Santo is the restaurant that epitomizes “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
From the outside, it’s far from flashy. It’s located in a strip mall, at 1265 Alpine Ave. north of downtown, next to a grocery store and a Noodles and Co. While the shady patio is enticing, it’s no adequate teaser for what awaits indoors.
Inside, Santo is clearly a step above the typical chains you’d find in a strip mall, yet it remains homey and casual. You’ll see diners in shorts and T-shirts, a long red booth, simple wooden tables and white, sparsely decorated walls.
The decor centers around a collection of carved, wooden New Mexico-style saints, or Santos. Each symbolizes something different and was hand-carved out of fence posts by a famous Santero, Leonardo Salazar, of Taos. The sculptures are a bit raw, using cedar and barbed wire, yet artistically profound, carefully created and intention. For example, you may sit near San Pascual, the patron saint of cooks and kitchens, or San Francis, the patron saint of animals and children, who cared for the poor and sick and loved all creations.
Ah. The closer you look, the more you start to see Santo for what it truly is.
A focused, careful creativity that wipes away all unnecessary static, shining a clear spotlight on the food, is what makes Santo one of Boulder’s best, new restaurants.
This should come as no surprise, as Santo was founded by award-winning, celebrity chef Hosea Rosenberg — who hails from Taos, New Mexico. The restaurant specializes in a local, organic, elevated spin on traditional Northern New Mexico fare.
Rosenberg earned culinary fame when he won Bravo’s “Top Chef,” season five in 2009. He was also a guest chef at the James Beard House in New York City, a rare honor.
Today, Santo is Rosenberg’s third business in Boulder. He also runs Blackbelly and Blackbelly Butcher.
Turn on Your Taste Buds
Santo’s menu is a blend of classic, New Mexican food, but with a Boulder approach, regional spices and local techniques.
“Our food can be unabashedly spicy, but we are often at the mercy of the heat level variance by batch of the New Mexico chiles we bring in fresh and dried,” says Lauren Feder Rosenberg, spokesperson for the restaurant.
Menu items include the popular wood-oven-fired half-chicken with mole rojo; a mezcal and citrus-cured salmon tostada; red chile posole; heirloom blue corn enchiladas; and green chile apple pie for dessert. Characteristic dishes here tend to be protein-forward, but with unexpected adds. Like an organic, sushi-grade ora king salmon — served with green chile soubise. (Yes, you really can put green chile on everything.)
Another surprise is the 7X Wagyu bavette steak, served with huitlacoche. Don’t feel out of the loop if you’ve never heard of huitlacoche; it’s a rare, black fungus that grows on corn that provides a unique, earthy, mushroom-reminiscent flavor. It’s considered a delicacy. And compliments the juicy steak better than any standard mushroom topping could.
An appetizer to drool for is the smoked pork belly sopes, with meat from the local McDonald Farm and fresh masa cake, freshly milled from Boulder-based T/ACO.
Of course, none of this would be complete without a good marg. And Santo serves one of the freshest, most well-balanced, coin-style margs in the city, plus one of the biggest mezcal selections in the state. The house margarita is excellent as is, but for something special, add some Grove Street Alchemy orange liqueur (made in Denver out of hand-zested oranges, and tasty enough to sip on its own).
Want something different than a margarita? The Kiva is right up there, made with Avion “Santo Select” Reposado, grapefruit, cardamom simple syrup, lime and bitters.
Santo also recently launched a new brunch program, with innovating items like a green chile-cheddar biscuit served with bacon butter and apricot-mezcal jam; blue corn atole pancakes; and even housemade Bizcochitos (traditional Anisette cookies). The mimosa bucket (yes, bucket), served with your choice of bubbly and two different organic juices, is the metaphorical big bow on your perfect Boulder brunch.
Here’s an off-the-menu brunch beverage tip: Ask for the nitro cold brew coffee mixed with cinnamon mezcal and topped with whipped cream, or a shot of housemade espresso-infused tequila.
Unlike many other top-end dining establishments, Santo’s portions are more than generous, and the average dinner price per person is reasonable, at around $30 per person, including drinks. Entrees start at just $16 (for crispy folded tacos or a smashed green chile cheeseburger).
Finally, ethnically authentic, high-end food for good prices in a comfortable environment that welcomes you to come as you are — and will undoubtedly send you home full and happy.
New Mexican Vs. Mexican Food
New Mexican food is not the same as Mexican food. In fact, it has more of a Spanish influence than Mexican.
Chiles are the big ingredient in New Mexico. Green or red chile is a staple with pretty much every meal.