There aren’t very many restaurants in business today that were here in Santa Fe when I pulled into town in 1980. Back at the time, friends took me to a place that recently had moved to the then-scruffy railyard neighborhood. It was defying conventional logic about location, location, location. Tomasita’s, our destination, was in a red brick station house, an outbuilding of sorts to the old unused Santa Fe depot. At one time this had been the terminus of a railroad known as The Chile Line. Today, it’s the busy final stop for the Rail Runner commuter train and the Sky Railway, but no train was running at all some four decades ago.
Georgia Maryol had bought Tomasita’s in 1974, when it was a small café on Hickox Street, in the spot where Tune-Up Café is today. The move to the railyard was considered bold and even risky. In hindsight, Georgia couldn’t have picked better. The railyard is among the busiest areas in town, and the restaurant has only increased in popularity over the decades. Georgia’s son, George Gundry, runs Tomasita’s today.
WE DON’T MESS WITH THE CHILE
The keys to Tomasita’s success are fair prices, prompt friendly service, refreshing margaritas, and consistent New Mexican food blanketed with piquant green and red chile from near Hatch. The same families have supplied the chiles for years. As George likes to say, “We don’t mess with the chile!” The sauces are just a bit of roux, with garlic, and copious amounts of either green or red.
Those sauces blanket most of the dishes. The menu covers the New Mexico food groups — enchiladas, burritos, rellenos, tacos, and more. Of course, there’s carne adovada, along with menudo, a couple of sirloin steaks, and some savory pork chops. For a lighter meal, the menu offers a tostada salad, as well as a chicken salad with a Southwestern-inspired vinaigrette. On Saturdays, I get the daily special of chicos, a toothsome horno-smoked dried corn dish.
Tomasita’s is perhaps as well-known for its sopaipillas as for its chile. Great big poofs of golden fried dough, they can be slathered in the local B’s New Mexico Honey Farm honey or used as a scoop for the savory preparations. I sometimes like to save one to fill with the creamy natillas dessert custard, a recipe handed down from the original cook, Tomasita Leyba.
The margaritas are well-loved too. I prefer them on the rocks, but the frozen are the most popular. They are whipped up with a combo of reposada tequila, lime and lemon juices, and house-made sweet-and-sour mix. One of my friends always orders the strawberry version of the frozen margarita. Another signature drink is the Swirl, a fanciful melding of the frozen marg with sangria.
However you mix and match the food and the drinks, it’s an unbeatable combination.
500 South Guadalupe
Open daily lunch through dinner
Story 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.