If you read what I write enough, it should come as no surprise to you that I have a strong bias toward breakfast. Well, broths and breakfast, but either done well are kind of a surefire way to win me over. And Café Santa Rosa has me on both fronts.
The small Native American restaurant, right near the nexus of where the I-10 armpits the I-19, is nothing too fancy—pretty standard in terms of a casual dining room specializing in breakfast and lunch, but with small touches to distinguish it like hand-woven baskets depicting the I'itoi or one with the name Gonzales—the family who runs the joint.
The restaurant offers breakfast and lunch menus Tuesday through Sunday, and you can go any of those days. But if you want the best of what Santa Rosa has on deck, you're going to want to clear your Sunday morning schedule.
Sundays at Santa Rosa means menudo, as it does at many other local eateries. However, Santa Rosa's menudo ($6.50 for a small bowl, $7.25 for a large) is truly something special. Serving both red and white varieties, the hominy-based soup is simple, letting the basic elements shine without too much complication. Of the two, the white menudo in particular offers a smooth, yet skillfully made, lightly garlicky broth base on which to serve up tender hominy and tripe. With a little lemon, onion and cilantro, it becomes a bowl of pure comfort and beauty—the kind of thing you could eat even deep in the throes of a nasty hangover and it'd likely fix you right up.
If you need something a little heartier to start your morning, Santa Rosa's burros and combo plates should do the trick. Homemade vinegary chorizo and tender corned beef can be served as burros (which are a little cheaper than the plates) or on combo plates ($6.50-$9.50) with eggs cooked as you like them, or scrambled with your meat of choice and crispy potatoes to make a substantial hash. Either way, you get your choice of a freshly made, chewy frybread popover or a massive handmade flour tortilla and a side of refried beans. Of course, Santa Rosa is a place for frybread, but, to quote my server, they "make the tortillas fresh every day, so yeah, they're good."
With the double team of fantastic breakfast combo plates and steamy bowls of menudo, you'll find a full dining room on Sundays, and when it's busy the service shines. Fast, friendly and efficient, food makes it to the dining room quickly with near constant coffee refills. During lunch, however, the service is a little slower and you may need to remind your server more than once for a glass of water or a bottle of salsa. Even on the slower days, the servers are still friendly enough to where you'll overlook those flaws.
Apart from that, lunch offerings are about what you'd expect from a frybread joint: green and red chili, Indian tacos and burros. Santa Rosa also offers enchiladas, tostadas and quesadillas. Unique options include a taco burro ($7.50), a squash and cheese burro ($7), potato and ground beef tacos ($9.99) and an Indian burger ($10.25) that's kind of like if an Indian taco and a cheeseburger had a baby, complete with green chili and cheese on top and sandwiched between frybread.
While the squash burro has good texture and is certainly filling enough, it needs a bit more seasoning to stand out—plus some more straining so the burrito wasn't quite so drippy.
The red chili at Santa Rosa offers plenty of thick-cut carne cubes, but the sauce was a bit more on the bland side, and if you choose to get it with all the beans, cheese, lettuce and tomato that come with an Indian taco ($9.75), the subtle red chili is overpowered almost entirely.
Those potato and beef tacos, though, are a guilty pleasure dish you'll come back for time and time again. Smashed potatoes mixes with seasoned ground beef and lettuce, tomato and cheese on top, all packed in a crispy fried shell. It's crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside with just enough fresh flavor from the veggies so you don't feel too bad about the rest of it. Served with a side of those velvety house refried beans, the plate of three tacos is almost a meal and then some.
So if you aren't going to Café Santa Rosa for the menudo or the stick-to-your-ribs breakfast combo plates, you'll still find expertly executed fresh frybread, handmade tortillas and more to satisfy. The food is simple, honest and all clearly scratch made with care, despite the minor qualms found with seasoning on certain dishes. Just don't forget to finish up with a honey, powdered sugar or chocolate topped frybread for dessert.