After an almost seven year hiatus, a Santa Fe dining legend is back. Tesuque’s original El Nido, which started in the 1920s as a roadhouse and morphed into a traditional steakhouse, drew diners both from the neighborhood and the surrounding area for over eight decades. In January 2010, much to the disappointment of its regulars, it closed its doors. It reopened in late November with a new look and new menu concept.
A bit about the new El Nid0
We ate at the old El Nido only once. I remember it as being very Santa Fe adobe with banquettes and a dark interior. The dining rooms at the new El Nido – which subtitles itself “Wood Fired Italian Steakhouse are light and bright with a contemporary feel. Art from the nearby Glen Green Gallery adorns the walls and nichos.
The cozy barroom, with booths along the wall, still sports the colorful Santa Fe-style hand-painted window surrounds that have been there for decades. On a cold winter’s evening a wood fire merrily burns in the fireplace at the back of the main dining room.
A counter with chairs stretches along the opening to the kitchen where a massive wood grill/rotisserie has pride of place. There’s also a wood-fueled forno for the pizza and the restaurants signature flat bread. About 80 percent of the food is cooked using wood. Service is friendly and competent.
Who’s behind this phoenix-like rise from neglect? Mexican-born Chef Enrique Guerrero is the front-man working with the building’s owners. His local cooking credits include La Casa Sena and the highly-praised La Mancha that was at the now-closed Galisteo Inn. His latest venture was the Bang Bite Food Trucks which have what Steve calls “the best fries in town.” We met Guerrero just before he opened Bang Bite, across from Kaune’s market in late 2013. When Steve noticed the not-yet-open truck he decided to investigate. These two passionate food lovers got into conversation and we were customers on Day One. Over the last few years, Guerrero tried to open two other restaurants but each hit snags before they could open. We hope three’s the charm!
While the name is El Nido Steakhouse, the “Steakhouse” in the restaurant’s name seems to be more in homage to the restaurant’s famous past than the current menu which has only two steak offerings. Bistecca a la Fonduta (fonduta is a cheese sauce) is a 12-ounce New York Strip, served with potato puree and spinach; the Rib-eye a la Fonduta is accompanied by oyster mushrooms, .grilled onions, hand-pressed potatoes and fontina Both times we were there the meat in the “Meat and Potatoes” entrée was also steak.
The menu is divided into four sections: To Start, Pizza, Pasta and La Rosticceria; in addition, there is a specials menu. The wood-fired Tomato Tapanade topped with goat cheese may be my newest food obsession. I’m not a scampi fan but I loved the wood-grilled shrimp scampi with crispy prosciutto and spicy garlic butter. We got so into the appetizers and salads even with two visits we only tried one main course and one pasta dish. In truth, I was too full to try the Chianti Stained Pappardelle with wild boar ragu, but Steve said it was excellent. The Tagliata di Manzo, wood-oven braised beef oxtail served with polenta and spinach was delicious. The oxtail was perfect comfort food on a cold December night. We want to go back and try the pizzas. The great thing about the menu is the range of prices. You can dine on pizza for $15 or a steak for $57 with lots of choices in between. The food philosophy is nicely summed up on their website: “Best-of-season vegetables, wood-fired meats, and homemade pastas are the basis of our food, and is our reasoned approach to what is succulent and modern.”
Take a ride up to Tesuque and check out the new El Nido Steakhouse. It’s worth the trip! Make a reservation before you go; we’ve been there on weekdays twice and both times the dining room was full. Bar seating is first-come, first-served. While the name honors the original, everything else is new. If you can let go of the past, that’s a good thing.
Author’s note: We were guests of Chef Enrique the first time we dined. We enjoyed it so much we went back on our own dime for our 43rd anniversary.