Where to Find American Classics

Lynn Cline - November 20, 2018

From roadside burgers to Reubens, bagels & more

Santa Fe is celebrated for its world-renowned Southwest cuisine but what happens when you're craving an American classic—a Reuben, a roadside burger or a cream cheese-smeared bagel? No worries. You can find authentic spots to satisfy your appetite. From an acclaimed restaurateur serving awesome burgers from his roadside stand to a chef creating the country's ultimate comfort food in inventive ways, Santa Fe offers some surprising dining experiences.

When a top chef decides to open a burger shack based on his childhood memories of the cheeseburgers he ate local diners in his native Milwaukee, you can bet the burgers will be tasty.

From Escalera to Aqua Santa, Chef Brian Knox has run some of Santa Fe's most beloved, and lauded, restaurants. Then, he decided to switch gears. Motivated by those famed Milwaukee burgers, slathered with butter on both bun and beef, he created Shake Foundation, a roadside stand in the heart of Santa Fe serving premium burgers. A combo of sirloin and chuck with no hormones or antibiotics, they come in three versions—classic, cheese and green chile cheese, all with deliciously buttered buns. Order yours with hand-cut shoestring fries and a shake and you've got a classic American meal. Knox also offers a portobello mushroom burger, stuffed with Muenster cheese then breaded and deep fried, but you don't have to be a vegetarian to love this.

The food here is made to order, and you place your request at the walk-up window. With picnic tables for outdoor dining when the weather's fine, and tunes that will whisk you back to yesteryear, Shake Foundation feels like a California beach shack. Order the fried oyster sandwich and you might feel like you're on the Gulf Coast, until you try the accompanying red chile mayo, which reminds you you're still in New Mexico.

Mac'n'cheese, the ultimate comfort food, may have originated in Europe centuries ago, but it was Thomas Jefferson who made the dish popular in America after tasting it in France. He loved the cheesy combo and even imported a pasta making machine in order to create the dish at Monticello, his Virginia home. In 1802, as president, he served it at a state dinner and soon, mac'n'cheese was a staple on tables across America.

During the Great Depression, Kraft Foods brought out packaged mac'n'cheese that could affordably feed a family of four for only 19 cents. The product took off, even more so during World War II when rationing made dairy and meat hard to find. Today, chefs across the country are working their magic with mac'n'cheese to create gourmet twists on this American classic, and that includes Theo Gio of Macalicious.

In such dishes as mac'n'cheese with sautéed portobellos and shiitakes, fontina, ricotta and truffle oil, or a carbonara version with thick-cut pepper bacon, portobellos, peas mozzarella and Parmesan, Gio elevates the basic classic to sublime levels. The Santa Fe features fresh-roasted Hatch green chile with cheddar and Monterey Jack and the Buffalo Chicken combines grilled chicken breast with Buffalo sauce, Danish blue cheese and cheddar. Each of the 10 versions are made with fresh local ingredients and artisanal cheese from across America.

The menu offers six varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, too, including the Zozobra, with jalapeños and chorizo, and you can build your own with a wide range of ingredients. Leave room for dessert because you don't want to miss candied bacon on a stick.

Whenever you're missing life in the Big Apple, you can feel better at New York Deli. Whether you stop in for a bagel with cream cheese and salmon for breakfast or a Reuben on rye with corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut for lunch, you could almost feel as if you're on the Lower East Side in a place like Katz's Delicatessen.

It's hard to find good bagels at Santa Fe's high altitude but here, there are at least dozen varieties here, including onion and green chile. Choose from 10 cream cheese flavors, such as savory tomato herb or sweet honey walnut. Try the homestyle cheese blintzes with sour cream and blueberry and you'll definitely be transported, perhaps to the East Village, where this filled and folded pancake was made famous by people from Central and Eastern Europe. The potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce, also delicious, originated as peasant food in Eastern European countries.

For lunch, you could start with chicken matzo ball soup or chopped liver-stuffed tomato. Then choose from several versions of the Reuben sandwich, a classic B.L.T or the perfect patty melt, a hearty burger smothered with grilled onions and Swiss cheese on rye. This comes with coleslaw and a pickle and you can't beat that, or order fries instead. You'll find seven kinds of heroes, including the Union Square, filled with grilled chicken, roasted peppers, melted provolone and tomato basil sauce, and the Grand Central, a combo of roast beef, bacon, Monterey Jack, Southwest mayo, lettuce and tomato. Fish and Chips are on the menu, too, along with so much more, which is only what you'd expect to find at a New York deli.