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SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
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The Santa Fe Airport Grill
Santa Fe, NM
By Marc Zorn

I’m usually skeptical when another pilot recommends an airport restaurant. If an airport has ramp space, a bathroom, and anything more than a vending machine, you might very well get a recommendation from a pilot. So, I didn’t get my hopes up too high when a pilot friend went on and on about how great The Santa Fe Airport Grill was. I just made a mental note to visit it to find out for myself. It doesn’t take much of an excuse to get me to fly somewhere.

Northern New Mexico has some beautiful scenery, especially in the light at the beginning or ending of a day. In the summertime, the desert can heat up early to cause some turbulent conditions for a rather sporty ride. I flew from Albuquerque to Santa Fe in the early morning in late September, so the smooth air and long shadows over the mountains, desert mesas, and the Rio Grande made for a spectacular, albeit short, trip.

After landing, the ground controller had me taxi right up to the ramp next to the newly renovated adobe-style terminal building. The architecture of the terminal was the quintessential Southwestern style, complete with beautiful sculptures, heavy wood and leather furniture, and tiled floors that are identified so much with Santa Fe. I passed the small ticket counters just as a boarding announcement for a commuter flight echoed throughout the hall. I felt like I had stepped into a movie from the golden era of aviation.

As I entered the newly-remodeled Santa Fe Airport Grill, the smell from the pinon coffee and roasted green chile immediately told me that this was no typical airport restaurant. I could tell I was in for a treat. Glancing at the menu, I saw that they had a very full selection of both breakfast and lunchtime fare, with lots of local accents alongside the standards. They also had a breakfast plate special, but I ordered the breakfast burrito with green chile and a pinon coffee.

I then found a table near the windows facing the ramp and runway in a corner where I could either watch the planes land and take off, or look around the restaurant a little. The morning was just a little too cold to sit on the patio, but I would definitely remember it for a warmer day.

The place was obviously well-suited for small waves of commuter passengers that inevitably come through. They have a small gift shop area in the restaurant for those who need some of that pinon coffee to brew at home, a kitchen magnet with chiles or a picture of Santa Fe, an oven mitt, or a t-shirt. I could tell that the restaurant must get very busy at times. During this particular visit, though, there were only a few flight crew members chatting nearby and another private pilot that I saw walk in just ahead of me. I flew in during the week, so there were fewer people than any weekend day.

When my food came, I understood why my friend was so enthusiastic. The food was excellent, and not just compared to restaurants at airports. The breakfast burrito was really a well-balanced mix of beans, eggs, bacon, green chile, and was topped with cheddar and jack cheese. Yum!
On subsequent trips, I’ve had various other dishes, and have been pleasantly surprised each time. For breakfast I’d also suggest the Southwest breakfast plate. For lunch, I dare say the green chile hamburgers rank up there with restaurants anywhere in New Mexico. Considering how particular New Mexicans are about their green chile, that’s saying a lot.

The menu has a wide selection that ranges from safe standards to dishes with a distinct southwestern flair that is for the more adventurous, like me. The service is fast and very friendly. The prices are aren’t bad (especially for the Santa Fe area). And, the atmosphere is classic and classy. As someone who has sampled quite a number of restaurants across the Southwest, The Santa Fe Airport Grill is now on my short list of favorites for fly-in dining.

The Santa Fe Airport Grill is open daily from 8:00 am to about 3:30 pm serving breakfast and lunch. They also offer a catering service for private flights. Call 505-471-7412 or 471-5227 for more information.

Marc Zorn is president of the New Mexico Pilots Association, as well as a frequent eater.

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