Win-win rebirth in the heart of Taos
By Will Hooper
When heading north through the heart of Taos, an adobe building with a distinctly rounded front patio sits on the west side of Paseo del Pueblo Norte, opposite the Taos Community Auditorium, near the entrance to Kit Carson Park.
While the business many have known as Martyrs Steakhouse still resides in that building, new ownership has breathed local life into one of the largest downtown-area restaurants.
This revamped version of Martyrs Steakhouse is headed by chef Ky Quintanilla and owner Kimberly Armstrong. Both have been known in Taos for years for providing some of the best local flavor around while operating the Trading Post Café in Ranchos de Taos and the Bent Street Café & Deli in town.
In January 2020, the pair seized another opportunity in the center of town with the Martyrs Steakhouse sale, which they finalized and reopened last June.
With the same chef and owner operating two very popular restaurants already, opening a brand-new restaurant in the heart of town during a pandemic was no small feat, and the staff at Martyrs have been rolling with the various punches. Quintanilla explained that there were a few tough choices to be made.
The first reconciliation was the decision to shut down the Trading Post Café and turn it into a full production kitchen to help supply the new Martyrs as well as the Bent Street Deli. Armstrong noted that a lack of staff due to the COVID-19 shutdown led them to make that decision. But it might just be working in their favor.
Trading Post-Martyrs hybrid
While the closing of the Trading Post was an obvious upset to locals, Quintanilla said that Taoseños can now find similar menu items at Martyrs. He noted that almost all staff from the Trading Post chose to relocate to Martyrs, so people can still expect classic service and tastes they know and love.
“We have carried the flavors of the Trading Post predominately to Martyrs,” said Armstrong, but not ignoring the steakhouse identity the restaurant has had for so many years – its pastas, Caesar salad and the majority of desserts, including their famous Napoleon.
Luckily the community seems to be on board with the location change. “There has been a big migration of locals from the Trading Post that have followed us over here,” said Quintanilla. “The Trading Post was built of a large local clientele, almost no tourists. It is a locally kept secret, but we want it to appeal to everybody.”
As tough a decision it may have been to open in a pandemic, Quintanilla said the location was crucial.
Win-win location and menu
“We believe in location, location, location and this definitely has it,” he said. The location as well and its management team are both part of why the steakhouse has taken a turn for the better.
“Me and Kimberly are hands on,” said Quintanilla. “We don’t hire other people to run our business, we run the business. We knew it was a kind of win-win situation – and it has been!”
Quintanilla describes Martyrs as “a steakhouse that has everything. It’s an a la carte menu where you pick your sauce, you pick your vegetable and your steak and you kind of build your own plate,” he explained, and listed an endless number of decadent dishes that would make anyone’s mouth drool, including lobster mac ’n’ cheese, four different kinds of pastas, grilled cheese sandwiches and a lot more.
He also mentioned that his more experimental side comes through in the form of unique dishes like Asian tuna wraps. “We’re just putting a lot of different things out there,” he said.
One of those new things is the addition of more regional flavors to the steakhouse menu. They have a fair amount of classic Northern New Mexican cuisine, such as enchiladas, tacos and carne adovada, which is one of the more popular dishes.
Quintanilla has also brought his reputation as an award-winning chile chef. “It’s just trying to appeal to a flavor that is Northern New Mexico. Keep it spicy! You know you have to have a little spice in there,” he said.
Gratitude, trust and optimism
Both Quintanilla and Armstrong express gratitude to the local community for helping them provide a smooth transition during such a tough time. Armstrong specifically thanks their dependable employees and the local community for the willingness to do what it takes to run a successful business. “We can’t do it alone,” she said.
Armstrong noted that the hardest part for her was the decision to shut down the Trading Post. With the purchase of Martyrs already in progress, it was a tough call to make “before our world fell apart,” she joked.
Both Armstrong and Quintanilla are thankful the people in Taos have been doing their part to help keep their business safe during this vulnerable time.
“I think Taos has done really well with following the [COVID-19] rules and New Mexico in general,” said Quintanilla. This optimism and trust by the community is what Quintanilla and Armstrong said helps the most. “We’re trying to be optimistic that we’ll be able to be open at 50 percent,” said Quintanilla.
With 50 percent capacity, Martyrs can still seat 60 people at physically distanced tables within the two buildings, and they’re operating a half-full outside patio area as well as long as weather permits – though Quintanilla quickly pointed out that they have everything from electric heat lamps to “Mexican blankets we offer at night.”
Looking toward winter, Quintanilla and Armstrong have high hopes that they will be able to operate comfortably even within the confines of physical distancing.
With the encouragement and good will of the local community, a new Trading Post Café-Martyrs hybrid restaurant is reborn in the center of town, and the owners hope to keep serving up their sought-after food no matter what the world brings next.
“We’re doing way more than we anticipated and we are just so fortunate,” said Quintanilla. “We don’t take it granted at all, so we stay on our toes.”