There must be a story to the name, “Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina,” but I don’t know what it might be. The congenial restaurant in Taos Ski Valley’s tiny commercial core was owned for 20 years by Todd and Summer Harter. It has long been a popular hangout for visitors and locals. They happily dig into generous servings of the northern New Mexico version of the culinary style that many people (OK, many Anglos) lump under the category of “Mexican.” It is a daytime and early-evening place that closes at 9:00 p.m., but then again, Taos Ski Valley has never been a place for night crawlers.
Two years ago, four partners with great credibility in the area – Marcus Aragon, Tori Mendes, Rachele Griego and Rick Trujillo — bought the cantina. Aragon ad Mendes are (or were) part owners or in some way involved with of Santa Fe’s legendary Coyote Café. The cantina is unpretentious and dishes up good, flavorful food in sizable portions. It uses such local ingredients as New Mexico-raised beef and, of course, those fabulous chiles that are a staple of the local cuisine.
Until last week, I hadn’t been at Tim’s in a long time, but it’s the kind of place that immediately feels familiar and comfortable. The main level, which does come across like an upmarket cantina, is furnished with sturdy picnic-style bare wooden benches and tables finished to a high gloss. The cantina is low-key on a quiet weeknight, when just the main level is open, but it’s lively after skiing and in a busier time than January. A few locals, a couple of other visitors and I enjoyed the casual atmosphere and flavorful fare. I started out with a prickly pear margarita, while the guys mostly ordered beers.
Most of the items on the menu have such familiar names as tortilla soup, chile relleno, nachos, burritos, tacos and so on. But there are also some regional dishes like Navajo tacos and Frito pie, which Texans love, and such odd but tasty hybrids as bratwurst in a flour tortilla with green chili, cheese, onion and sauerkraut and a chile relleno/sushi hybrid called Mexican Suzie Sushi. I put the “enhanced” bratwurst in the category of “boy food” that gives me heartburn when I even think of it, but I had to the the sushi-inspired dish. As for the items found on many menus, the Stray Dog’s flavorful versions elevate them way above the run-of-the-mill Mexican/Tex-Mex repertoire.
Price check: Starters, $4-$11; soups and salads, $6.50-$12; burgers and “sandos,” $9-$11; New Mexican Specialties (range from Frito pies to steak combos), $9-$19.