The average restaurant flames out, or simply fades away, within a handful of years. In 2022, the Plaza Café is celebrating a landmark 75 years of ownership by Santa Fe’s Razatos family. Actually, the restaurant dates back as far as 1905 but was purchased by Dan Razatos in 1947 from the Pomonis family, another Greek clan. Except for a brief closure from fire damage about a decade ago, the city’s oldest café has been serving Santa Feans and visitors breakfast, lunch, and dinner, pretty much every day, throughout all of those years. Today’s owner, Leonardo Razatos exclaims, “That’s a lot of bowls of chile stew.”
A BITE OF HISTORY
Dionysus (later Dan) Razatos left Greece in the early 20th century looking for a better life, and maybe for some adventure too. After a stop in Alexandria, Egypt, he joined the Merchant Marines and worked his way to New York City. He made stops in California and Colorado before settling in New Mexico, where there was a small Greek community. After serving in World War II, he was given American citizenship.
While working at the Plaza Café in downtown Santa Fe, he met his future wife, a local girl named Beneranda Maria Montoya Saiz. They raised their six kids while running the restaurant. All of the family worked there at one time or another. It’s Dan and Beneranda’s son Leonardo who owns the Plaza Café today. He’s the proprietor of the much newer Plaza Café Southside too. Leonardo’s sister Belinda is operations manager for both restaurants and brother Andy is GM downtown. Much of the staff is like family. Server Esther has 40 years with the cafe, and Antonio, some 25 years. He started as a teenage busboy.
Leonardo says that the bowl of chile stew is the one constant on the menu since the beginning. In the early days, the menu was filled with traditional American diner fare, including dishes like meatloaf and liver and onions. Leonardo explained to me that local families, like theirs, ate New Mexican food at home, and wanted something different when they dined out.
It was really visitors to Santa Fe who initially requested that other chile dishes be added to the offerings. Based on that demand, burritos and enchiladas and morning huevos became the core dishes. Recipes come from preparations that Beneranda and her mother served to the family over the years. There’s still some diner-style fare too. For example, you can get a good chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes here, with classic gravy or a ladling of chile.
Dan was always reluctant to put the family’s Greek dishes on the menu. His thinking was that no one comes to Santa Fe to eat Greek food. That changed over time too. Now visitors as well as locals enjoy gyros and Greek salads, among other dishes.
Don’t fill up before you get to dessert. The caramel apple pie and coconut cream pie in a coconut crust are a couple of the best desserts being served in Santa Fe on any given day.
TAKE SOME PLAZA FLAVOR WITH YOU
Now you can take home some of the Plaza’s treats too. The café bottles its zippy green and red chile sauces, as well as Chipotle and Norteña Salsas. Through a partnership with Verde Juice, the sauces and salsas go through high-pressure processing that retains their fresh flavors for months. Also, don’t head out the door without a box of biscochitos for munching. (Maybe turn some of them into last week’s ice cream recipe!) All the products will be available for online purchase later in the summer of 2022, too.
NEW AL FRESCO DINING
For a city that has nearly perfect outdoor dining weather much of the year, Santa Fe still lacks al fresco dining opportunities. As one of the few silver linings from the pandemic, the city made it easier for restaurants to have streetside tables. The Plaza Cafe added a terrace overlooking — well — THE Plaza, during COVID’s initial grip. The space has proven so popular that the restaurant is keeping it. Leonardo and his Italian designer husband, Giuliano, enhanced the patio by surrounding it with bright flowers. By the end of the summer, it will be hard to find the guests for the blossoms.
A TOAST TO THE NEXT 75!
As a part of the anniversary celebration, Leonardo created a special margarita. Of course, I had to go in to try that, purely in the name of research. It mingles fresh lime juice with Herradura Reposado and, instead of the traditional Triple Sec, an orange-flavored cognac. Yes, you need to go sample this, especially on a lovely summer day when you can sit on the patio. Salud!
54 Lincoln Avenue, on the Santa Fe Plaza
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily
And don’t forget the Plaza Café Southside!
3466 Zafarano Drive
Lunch and dinner daily; breakfast on weekends
Story and photographs by Cheryl Alters Jamison.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.