I am a taco truck lover, but ... It’s one thing to grab some tasty Tacos al Pastor on the fly, and quite another to invite some Seattle friends out for dinner and be seated at a comfortable booth with a basket of warm tortilla chips, a duo of salsa, and have a fish bowl-sized Margarita ($7 for a 20 oz grande) plopped down before you. It brings Friday and a holiday weekend that much closer.
The folks at Santa Fe are warm, the booths are cozy, and the menu is a nice amalgamation of authentic and Americanized Mexican food. Take the complimentary chips and salsa basket. You won’t get that in Mexico, but man that is an American tradition I love when the chips are fresh and hot, and Santa Fe doesn’t dumb down their salsa for gringo’s. One bowl of verde (green), one rojo (red) — get prepared for a genuine spicy kick!
FYI, the name of this restaurant might mislead you on first glance. This is not the place for Santa Fe-style nuevo-Mexican food. Santa Fe is named after an affluent Guadalajara suburb, Zapopan, within the Mexican state of Jalisco. Bordered by the Pacific Coast, it's natural that Mexican restaurants in the West are often filled with Jaliscan cooks who migrated north. Jalisco is the homeland of mariachi’s and tequila, two things we Americans associate most closely with Mexican culture. Food from Jalisco is known for being less fiery, and more down-to-earth.
This family-owned restaurant opened its first location in Kirkland (At this time I don’t review chains, but I can hardly call Santa Fe one, with two family-operated restaurants). The building formerly housed a Sunset Boulevard Herfy’s. I never like to see a business fail, but I happily welcome Santa Fe to the Renton Highland’s restaurant offerings
A Thursday night off from cooking began with a Grande Margarita for me ($7 of ahhhh), Pacifico’s & Modelo’s ($4.50 a bottle) for the rest of our crew. We also decided to amplify our delicious chips and salsa with “Mexican Guacamole’ ($3.95). A decidedly chunky affair, of entangled ripe avocado, tomato, onion, lime, and jalapeno, surrounded by a cavalry of chips.
My husband was the only diner to steer away from Vaca on Santa Fe’s extensive menu. His Chicken Fajitas ($13.95) arrived sizzling on a cast iron skillet (always appetite-inducing), robed in red chile sauce, with steamed tortillas and rice and beans for miles. Santa Fe’s comal of pollo was generous and richly seasoned. Hub didn’t miss a beat not having beef.
Our next orders happened to follow an Asada (grilled steak) theme, Without realizing our similar choices, my friends placed orders for the Carne Asada entree ($14.95), an Asada Burrito ($9.95), and add to that, my order of Mar y Tierra($16.50.) If you’re not familiar with Mar y Tierra, it translates as ‘sea and land’ (or as we say in the states, surf and turf), a dish that combines seafood with meat. The tender beef had a delicious freshly-grilled charcoal flavor—not fancy but authentic.
I passed around my bowl of accompanying butterflied shrimp and sauteed mushrooms, plus sliced-off sections of the generous serving of seasoned flank steak. I happily shared samples of my entree with everyone, and still had leftovers for the next night. The Carne Asada Entree was enjoyed and devoured in its entirety, half the burrito went home with a happy diner.
No Spanish lessons are required to order food here, but this is not all dumbed-down, cheese-laden Americanized Mexican fare. I am a seafood lover, and the Kirkland location has some enviable dishes—Cook these here at the Renton outpost, please!
1170 NE Sunset Blvd
Renton, WA 98056
Open daily 11 am to 10 pm
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