I’m a planner, a worrier, a meticulous researcher. I’m the friend who can never decide where to eat or what to order because making the “right” choice feels like too much pressure.
So when it comes to dining out, I stalk social media and pore over menus. I ask pretty much everyone I meet for their food recommendations. You’d be hard pressed to find me strolling into a place that’s tailor made for impulse decision-makers.
And yet, there I was on a Saturday afternoon: stepping into Santa Fe’s food hall for the first time without so much as a game plan.
This is the story of how I learned to stop worrying and embrace Chomp.
Chomp opened about a year ago in the striking former Talin Market space on Cerrillos Road, promising a mix of artisan retail, freshly prepared culinary items, and a bar serving wine, beer and cocktails. Several vendors have come and gone as the pandemic has trudged on, and the current labor shortage has created staffing orders that have led to temporary closures, Chomp owner Ken Joseph says.
Different components of the food hall also have their own hours. When I arrived on this particular afternoon, Bottega del Vino, the hall’s focal-point bar, was up and running, as were the three occupied food and drink purveyors and the Artisan’s Bottega, which sells imported foods from Italy and other items.
But the Marketplace — a series of shelves housing a thoughtful array of edible and artisan goods — was closed. I snuck a peek and built a mental wishlist that includes a few gourmet caramel sauces, chocolate sauces or mustards from Rio Rancho-based Sweet & Saucy and a frozen cut or three from Trilogy Beef in Moriarty. The refrigerated case dedicated to Picnic Catering & Events, which offers beautiful cheese and charcuterie plates and grab-and-go cups, was sadly bare, but founder Lauren Stutzman tells me she’ll be ramping up those offerings as the holidays approach (check out @picnic_nm on Instagram for updates). You can place an advance order for pickup there, too, and doing so is definitely on my Santa Fe culinary bucket list.
The absences here and there around the cavernous, modern space only made the occupied spaces more of a delightful discovery. Chomp has an impromptu, collaborative vibe where it feels like anything might materialize. I started with a stop at the bar, a long high table backlit by the bank of showroom-style windows facing Cerrillos Road and lined with hightop silver chairs. The bartender steered me toward the Tutto Bene ($8), an Italian limeade with Aperol, fresh lime and Topo Chico. Joseph recommends the Ave Maria bloody mary ($9), which features a housemade ancho chile allspice. In addition to the cocktails, there’s a careful curation of wines by the glass and bottle, beer including New Mexico selections, and sangria from New Mexico Hard Cider, whose taproom is in the same complex as Chomp.
Next to the bar looms a giant pizza oven with a “Coming soon!” sign taped to the front — Joseph says the permit has been secured, which means hot pies can’t be too far away.
I took a spin through Chomp to get the lay of the land. At the far end, a door opens to Ohori’s, effectively creating another option for thirsty patrons. The back stall is occupied by Dragonfly Teahouse, which relocated from Santa Fe Place mall after the pandemic began. Owner Beverly Crespin has kept her dedication to classic and inventive tea drinks, but added a charming menu of breakfast bagels and pastries, as well as sandwiches, salads, wraps and more.
I passed by the currently vacant spaces occupied by Jambo and the owner of Golden Land Cafe, whose menu here includes noodle and teriyaki bowls and soups, and stopped in at the two stalls nearest the bar.
Chef Nath — or Kimnath Nou, owner of Nath’s Inspired Khmer Cuisine — has a heady reputation among the city’s food lovers. She’s taken multiple prizes at the annual Souper Bowl, a fundraiser for The Food Depot, for her complex, tangy soups. A native of Cambodia, Nath draws inspiration from her Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese heritage, among other reference points, to produce a menu that ranges from pad thai and turmeric noodles to lemongrass turmeric Scottish salmon and beef lok lak.
Predictably overwhelmed by my options, I ordered the vegetarian spring rolls ($7), which were sliced into thin discs that exposed the bright array of lettuce, cabbage and carrot inside like a half-dozen tiny pieces of art. The tom yum soup ($9 for 8 ounces) is a study in nuance, with bright lemongrass broth laced with galangal, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind and mild red chile with a hint of coconut milk and packed with vegetables. Finally, I tried the green curry with tofu ($19, $22 with the tofu), a seriously spicy and deeply flavored coconut curry with roasted eggplant, pineapple chunks, sweet Thai basil and a host of other vegetables, served with rice.
In the stall next door, relative newcomer Serum Juice Bar offers an inventive range of organic juices, smoothies and bowls (with juice cleanse options on the near horizon). I was told the Blue Colada smoothie ($10.50 for 16 ounces, $14 for 24) has been a recent favorite, with pineapple, banana, chia seeds, blue spirulina, coconut milk and vanilla coconut yogurt.
Recently popular, though, has been A Cure for the Blues ($8.75 for 12 ounces, $10.50 for 16 and $16 for 24), so that’s what I went for. The tart, sweet juice blend was summer in a cup: blueberries, cucumber, Granny Smith apples and lemon.
While waiting on my order from Chef Nath’s, I took my drink out through the sliding glass doors to the lovely, secluded courtyard just outside. With juice in hand, it felt impossible to imagine that Cerrillos was just a few feet away or that winter weather could return anytime soon.
The bar area had started to fill up as I finished up my tour of Chomp. A man in a serape, cowboy hat and fringed boots nursed a beer at one table near a cluster of older patrons sharing a bottle of wine, while a casually chic couple settled in for a drink. The assemblage of customers felt quintessentially Santa Fe, and Chomp itself does, too: eclectic, eye-catching, ever-changing. You might not know what to expect, but sometimes there’s great rewards in letting yourself be surprised.