Our first visit to Santa Fe Café for breakfast became the first of many visits. Sure, the proximity to our home — less than two miles — made it an easy choice for a comfortable neighborhood joint. The décor definitely attracted this lover of all things Southwestern, servers were warm and friendly, and purposely mismatched coffee mugs enhanced the place’s homespun character.
But without good food, there would be little reason to return. This restaurant keeps packing its customers in. By 9:20 on a busy Saturday morning, the 87th Street landmark was bursting at the seams, with parking spots scarce. Local barbecue aficionados occupied one table and young families surrounded others amid couples and friends of all ages. Even seats along the small counter were filled. Fortunately, we only waited about five minutes to be seated.
It’s always gratifying to see a restaurant owner on the floor and I don’t think I’ve ever visited Santa Fe Café when Marilyn wasn’t refilling coffee or checking in with customers. Something else I really appreciate is their judicious use of salt, even for sausage gravy. With shakers on the table, customers can season food to their own personal taste. Health-conscious diners can also request egg whites or Egg Beaters, and turkey bacon or sausage.
We’ve never had a poorly cooked fried egg here, although hash browns have sometimes lacked their signature crust during breakfast rushes. For only 50 cents more, Santa Fe Trail Taters are a nice substitute. A combination of cubed potatoes, grilled onions and green peppers, the savory side reflects chuck wagon fare served by the owners’ family member, Pappy O’Brien, along the original Santa Fe Trail.
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Big Cowboy Breakfasts with names like Conestoga, The Blacksmith and Breakfast Burrito are simple, hearty combos with scrambled or fried eggs, meat, potatoes and toast while Roundup Skillet Scramblers combine eggs and hash browns with veggies and/or meat in a single dish. There are also four ‘Benedicts,’ cinnamon-swirled French toast, pancakes the size of dinner plates and three-egg omelets that keep you full for half a day.
On this visit Spinach Chicken Crepes offered a savory combo of spinach, chicken, sliced mushrooms, diced onions and tomatoes with mild Hollandaise sauce on top. The Farmer featured perfectly crusted, hand-breaded chicken fried steak smothered in white country gravy beside eggs and hash browns, with a side of toast. On the run between tables, our server forgot an iced tea and apologized profusely when she finally delivered it.
Throughout the meal I admired our surroundings, which have evolved to the point this almost feels like a café that actually operates in the heart of New Mexico. Rustic ceiling beams and trim complement a rough-hewn stone wall that surrounds the kitchen, as do Western paintings framed in graying barn wood, oxidized, etched metal accents, and Native American rugs hung on a pueblo ladder. The semi-circular wood reception desk even previously occupied a local store that sold Southwestern art and home decor.
Less than an hour after we arrived, we vacated our table as we noticed the line of customers had grown longer. We paid for breakfast and had our frequent buyer card stamped, confident that we’d visit again soon.
Lisa Waterman Gray is a freelance writer based in Overland Park. She specializes in food and travel writing.