafe's green chile casserole, a satisfying layering of corn tortillas, cheeses, and a creamy blend of chile and shredded chicken, the journey might be worth the effort.

The effort of coming back, yes, perhaps on a Wednesday, but certainly not on a Tuesday.

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