Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prize of the Plaza

New Mexico July Part 2

The Original. This is the classic Frito Pie from the Five & Dime (formerly Woolworth's) on the plaza in downtown Santa Fe. Served in the bag, eaten with a spork, it is a hot aromatic nest of Fritos ladled with red chile, pinto beans, ground beef and cheese. I also like the optional diced raw onion on top. (A great-but-different version is served at the Atomic. Compare and contrast by clicking here). For me the ritual is completed by eating the Pie on a bench in the plaza with a Dr. Pepper, scarfing the spicy dripping crunchiness until I am glowing and red chile stains the corners of my mouth like a toddler after SpaghettiOs.

When Woolworth's began closing its stores in 1997, the residents of Santa Fe were so unhappily fired up about it that developers and an owner of the building protected a third of the store and essentially made it into a shrine to the former general store and lunch counter. They sold off a bunch of the old stuff including the lunch counter waitress uniform dresses. I got one and it ended up making a great "Ghost-of-Woolworth's" costume for Halloween. They added more postcards and tchochkas and kept the employees and Frito Pies. They also have good and very hot green chile stew (with beef).

On the plaza itself is a food cart, Roque's Carnitas. Roque is a fast talking character, and of course I love the food more because of him. He sells tamales and chicken or beef carnitas. He grills the meat with onions and green chiles and then puts it in a thick flour tortilla with salsa. His salsa is heavy with large pieces of tomato and is mostly liquid. I have never been able to really eat one with grace. I do manage to pay attention to the earthy, charred ingredients with bright, spicy slurping. They are satisfying because they are simple and good, and they taste like all the other carnitas he has ever made, the developed layers of everything that's been on that grill before.

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