Atrisco: A Neighborhood Cafe with Deep New Mexico Roots

Lynn Cline - October 7, 2015

Atrisco is a Santa Fe-mous third-generation family restaurant...

When you dine at the Atrisco Cafe & Bar, you're steeped in New Mexico's culinary history. Not just because you're feasting on enchiladas, tamales, chile rellenos and other traditional northern New Mexico fare, but because you're dining in a restaurant owned by a family whose eateries are legendary with locals as well as visitors from around the world.

Santa Fe native George Gundrey opened Atrisco in 2009, after his aunt, Toni Maryol, closed her restaurant 'Diego's,' which previously occupied the space in the DeVargas Center. He named the restaurant for the Atrisco Barrio in Albuquerque, where, at the corner of Atrisco Boulevard and Central Avenue, his grandmother Sophia ran the Central Cafe from the 1940s through the 1970s.

George's mother, Georgia Maryol, grew up working at the Central Cafe, which gave her a solid foundation years later when she took a chance on a little cafe on Hickox Street in Santa Fe that was saddled with debt and on the verge of closing. Georgia had been eating there regularly, savoring bean burritos, red chile, homemade tortillas, rice with garlic and other New Mexico fare, prepared by an elderly woman named Tomasita Leybo.

In 1974, When Georgia found out the owner, who had bought the cafe from Tomasita's daughter and son-in-law, was readying to sell, she made him an offer he couldn't rrefuse: She'd assume his debts if he'd give her the cafe. And thus was born Tomasita's, one of Santa Fe's oldest and most famous restaurants, now housed in the Railyard in a station-house built in 1904 that once served the famous Chile Line. Georgia officially retired from Tomasita's, and George runs the restaurant today

Atrisco, a third-generation family restaurant, is famous for its fresh, local ingredients, delicious fare, and friendly service. The signature dish, roast leg of lamb burrito, features local lamb from Talus Wind Ranch, and the green chile cheeseburger is de-lish. The menu also features carne adovado, green chile stew, and Central Cafe meat loaf served Albuquerque-style, with New Mexico-raised beef, and jalapeno mashed potatoes. There's even menudo, Santa Fe's scientifically proven "hangover cure,” according to the menu. You'll also find Yia Ya Sophia's Greek Salad, named for George's grandmother (yia ya is Greek for grandmother).

Atrisco's nightly specials are equally popular, including Monday's popular combo plate, with a chicken tamale, cheese enchilada and chicos, made with sweet corn dried in an horno. “It's a big hit,” says George. “When we started serving chicos, people went crazy. We buy it at the Farmers Market from Jesus Guzman.” Tuesdays feature fajitas, while Wednesday's dish is flautas. Local organic lamb ribs are about to become Thursday's special, and Friday, it's fish tacos. Desserts include banana cream pie, flan, natillas and dessert sopapillas stuffed with ice cream and strawberry sauce.

But that's not all: Atrisco serves breakfast on the weekends, including huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, and breakfast enchiladas. What's that, you ask? It's enchiladas stuffed with eggs and bacon. Don't forget to try the waffles and Biscuit Benedict, which is eggs Benedict on a biscuit with homemade hollandaise sauce.

“The restaurant is really a community deal,” George says. “And Sunday is the day. You come in here on a Sunday after church and it is packed. Every single person who walks in here knows somebody in here.”

If George Gundrey's name sounds familiar, it should, especially if you're a foodie. He served as executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers Market from 2006 to 2008. He and his family run a small farm on the Pecos River in Villanueva, growing chile and blue corn that's used at Atrisco. He basically grew up in Tomasita's, which he took over in 2011. “It was awesome being there, and I worked there, too,” he says. “The best thing about growing up in a restaurant is that your parents put you to work. I learned how to deal with people and it instilled a good work ethic.”

His 14-year-old daughter is following in his footsteps, working at Atrisco as a line cook and bussing tables. And his mother, Georgia, although officially retired, still helps out. “It's like her fifth grandchild and she loves it.”