Kingston’s Stockade District is quite the international dining scene these days, with Greek, Spanish, French, Italian, Continental and South American eateries in various degrees of casualness, as well as an American bistro, a noodle shop, a cool tavern, and a cafe that serves interesting fusion fare. Last summer, Santa Fe, an outpost of the Tivoli hotspot, added Mexican to the line-up. And, like its sibling, this branch serves made-from-scratch dishes using fresh, good ingredients — in other words, real Mexican, rather than the fast-food, processed, Americanized stuff that fusspots like me don’t enjoy.
Santa Fe Uptown occupies the space where Ugly Gus used to be (it had a brief fling as 11 Main Bistro, too). It’s now dressed up in rich, festive colors to match the food, and the lights are low, especially in the unisex bathroom, where I flipped the switch and found myself in pitch-blackness — apparently, the light was already on. Soft lighting in the loo is very welcome when you’re as far into your prime as I am, but a few extra watts here would be good.
Counter-clockwise from left: A festive setting, colorful drinks, tasty food and flan: ole!
The inviting Cheers-style horseshoe bar that dominates the main room is still in place. It has survived various renovations over the decades and anchors a scene that’s doubtless even livelier than in the past, considering the astonishing profusion of tequilas now on hand — nothing triggers the party spirit like a tequila tasting. There are wines and a few Mexican beers for those not hitting the hard stuff.
My friend John, a calamari fan, enthusiastically endorsed Santa Fe’s version and requested a return visit for his birthday lunch last week (they’re open for lunch only on Fridays). It was such a lovely day, we ate at an umbrella table on the little patio. The lunch menu offers all the usuals — enchiladas, tacos, burritos and such — with some lighter choices like twice-cooked gold plantains and grilled shrimp salad with a mango-chipotle sauce. The dinner menu ranges further afield, and includes several fish and vegetarian options as well as some mild food for the kids. (Nothing’s over-spicy, anyway, although you can order house-made habanero sauce to heat things up.) Complimentary tri-colored chips and fresh salsa sustain you while you decide what to have. My Puerto Angel Surfer Burrito with Baja shrimp, caramelized onions, tomatoes and white cheddar was really tasty, and John found his grilled Oaxacan taco with chicken and mole poblano not only delicious but educational, as I told him how to pronounce Oaxacan. (Wah-hah-ken, if you’re wondering.) “Wow, most people mangle that,” our cheerful waitress said, all impressed. My Spanish is limited to menu items and the word Oaxacan, but we didn’t tell her that.