review: road-side rellenos…

tune-up cafe
tune-up cafe, Santa Fe

The tune-up cafe is a good reminder that food doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.

This unassuming little road-side eatery, located along a rather uneventful stretch of Hickox street within walking distance of the Santa Fe rail yard, is owned and operated by El Salvadoran Jesus Rivera and his wife, Charlotte. Mindful of sustainable and organic farming, Rivera’s mix of authentic El Salvadoran and Mexican food has developed quite a following.

The place fills up quickly.

Although the inside of the restaurant is cute and cozy, I can’t imagine passing up one of their patio tables when the weather is as nice as it was when I dropped in for lunch last month.

El Salvadoran Pupusas
El Salvadoran Pupusas
tune-up cafe, Santa Fe

The “Chile Relleno” has become the tune-up’s signature item (thanks, no doubt, to Mr. Fieri’s coverage; you can watch the video on the restaurant’s website) ($6.75). We ordered one as a side. It is very good.

Stuffed with a cheese filling, the nearly 10-inch-long pepper is dipped in a whipped batter that makes the shell lacy and light (well, the portion that wasn’t dampened by sauce and cheese).

I’m not convinced that it was the best chile relleno I’ve ever had, but I’ll concede that it was exemplary – the meatiness of the chile being the biggest reward.

Chile Relleno
Chile Relleno
tune-up cafe, Santa Fe

The “El Salvadoran Pupusa” was probably the highlight of our lunch ($8.50). We chose one of each, beef and vegetable. The vegetable one was stuffed with a mix of summer squash, corn, onions, and cheese. The beef filling was composed of chopped flank steak with onions, corn, and cheese.

The masa dough for the pupusas had great texture: warm, moist, and bread-like, with a nicely charred and griddled exterior. The two cakes were sauced with a light chile posado and sided by a refreshingly tart red cabbage slaw.

Mole Colorado Enchiladas
tune-up cafe, Santa Fe

Normally offered only at dinner, the “Mole Colorado Enchilada” appeared on the chalkboard of daily lunch specials ($10.50). Itching for a mole, I ordered it.

I have had better mole. This one was a bit light on flavor. But the shredded chicken (organically raised, of course) was great. It was moist and flavorful. I can’t say that cooked bananas are my favorite food, but in this context – with a dollop of tangy sour cream – the grilled halves provided a needed contrast to otherwise savory and cheesy fare. The “Spanish rice” that sided this dish was also very good.

tune-up cafe
tune-up cafe, Santa Fe

For good measure, we tacked on a “tune-up Salad” to share ($6); a fresh mix of greens topped with roasted beets, carrot and cucumber ribbons, diced tomatoes, and tossed with sherry vinaigrette.

The prices here are quite reasonable. The three of us left full and happy for under $40 total.

tune-up cafe
1115 Hickox Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505

~ by ulterior epicure on September 22, 2009.

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