A Q & A with Executive Chef Nathan Mayes

Signature cocktail, the Paloma.

As soon as I entered Paloma for the first time I started planning for my birthday. The new restaurant’s superbly curated style, spirits, and sophisticated Mexican-inspired cuisine, has instantly made it one of the most exciting dinner spots in Santa Fe. Despite being relatively small, the dining room is bright, open, and full of pops of color from modern and traditional Mexican décor. A chic bar stands in front of an exposed brick wall and a private, eight-seat corner booth adorned with tangerine pillows perfectly accommodates a festive dinner with friends. While many Santa Fe restaurants are beautiful and elegant, Paloma feels distinctly fun. The menu echoes that sense of playfulness with street food favorites (think elotes, lamb barbacoa tacos, sea bass ceviche) and vibrant Mexican and Mexican-inspired cocktails, for example, the Negroni Oaxaca—Vida mezcal, Campari, Punt e Mes—as well as a top-notch version of their namesake. Other standout dishes include the bone marrow tostadas served with onion mermelda; mushroom sopecitos (prepared with my favorite Mexican ingredient, huitlacoche); and the spicy roast chicken with jalapeno calabacitas, bacon, and mole verde. Owner Marja Martin, Executive Chef Nathan Mayes, and general manager Joe Haggard are clearly dedicated to both style and substance as both abound in this South Guadalupe Street eatery.

Guadalupe Smash with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, whole citrus, and piloncillo.

Duck carnitas with butter lettuce, pineapple, and achiote.

Salsa Trio

We recently caught up with Chef Mayes to find out more about his team’s vision.

Can you tell us a bit about the concept for Paloma, in terms of cuisine and atmosphere?

The vision for Paloma is to be classic and contemporary with the design and the menu. Authentically unauthentic. We strive to be casually refined in a vibrant unfussy atmosphere. We would like to fill the gap between a fine dining restaurant and a taco truck. Mexican-inspired food made from scratch at a price point that allows us to be a once (or twice) a week restaurant. A lovely place to get a margarita and a taco or to have a full on meal with shared sides and a bottle of wine.

I heard your team traveled to Mexico earlier this year for inspiration. What did you bring back?

Marja went to Oaxaca, while I went to Mexico City and Tulum. Marja and I are both no stranger to Mexico. I often visited the border growing up in Texas with my father and Marja has been multiple times and lived there before. The trip was for inspiration and sourcing of a lot of the art and design of the restaurant as well as the flavors for the menu. Marja purchased a lot of the textiles and decor that are on our wall from Oaxaca.

What is your favorite item on the menu?

My favorite item is probably the esquites. The simplicity and integrity is what make it shine. It’s fresh local sweet corn from Schwebach farms in Moriarty, fire roasted and then cut off the cob, tossed with homemade garlic mayo, cotija cheese, lime juice, chile, pequín, and our garden-grown epazote. It highlights an awesome local product in a fun and classic street snack. And it’s $6. We are gonna have a lot of sad people when corn season ends.

Bone Marrow Tostadas with salsa morita and onion mermelada.

Lamb Barbacoa tacos with cucumber lime, cotija, and cilantro crema.

What has the community reception been like so far?

The community has been amazingly supportive through our first month. I am happy about the different age groups who come in. We had the Cohen brothers and James Franco in on our first Monday and it was awesome to see the table having a good time. Very proud of our local crowd that we see dining and coming back.

What are Paloma’s plans for the near future?

Brunch is on the horizon (end of September/early October) and we’re working on a family-style dinner for Sundays, highlighting seasonal and local ingredients. We also have plans to sell our tortillas to the public in the coming months.

What would you like edible readers to know about Paloma?

I want edible readers to know that this is a Mexican inspired restaurant and we don’t take ourselves too seriously as long as we stay authentic in our sourcing and flavor profiles. I also want the readers to know that we make our corn tortillas and chips everyday with whole non-GMO landrace corn from Oaxaca. We cook the whole corn at night, grind the masa in the morning, and then make tortillas with our machine we purchased from Mexico. No Maseca or corn flour here. I buy through a company called Masienda who supplies us with an amazing product. I met the owner Jorge working at Blue Hill in NYC.

401 S. Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Candolin Cook is a historian, writer, editor, and former co-editor of edible New Mexico. She recently received her doctorate in history from the University of New Mexico and is working on her first book.