News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
EATS: Mateo’s: A Bite Of Santa Fe
BY KURT RABIN / THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Friends of ours didn’t get quite the reaction they were seeking recently when they told my wife and me about a great, new Mexican restaurant they’d discovered. We thought they were enthusing over yet another of those assembly-line burrito parlors. Not a new Mexican place, they clarified, but a “New Mexican” place—Mateo’s Santa Fe Café—in Dumfries, about three miles off Interstate 95.
A favorite of ours, Southwestern food is a burro of a different color. The cuisine of New Mexico—the land of blue corn tortillas, posole (hominy stew) and sopaipillas (fried pastry)—is a blend of Spanish, Mexican and Pueblo Indian influences. A couple of years ago we spent a week in Santa Fe, where we never came close to having a bad meal or a bland one, for that matter.
The first question you’re met with at a New Mexican eatery, even before “Table or booth?” is “Red or green?”—referring to red or green chile sauce. If you respond, “Christmas,” it means “Give me both.” New Mexican chiles, indescribably richer and smokier in flavor than most others, are sometimes known as Hatch chiles for the Southern town most famous for their harvest. The sauces they inspire find their way onto foods from omelets to burgers, and everything in between.
Matthew Valdez, chef–owner of Mateo’s, which celebrates 10 years in business this summer, knows his reds from his greens. A native of New Mexico, he’s done a fine job of re-creating the Santa Fe experience in his establishment by hanging Native American art on its stucco walls, playing flamenco guitar music on the sound system and scattering teal- and cayenne-colored throw pillows throughout.
Our server, Amy, suggested we start off with sangria, it being Wednesday and, thus, half-price wine night. It was hard to argue with that logic. Complimentary thin, crispy chips and piquant salsa augured well for the rest of the meal. Also, at Amy’s urging, we ordered queso fondido—mozzarella cheese melted with chorizo and fresh-roasted ancho-chile peppers, served with warm flour tortillas—that alone was worth the trip.
For entrées, we enjoyed tequila-marinated chicken—a chicken breast in a sweet cilantro–tequila sauce, along with homemade mashed potatoes and sautéed fresh vegetables—and a platter of flautas (think taquitos), chicken and Jack cheese rolled in corn tortillas, flash-fried and served with guacamole, pinto beans and rice.
The dishes, with their vivid colors and clean and simple presentations, looked great and tasted even better. Though we’d somehow both managed to order things that obviated the red-or-green question, we couldn’t have been more pleased with Mateo’s service, ambience and food. However, the proof of the pudding would be their sopaipillas (which means “bread soaked in oil” and not “pillows” as some would have it). We each ordered one and shared a tres leches cake, a sponge cake soaked in condensed, evaporated and whole milk. Topped with caramel sauce, the tres leches was a keeper. The square-shaped sopaipillas, though tasty, were a little on the heavy side, more akin to Indian fry bread than the ineffably light, pillowy, triangle-shaped confections we’d become accustomed to in the Land of Enchantment.
Even if the most evocative pillows at this Santa Fe-style eatery are of the decorative variety, it’s still great to know we can satisfy our craving for fresh, flavorful New Mexican food any time we want—at Mateo’s—where it’s “Christmas” every day of the year!
What: Mateo’s Santa Fe Café
Address: 5081 Waterway Drive, Dumfries
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Info: 703/670-7477; mateossantafecafe.net
Hours: Monday: closed; Tuesday–Thursday: 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sunday: 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
Prices: Soup and starters: $4–$10.90; Entrées: $10–$20; Kids menu: $6; Beer, wine and mixed drinks available
The Scoop: Family-friendly, good service, nice ambience and tasty from-scratch New Mexican food, about 35 minutes from Fredericksburg.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000 | email@example.com