More Dinner on a Budget: Bar Food

Annie Lux | - January 19, 2010

Gosh, kids, it seems I’m not the only one in town who enjoys a night out but doesn’t want to empty my wallet. So let’s explore more ways to eat out in Santa Fe while spending less than $15 on food. This time, let’s try one of my favorite tricks, developed during my starving artist years in New York City: I call it “Drinks and Apps.” Many of Santa Fe’s fine restaurants have separate bar menus that offer lovely selections at a fraction of the prices in the main dining room. In the first installment of Dinner on a Budget I mentioned two such places: Del Charro, which actually only has a bar menu (no dinner menu) and Pranzo, whose bar menu is both affordable and delicious. Here are a few more places to try. Adding a nice glass of wine or a cocktail will up the ante on your night out, of course, but hey—at these prices, you can afford to splurge.

Pink Adobe Dragon Room
406 Old Santa Fe Trail

Back in the day, the Pink Adobe’s legendary Dragon Room was named one of the top twenty bars in the country, and owner Rosalea Murphy held court from the big round table in the corner. Rosalea, who opened the Pink back in 1944 and launched the Dragon Room in 1978, is no longer with us, but her paintings still festoon the walls and some of her most famous dishes still grace the much-expanded bar menu. If the Dragon Room is no longer the standing-room-only watering hole it once was, that’s good news for diners looking for a nice night out on the town with some great, budget-friendly food. New owners David and Christie Garret, who also own the adjacent Inn of the Five Graces, have wisely kept the best of old—from Rosalea’s famous gypsy stew and BBQ ribs to the big old tree that grows right through the middle of the bar (well, not that they could have done much about that!)—while expanding the menu and adding some substantial meals (most at $15 or under) to the menu. I hear the southern fried chicken (from one of the cook’s great grandmother’s recipe) is outrageous (haven’t tried it yet, but I will!). More choices if you’re especially hungry: the fish & chips, chicken or vegetarian enchiladas, or the famous Pink Adobe burger. Savor a bowl of French onion soup or some green chile stew on a chilly night. And don’t forget dessert: while there’s a cobbler, a brownie and a lemon tart on the menu, if you haven’t had the French apple pie, you haven’t been to the Pink.

Railyard Restaurant and Saloon
530 South Guadalupe Street

The key word here is “saloon.” While the dinner menu isn’t as expensive as some of the restaurants listed in this article, the real bargains are to be had at the always-jumping bar. This gathering spot has some of the best deals in town, even beating Del Charro’s outrageously low prices with their Bar Menu Specials: for $3.95 (you read that right) you can sample BBQ beef sliders (made with pulled shredded beef and served with cole slaw), fully loaded potato skins, beer-battered chicken and broccoli with dipping sauce, and other snack items. But wait: there’s more! The Railyard’s regular bar menu offers a wide selection of snacks and meals, all well under the $15 mark. Go local with the chips & salsa or nachos, try the seafood selections (steamed mussels, fried calamari, fish & chips, shrimp cocktail), stick with tried-and-true bar food (burgers, chicken wings) or even go healthy with a choice of three salads and a vegetable soup made with produce purchased from the Farmers Market, located right in their own backyard. The dinner menu is also available at the bar: many items run less than $15. Such a deal! (Bonus: the bar menu is available on the patio too.)

The Artist Pub at the St. Francis Hotel
210 Don Gaspar Avenue

This local spot serves food till closing (usually around 11 pm). And an array of food it is: such old favorites as the nachos and the baked brie are back on the menu, and if I’m still missing the crab cakes (and I am), I can console myself with the yummy coconut shrimp. There’s a great selection of sandwiches, including a green chile cheeseburger (of course), steak or pulled pork on a roll, a club sandwich, and fish tacos. I haven’t tried the Waldorf salad sandwich with grilled chicken, nuts, grapes and apples, but it’s at the top of my “to do” list (gosh that sounds good). Have you noticed that fish & chips are suddenly getting popular here in Santa Fe? The Artist Pub offers a beer battered Boston-style version (and if they don’t usually serve it with Chimayó chile tartar sauce in Boston, too bad for them). There are also a few pasta dishes and a great selection of salads, as well as a nice by-the-glass wine selection and bartender Ragan’s special concoctions (habanero watermelon margarita, anyone?). Best of all, nothing on this menu is over $11.

Inn of the Anasazi
113 Washington Avenue
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Is there a better place to people watch than the elegant patio in front of the Inn of the Anasazi? Well maybe, but it’s right up there (you might even see a celebrity or two). Inside, the lounge area is small; but there’s no need to wait for one of the few tables: the crowd around the bar is friendly and lively. And here, at one of Santa Fe’s most upscale restaurants, you can enjoy a budget-friendly meal designed by new executive chef Oliver Ridgeway. Okay, even the bar menu here is pricy, but with a few exceptions, you can keep to the $15 budget (and hey—for black truffle ravioli with crab and mushroom stuffing, it might be worth going over budget a few dollars). The popular trio of buffalo burgers is still on the menu, as are the black bean and chicken nachos. New additions include fried green tomatoes and a chipotle chicken quesadilla. Since the ahi tuna “gyro” and lamb brochettes with couscous are over our budget ($18 and $20, respectively), I’m not even going to mention how delicious they are.

Rio Chama Steakhouse
414 Old Santa Fe Trail

The bar at Rio Chama, right next door to the Pink on Old Santa Fe Trail, is an entity unto itself. Featuring booths and tables as well as bar stools, and a separate menu that’s much less pricy than the restaurant’s, this place is usually jumping. Careful, there are several items on the menu here that will take you over our budget; still, there’s plenty to choose from in the under $15 range. This is the place to have a burger (it’s a steakhouse, after all): try their Daily Grind with a few of their large selection of toppings (how about blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon, just for a change from green chile and cheddar) or the Mini Burger plate: five little sliders for $13. Not in a red meat mood? There are chicken tacos and quesadillas with mango salsa, as well as nachos and calamari. There’s a cheese plate and chips and salsa too.

Ore House on the Plaza
50 Lincoln Avenue

Okay, out on the balcony at the Ore House Cantina is, in fact, the best place to people watch. On a beautiful summer day you can sip a margarita (choose your favorite from one of the most extensive margarita menus in town) while watching locals relaxing on the plaza and tourists consulting their maps as they shop till they drop. But wait: you can do that in winter too: the balcony’s space heaters make for year-round drinking and dining. There’s also a bar inside, with tables as well as bar stools. Best of all is the Cantina menu. My faves here are the salads: the blackened chicken salad with oranges and grapes, the Ensalada Maria with steak and blue cheese, the Caesar salad with grilled lime scampi shrimp and big chunks of baked garlic. Yum. Other offerings range from seafood specialties (crab cakes, shrimp, ceviche) to burgers and quesadillas. Just looking for a snack? The Ore House Cantina is famous for their salsa samplers.

Living Room Bar at the Inn at Loretto
211 Old Santa Fe Trail

“Mellow” and “comfy” are the words that spring to mind about this spacious yet cozy lounge. Relax on a sofa in front of the fireplace and enjoy a nice glass of wine (be aware, the drinks are not cheap here) while waiting for your shrimp ceviche or green chile stew to arrive. Most food choices are under $15 (the steak frites dish goes over at $18): try the organic chicken skewer or the queso flameado (flaming cheese!) with Navajo flatbread. Or stick to the tried-and-true bar burger: this one comes with a choice of cheese, green chile, and a side of fries. The Living Room Bar features live music every evening till 11:00 pm. If you haven’t heard Matthew Andrae live, be sure to go Friday or Saturday. And do it soon: this popular local singer-songwriter is a Santa Fe must-hear!