I’m not quite sure how Ravi discovered the existence of Santa Fe...I know he was googling for a new place to try on our date this past Saturday, but I’m still curious what combination of words led him to a Tex Mex restaurant on an old-school Riverboat out of a Mark Twain novel moored at a pier in Singapore. I am sure, however, that I’m thrilled that he did.
Finding good Western food in Singapore is often a challenge. There are two types of Western food–the imported chain (McDonalds, Popeyes, Applebees, Outback, etc) and the local attempts at Western Food. The chains, with the exception of McDonalds, Outback, Chili’s, and possibly Burger King are worse than their American counterparts…they use lower quality ingredients or make poor choices when substituting ingredients they can’t get here (for example at KFC, good luck finding white meat, and the local Applebees is far more deserving of the nickname “Crapapplebees” than any of the US ones I called that). Friday’s, in a shocking twist, is actually better. But all of them have menus that are just different enough that you’ll go to them for a taste of home only to find your favorite dish is not on the menu. The local attempts at Western Food are just plain sad. In my opinion it’s because they try to have menus that combine Tex-Mex, Mexican, Asian, and Italian (insert 3-4 random cuisines that have nothing to do with one another) and again use poor quality ingredients or make poor substitutions in the recipe, and food comes out inedible. Near constant bad experiences hasn’t stopped us from continuing our quest for non-American chain/good Western food.
When Ravi proposed eating at Santa Fe on the Riverboat, my thought was that even if the food sucks, at least it will be a fun experience. Expectations properly low, I called for a cab.
Santa Fe actually has two locations; the Riverboat (which is docked at the Marina South pier, berth 1) and a location somewhere on Orchard, which is much closer to our home, but isn’t on a Riverboat.
Driving to the Marina South Pier, we passed through a ton of developing land near the Marina Bay Sands complex and Ravi’s new work. We were headed in the direction of Marina Barrage (where the Singapore pit stop was on Amazing Race last season for AR fans), but didn’t quite make it that far. To fully picture where we were dropped off, imagine a squat concrete officious looking building not unlike the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in NYC (for those who know it). In the middle of fields of developing land…it’s dark, quiet, and the heads of the metal cranes peek over the walls of the construction sites. There’s an “Immigration Checkpoint.” You can see what is probably a ship off on one side past the immigration check point, but you can’t quite figure out how to get there. You’re starting to wonder if you were dropped at the wrong location when you see a “Riverboat” sign.
We find the right path, and sure as hell it’s a giant white multi-story Riverboat complete with red paddle wheel.
We find the restaurant and choose to sit in the air conditioned first floor level rather than the third floor open air level (it’s hot, it’s humid…the chairs on the third level are made of metal and don’t look comfy). Perusing the menu we are cautiously optimistic and order. The two page story of the restaurant is written at the back and is well worth reading for the entertainment value…schmaltzy, adorable, and with a few spelling errors that make it that much better (the Riverboat was “christianed” rather than “christened”). In theory it was started by an Expat American “cowboy” who retired to Singapore with his wife.
The first surprise is the nacho chips. They are deep fried on the spot per order. Yes, you’ll wait a few minutes longer, but is there really anything better than a searing hot chip? I found that they benefited from some table salt, but it’s your call. They have a variety of dipping sauces, and Ravi said the salsa we got was good (which means it’s fairly mild). We went through two baskets quite happily over the course of the meal.
Ravi had another appetizer (I want to say chicken quesadillas) which he also thought we good. His entree included re-fried beans that had a bit of a kick (in a good way, but a bit too spicy for him…for all that he finished them regardless). I got a steak, which was a great cut of meat. And, much to my amazement and eternal happiness, they have a great bar-b-que sauce (my personal addiction and a rarity here). It tasted like real Tex Mex should. The desserts were also killer…this was the first place to offer me a brownie sundae with walnuts instead of almonds. Bliss.
Sitting on the boat, you did occasionally feel the movement. At times, it was even a bit too much movement, but as the meal passed, we acclimated, and noticed it less and less. The view from where we sat was the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands complex in the distance, and when walking on the exterior of the boat to reach a restroom, the open water and lights from various ships made a pretty sight as well.
The cab fare to the Riverboat was around 10-12 dollars which is on the high side of reasonable, given that it’s fairly far out and public transit there is a nuisance. Given that it was a Saturday night, it was fairly empty, which meant we were seated quickly (a normal Saturday wait is 45 minutes plus). I doubt that the wait is as short at their Orchard location.
We will be back, that’s for sure and encourage anyone who wants good Tex Mex to hit them up as well. There’s other stuff on the menu we want to try, it seems like a great place to take E (there were other families there while we were), and I need pictures because no one will believe me about the Riverboat in Singapore otherwise 🙂