“If you don’t understand the taste of New Mexico, then you need to try it, because it’s different and ... more flavorful than Tex-Mex by far,” Cemer said.
Cemer said the restaurant’s original owner, Tyler Torres, opened Santa Fe Flats in 2004. Torres’ grandmother moved to New Mexico from Spain, and the menu is inspired by her recipes, Cemer said.
Cemer and his wife, Sheila, took ownership of Santa Fe Flats in April 2017. Since then, they have worked on trimming less popular items off the menu while continuing to serve the traditional recipes.
Salvador Maruri—the restaurant’s back-of-house manager and head chef—started working at Santa Fe Flats about six months after it opened. Maruri said the recipes have largely remained the same.
In addition to the use of New Mexico chilies, New Mexican cuisine differs from Tex-Mex in other ways. While Tex-Mex enchiladas are served rolled up, New Mexican enchiladas are served flat, layered and traditionally topped with a fried egg.
“Our chile rellenos are not made with poblano [peppers] either; it’s either Anaheim or Hatch, depending on what is in season,” Cemer said.
The restaurant’s decor also reflects its heritage. Pottery lines the shelves, and a large mural of the adobe buildings in Taos Pueblo—a Native American community—is painted on another wall.
Cemer said he plans on rolling out a new bar-only snack menu—including quesadillas and tacos—and extending bar hours in the coming months.
“We want to improve things here or there, but we want to carry on the legacy of the Torres family,” Cemer said.
Santa Fe Flats, New Mex Grille
21542 Hwy. 249, Ste. 5, Houston
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.- 9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Correction: A previous version of this article and the print edition incorrectly identified the prices for the pictured menu items. The story has been updated to reflect the correct prices: Christmas enchiladas ($14), red enchilada ($12.99), posole ($8.50/cup, $12/bowl).