You never know what’s going to stick with you. A trip to Paris or Rome might leave you with nothing but a hazy memory of sweat and aching feet from miles walked through museum halls and ancient alleys.
But a trip to Santa Fe might stick with you for decades, thanks to an indelible memory of the peas in the huevos motuleños at Cafe Pasqual’s.
It was August 1999, the summer before my senior year of college—my first trip to the American Southwest and my first meaningful introduction to Southwestern cuisine.
It’s funny, because we ate well during our family visit, hitting many of the hot spots that are still around today. I had a margarita that knocked my 21-year-old ass on the floor in the high altitude.
But I couldn’t tell you a single thing I ate at either Coyote Cafe or Santacafé, whereas the simple fact of putting peas into an egg breakfast dish somehow became a life-altering event.
Apart from a day at Bandelier National Monument north of the city, and a milagro charm purchased at one of the cluttered gift shops around the central plaza, my meal at Cafe Pasqual’s was a moment I thought about often and fondly.
And it took me 20 years to get back to Santa Fe and Cafe Pasqual’s, and to try the dish again, but I made it a priority—and a highlight—of our stop during our Route 66 road trip.
The corner restaurant remains unchanged: at once airy and crowded, with green chairs filling a high-ceilinged dining room hung with fluttering papel picado and red chile bundles wrapped in white Christmas lights.
The huevos motuleños are the restaurant’s take on what I now know is a traditional Yucatan dish: eggs with corn tortillas, black beans, green and red chile sauce, tomato-jalapeño salsa, feta cheese, sautéed banana, and the aforementioned mind-blowing peas.
Reader, I’ll be honest: I don’t remember the bananas being there—they being my number one culinary nemesis, I doubt I ate them in 1999, and I only sampled a little bit now. Did the kitchen switch from plantains at some point in the past two decades?
But the dish stands up, and the rest of the menu still plays with a mix of savory breakfast and lunch staples, all with a signature Cafe Pasqual touch.
Dan, of course, went for the green chile cheeseburger, as one should also do when in New Mexico. This version, with strips of roasted chile, caramelized onion, and Jack cheese blanketing a bison patty, was as loaded with flavor as you’d expect. They know what they’re doing here.
Sitting against the wall below the murals and Mexican tile, almost exactly where our family sat for breakfast all that time ago, sipping on a michelada, felt like a homecoming.
Now freed of my pea-centric memory, I need to return to Cafe Pasqual’s to finally branch out and try a few more dishes on the menu.
But if owner Katharine Kagel ever decides to put out a third cookbook with even more recipes from the 40-year history of the cafe, may I humbly ask for the huevos motuleños to be included so I can do it justice?
Cafe Pasqual’s, 121 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. 505-983-9340. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.