To us, the perfect American breakfast joint has three elements: choice comfort food, a long history, and lots of regulars. Tia Sophia's in Santa Fe meets all those requirements and then some. You see, they also lay claim to being the unofficial creator of the breakfast burrito, which makes it a destination for breakfast lovers and a must-stop on my latest trip to Santa Fe.
The first thing you notice about Santa Fe are the skies. They're so blue they look painted and they lead me to the Plaza, with its geometry of adobe buildings. There's turquoise for sale in every other window and storytellers who silently wave as I split from the crowds and head down a side street to the mecca of New Mexican breakfast.
I am with Cynthia Delgado, who comes from a long line of Santa Feans, and who seems to know everyone. Pleasantries are exchanged along with smiles and hugs as we're escorted to our diner-style table in the back. The cafe buzzes with activity. Banquettes are filled with families and couples sipping mugs of coffee and perusing the yellow laminated menu that warns "Not Responsible for too HOT Chili."
The decor is a homey, eclectic mishmash that somehow works. Dried chiles hang alongside fiesta dresses; framed posters of local events line the walls; and mobiles of cellophane stars and stripes are tied to ceiling fans. No surprise that my favorite touch is the children's book collection for restless little ones.
The aroma of green chili, baked cheese, and beans is overwhelming and I'm tempted to steal another diner's dish when she isn't looking. Our waitress Cathy comes over in the nick of time. She is friendly with dark curly hair and a distinguished face ready for the camera. But she refuses to be photographed. Ever. "Oh honey, not even after two shots of tequila, no, no" and so I return back to the menu. There's carne adovada, a chili-braised pork dish. A quesadilla with melted cheese, bacon, scrambled eggs and a dollop of guacamole. The Atrisco Plate, the owner's personal favorite and served with two eggs over medium, a bowl of Green Chili Stew, and tortillas on the side. All tempting but I'm laser-focused on that breakfast burrito.
"New Mexicans have been putting food in tortillas for breakfast forever", Nick Maryol, the founder's son and current owner points out, "We were just the first to put it on a menu." Tia Sophia's opened in 1975 as a place where locals could come, tell stories, and eat old fashioned honest food, with Southwestern flair. Their renowned green chili recipe was handed down through generations of local families until it resulted in the sought-after Green Chili Stew that's on the menu today.
Nick's father opened Tia Sophia's to create a place where delicious New Mexican home cooking was served with a smile and at affordable prices. And the cafe is like that to this day. There's a framed photo on the wall of a distinguished-looking man that's a memorial to a beloved and much-missed frequent customer. Cynthia tells me it's her uncle, Dicky Delgado, and that he ate here everyday for years. "Dicky represents a bygone America to me", Nick Maryol says, "He was a Humphrey Bogart type who lied about his age to fight in WWII. He had the class to fight the Japanese and then later forgive them". Nick is a Japanophile so they spent many hours discussing Asian culture. Another fan, Pat Casey, a local lawyer, eats there twice a day. Every day. One time when it was too busy for Casey to be seated right away, he pulled up a chair to the front counter near the register and ordered away.
My breakfast burrito arrives. It is so beautiful that I take a mini moment of silence and then another moment to snap a picture. A fresh flour tortilla is wrapped around hash browns and sausage and a sunny-side up egg is balanced on top. It's then smothered in melted cheese and green chili sauce. Breakfast burrito perfection, if you ask me.
I leave the joint beyond full and happy and realize the experience is not just the food but also the charm and friendly atmosphere. Tia Sophia's is one of those special places that makes you want to become a local just so you can mingle with everyone and so you can enjoy that burrito on the regular. Until that happens, I'll just have to stop by whenever I'm in town.
210 West San Francisco Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Prices range from $7.75 - $11.95 for most entrees
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Opening photo by Daniel Nadelbach