As many Santa Feans know, Airport Road is the place to indulge in affordable Mexican food in a city better known for its New Mexican restaurants. The busy street will get you to the airport, of course, but to locals Airport conjures a thriving southside neighborhood of Mexican and other Latin American transplants. With this in mind, I set out to discover a variety of Latin American cuisines there—not just Mexican dishes but also Salvadoran and Guatemalan offerings. I was particularly on the lookout for options for vegetarians and pescatarians like me.
For breakfast, Chapin & Mex is an unassuming spot with a generous menu of Guatemalan and Mexican specialties, along with a handful of vegetarian options and some New Mexican items too. Found at the end of a small strip mall just before a McDonald’s, it’s a favorite of locals on their way to work or seeking a breakfast of comfort food. The no-frills interior is enlivened by vibrant murals: a Mexican flag welcomes guests and US and New Mexican flags adorn the wall opposite. Elsewhere, Pancho Villa rides alongside Mayan pyramids, a quetzal, and Día de los Muertos drawings, all making for a celebratory and relaxing atmosphere for a solid meal.
Chapin & Mex’s Guatemalan dishes fill an entire menu page and tend toward the meaty side, including rellenos stuffed with brisket, chicken with pepián (a traditional sauce made with ground pumpkin and sesame seeds), and beef soup. Vegetarian breakfasts include Mexican-style huevos rancheros made with New Mexican chile, huevos al gusto (a Guatemalan dish with plantains and black beans), and huevos a la mexicana. I chose the mexicana because I can’t resist potatoes with my breakfast. The eggs are scrambled with tomatoes, jalapeños, and onion, and garnished with a generous sprig of cilantro. The dish comes with refried pinto beans topped with shredded cheese, cubed potatoes sautéed with onions and chile powder, and corn tortillas. I also had to try one of their aguas frescas and went with a refreshing piña (they also offer hibiscus and melon).
In my quest for diverse vegetarian options, I visited two food trucks offering different cuisines for a take-out lunch. I was curious about Pupuseria Y Lonchera La Providencia, which sits just past the spot where Airport becomes Rodeo Road, so I made that my first stop. When I went, the truck had recently reopened after the owners’ monthlong vacation to their home city of San Salvador.
I found La Providencia to be a solid spot for vegetarians, with four types of veggie pupusas. (For those unfamiliar, a pupusa is a thick, stuffed masa cake.) I ordered one with beans and cheese and another with squash and cheese from two friendly women who appeared to run the place. I also tried the yuca fries, which came as a larger dish to share, with big pieces of fried yuca topped with cabbage and pickled onions. (Vegetarians should request the fries sin carne, since the regular comes with chicharrones.) Their pupusas are small, so I’d suggest three for a meal, and they’re served with a refreshing side of coleslaw that has a slight bite to it. A bright, welcoming Salvadoran blue along the brown stretch of Rodeo, Pupuseria Y Lonchera La Providencia has been in business for six years and is sure to continue to thrive!
The second truck I visited is one of myriad choices for Mexican food trucks. I chose El Queretano for their vegetarian options and location near El Paisano supermarket, since I always need fresh tortillas. The owner and chef hails from Zacatlán, and when I spoke in my broken Spanish with him and a Guatemalan woman working there that day, I learned the truck has been in business for nearly five years. I requested meat-free versions of their dishes, and they were very accommodating—most of El Queretano’s offerings can be made without meat if you ask.
For a dish less widely available than tacos or tortas, I recommend the sopes. Like a tostada, a sope is made with corn masa and fried, but it’s thick and soft, more similar in consistency to a pupusa than a crispy tortilla. My sope was piled high with refried beans, tomato, peppers, onion, lettuce, avocado, and (I think) chopped nopal, or prickly pear cactus. I also tried a tasty veggie taco, its flavor drawn from the grilled onion, peppers, tomato, and nopal, as well as white cheese. My order came with a side of hot sauce and Spanish rice.
For Mexican seafood, I stopped in to local favorite Puerto Peñasco. While the owner is from Chihuahua, the cuisine is inspired by the coastal region near Baja, as the name suggests. The restaurant’s interior feels welcoming, with Mexican radio playing, deep blue seats, and oceanic-themed decorations. The menu is huge and the portions generous. If you go, I suggest bringing others along to share dishes. I went with my mom, who’s been a fan of the place for years.
The ceviche tostadas are a perfect starter—there are three of them, with a choice of various types of fish. We ordered simple pescado, or white fish. The crispy corn tortillas are served with a thin layer of crema, chunks of cool tilapia preserved in lime and salt, chopped tomato, onion, cucumber, and cilantro, all topped off with an avocado slice. It’s easy to imagine being on a beach with fresh tropical food like this.
Choosing a main dish is a challenge when the shrimp options alone take up half a page, but we settled on sharing the Camarones Rancheros. The dish offers a nice medium level of spiciness, primarily from the jalapeño, but for extra heat on any dish, a variety of bottled hot sauces are available (those who love heat might go for a spicier dish). The shrimp is sautéed in a rich tomato-based sauce with onion, corn, and sliced jalapeños, and is served, as most of the restaurant’s main dishes are, with fries, white rice, and lettuce and tomato. Make sure to save some of the gratis tortilla chips on the table for dipping in that precious sauce! And stop in to Panaderia Y Tortilleria Sani just across the parking lot afterward for freshly baked goods.
Sure, there are countless spots in Santa Fe where you can sample great food, and, as everywhere, vegetarian offerings are growing. But if Latin American is what you seek, Airport’s got your ticket. Next time you’re in Santa Fe, do as the locals do, and head south.
Aria Chiodo originally hails from Taos, and after fifteen years in New York City, she is back in New Mexico, living in Santa Fe. In addition to food writing, she writes film and book reviews, personal and travel essays, and short stories.