Southwest Diner is, to a minor degree, amazing. Tucked into an old building a couple of blocks east of McCausland, in a neighborhood off St. Louis eaters' radar, it draws the eye with a large blue cactus-shaped sign. Inside showcases a wall of marble tile that was there when they moved in. The fact that the marble is the color of weathered adobe is purely fortuitous.
But don't let the marble fool you. The word "diner" is a deliberate choice. Open only for breakfast and lunch, with both meals served at any hour, its food became familiar to some from their appearances last year at Tower Grove Farmers' Market. And it's definitely New Mexican food. That's the state of New Mexico, not some nuevo-concepty thing.
To begin with, the coffee is too good for a diner, but I'm certainly not complaining about that. It's definitely not the boiled-and-sour stuff that's ruined many an otherwise-decent breakfast. And lest the sensitive tongue (or stomach) hesitate, yes, there are choices available that don't involve the chile pepper so intrinsic to New Mexican cuisine. However, that's not our focus here; it'll have to wait for other visits.
Hard, certainly, to pass up chorizo gravy and biscuits, but huevos rancheros gave a good chance to try several things at once. The corn tortilla was topped with a generous slather of refried beans, very good, full of good flavors like cumin, then two over-easy eggs (my option), and served Christmas-style, which is to say with both red and green chile sauces. As is nearly always the case, the green chile was considerably spicier. But for once, it was the red that charmed. For those who have always rolled their eyes at descriptions of the flavors of a particular chile pepper beyond hot-n-spicy, here is your introduction. The flavors in this sauce, layers of vegetal and fruity components are fascinating. The breakfast potatoes, individually fried chunks rather than a pan-fried patty, are a swell way to mop up the sauce. As is traditional, it's the diner's choice: red chile sauce, green chile sauce, or both, on any of the sauced dishes.
If there's a real signature dish to New Mexican food, it would have to be the green chile cheeseburger, a mouthwatering concept if ever one existed. SwD's version is gooey and messy and absolutely delicious, needing no more lily-gilding than the other half of the bun. House fries come alongside, better than average but mainly useful for swiping up bits of another diner's red sauce.
The build-your-own burrito held a ground beef filling with shredded lettuce and sour cream, the beef seasoned with more of that red sauce. Almost as fat as a forearm, it was clearly not meant to be picked up and eaten au naturel. More of the refried pinto beans and some rice that also escaped the usual cliches with a tomatoey component and what seemed like onion and garlic rode shotgun on the plate.
The lemon icebox pie we'd hoped for, having seen it on a board as we entered, was sold out by the time we got to dessert, so peach pie it was. Fresh, local peaches in this best of all peach years, but the pie had been refrigerated. That's a necessity from the standpoint of the health department regulations, we're sure, but it surely assassinates any hope for good pie crust. Sigh....
Aside from the pie crust, the sticking point here can be service. Very pleasant, to be sure, but some of the servers don't seem to be very experienced, and the result is disorganization when things get busy, plus a lot of "Who gets the omelet?" that results from someone trying to help out a server who's in the weeds. (Restaurant lingo = swamped.) We've heard stories of lines out the door, but visits mid-morning or early week had plenty of open seats. And one more thing: That lovely marble wall means it can get noisy, if that's a concern.
Still, the food is a pleasure.
6803 Southwest Avenue
(or Facebook, which has more info)
Breakfast and Lunch daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor