There are many reasons why we love Santa Fe and wanted to live here. The striking, natural beauty of a city carved out of the mountains and 300 sunny days each year are foremost on the list, while running a tight second on some days and tying for first place on others is the food.
With one of the nation’s top farmers markets, the local food scene is abuzz with the culinary arts playing a pivotal role in why tourists love The City Different. And this local food economy isn’t a new thing. The Santa Fe Farmers Market is celebrating 50 years of promoting and celebrating exquisite locally grown foods, which means the roots of buying local run deep–for the consumers and the restaurants. And that alone warms my heart.
Though I am a die-hard home cook, we also cherish both the luxury and reconnaissance work of dining out. Luckily, this city of 75,000 people is brimming with nearly 300 mostly independent restaurants. The amalgamation of the various indigenous cultures including Native American, Spanish and Mexican are lightly threaded through every plate.
And while the chile is a predominant ingredient, it’s not always all about the chile. Yes, there are a ton of restaurants offering the typical New Mexican cuisine of pork adovada, burritos, green chile pork stew, enchiladas, posole and sopaipillas, but there is also a vast diversity of restaurateurs serving up evocative ethnic cuisine–from African to South Indian cuisine–availing distinctive and different flavors, styles and cultures to explore.
Obviously, when we used to visit Santa Fe as tourists, our tastes and demands were different because we had only a limited number of meals to eat while we were here. We always made a reservation at the exquisite and acclaimed Geronimo for our one super special, decadent dinner. And we were never disappointed.
This remains one of the city’s top fine dining destinations, but when you live here, you can’t eat at Geronimo’s every week–or even every month. So that means we have lots of discovering to do and we are thoroughly enjoying the task of exploring the city’s broad culinary dining experiences. Along the way, we are finding some hidden gems that those passing through for a short stay will likely never find.
Once a week, we go somewhere new and, once a week, we visit one of our favorites. I look forward to sharing our fabulous foodie finds with you, as well as those we return to time and again for the alchemy of genuine hospitality + phenomenal bites we never want to forget.
When you are craving some light, tasty and totally good + good for you, head straight to Vinaigrette, just off of Cerrillos and Paseo de Peralta. It’s where we have been happily landing since it opened in 2008. Vinaigrette has and always will be at the top of our go-to list. David and I both have a constant desire for their impeccable (and vegan) mushroom stew and any one of their many specialty salads always satisfies.
Whether it’s the middle of winter or a warm summer day, Vinaigrette always puts a smile on our face and makes us feel healthy and wholesome. It’s open all day, so we can slide in at 3 pm for lunch and never worry about it being crowded and “Vinny’s” (as it is known by the locals) inherent casual vibe makes it easy to stumble in at the last moment when we are verging on hangry.
If you are seeking an ideal setting for an important business lunch, romantic dinner, have an enjoyable and delicious meal or meet-up with friends for happy hour, you can never go wrong with Santacafé. I consider this the Four Seasons of Santa Fe, because it’s always buzzing with the who’s who in town, but is super low key yet refined and the highly capable kitchen team consistently delivers.
Located a few blocks from the city’s heartbeat, the Plaza, the white tablecloth dining rooms are neither austere nor stand-offish. In fact, the space is so warm and hospitable they make you feel at home, whether it is first or 31st time you have dined there. Wait staff are attentive and close by when you need and want them and not when you don’t which positively accentuates a romantic dinner for two or allows for plenty of serious discussions during a business lunch as well as laughs with close friends for a night of fun.
The poised and private dining rooms provide a respite from the frenzied external world, while the spacious outdoor patio offers a breath of fresh air and a hint of sunshine while dining al fresco.
Start your Santacafé experience off right and order a basket of homemade breads and scrumptious crackers, as this will set the tone for a meal you won’t soon forget. The well-thought out menu offers a wide array of flavors and cuisines including something hearty for the most carnivorous as well as serious salads and a few good vegetarian dishes for those who might be vegan and/or more health-conscious. The menu is also dusted with quite a bit of Asian influences which guarantees for creative and robust flavors.
But if seafood and burgers are more your thing, well, you are also in luck. Known for their crispy calamari appetizer, these addictive rings and tentacles are impeccably fried and served with a 4-chile lime dipping sauce that is immediately cravable. This appetizer is so popular and good you can order it as an entree, which many people do. Served with mixed greens, a crispy, crunchy and incredibly delicious, protein-packed paleo lunch is yours for the asking.
The tuna tartare appetizer, pictured above, and the grilled trout entree are executed to perfection, the salad Nicoise way more than a just a salad and the fish and chips are absolutely crispy and tender.
There are days when lunch or brunch or dinner require a more decadent choice and David was not disappointed with the burger, which was grilled to his requested medium-rare. Served with housemade rosemary chips and homemade ketchup, David said this was a damn good burger and I consider David one of the top burger afficionados. Him and Bobby Flay. Those two guys know burgers.
Promise me you will, if needed, lovingly convince your dining companion(s) to splurge on dessert because the pastry chef, Rosa, knows what she is doing and applies ample passion and love to her delicacies. The dessert menu shine brightly, promising to send you back into the world with a sweet attitude–which we all could use a little more of.
This molten lava chocolate cake with hot fudge, toasted almonds and housemade vanilla ice cream was fervently savored and devoured.
While this delicate but hearty lemon-coconut tart was a stunning conclusion to another great meal and we may have licked the plate. Every time we leave Santacafé, we rave about the food and what a civilized experience it is and then David says, “That needs to be on permanent rotation.” On average, we probably visit monthly, but maybe we deserve this biweekly? Yes, I am sure we deserve this more often.
And, the best part is it’s not an overpriced restaurant. It’s very fair pricing which means we can visit with more frequently and, that friends, is very sweet, indeed.
Hidden away on Johnson Street, just off Guadalupe, Shohko Cafe is the city’s singular gem for authentic, clean, gorgeous and savory Japanese cuisine. This is a quiet spot we have been coming back to year after year and now with much more frequency.
Choose from a wide array of sushi, start with a delicious grilled yellowtail or salmon collar or opt for un poco de todo and get a bento box.
Their miso soup is oh so good and the friendly staff ensure you always have everything you need. If you are into Japanese sake and beer, their immense selection will keep you coming back for more.
The Zen-like atmosphere is made even more Zen-like as they respectfully request customers silence their cell phones. And the restaurant is also fragrance-free which means you smell nothing but clean Japanese food and pure umami.
They’ve been around since 1975 and that speaks volumes for their food quality, culinary talent and genuine hospitality.
The moment you step into Cafe Pasqual’s, you know immediately you are entering into a Santa Fe institution–and one we still happily return to even after dozens of visits throughout the years. Generally, you will have to wait in a long line, so we recommend you go off hours to avoid the crowds. Pasqual’s serves breakfast all day and the seasonal, locally-sourced menu is stocked with sensational dishes that make you smile and feel good about eating, while the authentic and simple decor is in step with this restaurant’s approach to food. Authentic, simple and absolutely delicious.
We start with their unique blends of fresh juices which make you feel so fresh and virtuous. And with so many great restaurants in town, we will happily accept all of the virtue we can get. Whenever we can get it.
If you fall in love with Pasqual’s like most people do, you have our permission to purchase a pair of their coffee mugs or bowls or choose their festive calendar and/or one of their two Cafe Pasqual’s cookbooks to take home with you. We bought the whole package–cookbook and calendar–and have been lovingly using the coffee mugs and bowls at home for years. These mementos of Santa Fe always gave us a reason to contemplate the next vacation. To Santa Fe, of course.
If you are into history and longevity, add El Farol to your hit list as it has recently experienced an overhaul with new ownership, new interior and a new menu, which is a good thing considering this is the most historic bar and restaurant in Santa Fe and hails back to 1835. This was one of the first spots we visited when we arrived for a New Year’s wedding in 1996 and one of the first places we met new friends when we relocated here. Whether you care to eat, enjoy dinner during a Saturday night traditional flamenco music and dance session or simply grab a cocktail (and tapas) and catch your breath after perusing the shops and galleries along Canyon Road, it’s an iconic corner of Santa Fe that everyone should experience.
New Favorite Finds
When we first moved here and started cruising Cerrillos, the city’s longest vein that runs from downtown to the big box stores on the southside, we would pass The Pantry and David would say,”That place looks good.” I would laugh and say, “Make a new friend and convince them to go with you.” One cold winter day, I decided David needed to go to The Pantry and I offered to go with him for breakfast. He was bewildered and elated at the same time and a smile immediately changed the somber look on his face. And as soon as I walked in to The Pantry, I knew he was right. This place is special. The staff is incredible, friendly and capable, while the kitchen team is definitely bringing their A game. Every. Single. Day.
Maybe it was the chile relleno omelette that won my heart or the equally spectacular chile relleno plate I had on our second visit? Or the special guapo waiter, Ruben, who lights up the room with his smile or the most hospitable manager, Tupper? Or the fact that I can proudly speak Spanish here? Or maybe it’s that the service is quick and the homemade food is exquisite. Or is it that they make “extra crispy potatoes” that are extra delicious to accompany my breakfast dish? All of these are the reasons that keep us going back, again and again.
Now when we drive by, I say, “When are we going to The Pantry, honey?”
Walk Palace Avenue anytime of day or night and you will likely catch the attention of Chez Mamou‘s tiny patio spilling over with people happily eating, drinking, chatting and laughing with friends. After seeing this scene play out too many times, we decided it was time to explore the French bistro for ourselves. We went on a Sunday and were delighted with what we found.
A quaint, eclectic space is filled with garrulous patrons chatting and savoring the French cuisine and celebrating life with an abundant array of French pastries. I went classic with the mussels which were delectable and the French fries homemade and perfectly cooked to a golden crisp. David ate every bite of his simple chicken dish that was well-executed and served with buttery mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.
The pastry case at the end of the room lures you towards it for a glimpse into what lies ahead. This is where the patrons gather in search of the perfect French pastry for dessert. Naturally, this research and development exercise required that we order dessert and we were smitten. Now all we need to do is snag one of the tables on Chez Mamou’s petite patio so you can see us laughing and living it up when you walk or drive by.
In a city of 300 (or more) restaurants, most of them serve some sort of green or red chile. It’s a draw for tourists and an indigenous chile that has built the city’s (and state’s) reputation as a unique culinary destination. It’s a prerequisite that everyone traveling through New Mexico must have at least one dish smothered with green or red chile or ask for Christmas and get both, but when you live here, sometimes the last thing you want is chile.
Clafloutis is a French bistro and bakery where chile isn’t even mentioned on the menu.
Instead, it’s a welcome respite where you can savor an array of authentic French baguettes and pastries, as well as omelettes, sweet and savory crepes, French toast for breakfast (which is conveniently served all day) and quiches, sandwiches, salads and soups as lunch options.
Located off Cordova in a non-descript strip center, the local contingency has embraced Clafloutis and they patiently wait outside for a table in this bustling cafe and bakery.
The menu is simple, well executed and the staff work together like a well-oiled machine. The owner, Anne-Laure, can be found behind the pastry cases happily greeting customers with “bon jour” and a sincere smile, while her husband, Phillipe Ligier is the chef and remains in the kitchen keeping the food consistent, quick and fresh.
If you are into sandwiches, these might be one of the city’s best and it’s all because of the bread, thanks to Chef Phillipe. Served on crispy, chewy and tender, freshly made French baguettes, you’ll be oh-so-happy you ordered a sandwich. Even if you don’t order a sammy, you can still savor their baguette as everyone receives a few pieces to enjoy while you wait for your order.
In a sea of green or red chile, Clafloutis is a dream and a place you can return time and again for a simple breakfast, lunch or an authentic French pastry and a cup of cafe when you need a pick-up.
We love breakfast. We eat it for breakfast, we eat it for lunch or brunch and we adore it for dinner. Anytime is a good time for breakfast foods in our world. After introducing a neighbor and his daughter to the farmers market one Saturday morning, he suggested we stop into one of his favorite places on the way home, Dolina Cafe & Bakery, and pick up a few sweet treats for our spouses–both of whom stayed at home. I loved that he was so thoughtful and David devoured the freshly baked sweet bread (that was still warm) when I returned.
So David and I were excited to visit this new found hot spot and try it out for brunch one weekend morning. It was busy when we arrived. The space was buzzing with tables of multi-generational families, couples, men gathered in twos and fours and groups of women with smiling faces. The smell of home cooked foods and freshly baked breads, pastries, cookies and similar sweet treats exasperated our state of hunger as we briefly waited to be seated at the only available two top.
The staff happily obliged my request for a special omelette and they have gluten-free bread options which made me extremely happy and ensured I will return. Bonus is that this casual dining spot is so close to the house which is enticing when a good breakfast is in order, but when we don’t want to cook.
David turned me on to real pizza when we first met. Since he was born in Manhattan, it was New York pizza, of course. Not a pizza with a thick crust or the crispy, cracker-like variety. And never a pizza with a ton of ingredients on it. That’s what he calls a garbage pie.
Real pizza has a thin crust with a nice amount of red sauce and not too much cheese. The crust should be bubbly with gorgeous black spots and if you get any toppings, we recommend a garlic pizza with half pepper and onion.
When we moved here, pizza was one of the first cravings we had and, after a bit of research, this was where David chose. And, once again, he nailed it. The pizza at Pizza Centro is spot on great.
If you lean towards gluten-free pies, theirs is really, really good. The salads are big enough for two (or more) people to share. Now we have learned that it’s best to share the house salad, a simple salad with lettuce and cucumbers that makes you feel like you are getting a few nutrients with this pizza splurge.
While there are many other pizza places in Santa Fe, we ended our search for the city’s best pizza because, for us, it doesn’t get any better than Pizza Centro. And with three locations, there’s a pizza fix in your future no matter where you are staying.
David is a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fanatic. He has seen every episode and many of them we have watched repeatedly. But I am not complaining because some of our favorite finds have been because of this show. This burger is Duff’s and my favorite. Nearly 10 Santa Fe restaurants have been featured on Triple D as it is known by fans, including Jambo Cafe, Harry’s Roadhouse and the Tune-Up Cafe. Since we had previously visited both Jambo and Harry’s, it was time to experience the Tune-Up Cafe.
A weekly changing chalkboard menu summons customers and lures them into an immediate trusting relationship with the chef. The chef/owner and his wife are from El Salvador so there is a heavy hand of Salvadorian and Latin American influence in the kitchen and that makes for a heavenly combination of ingredients, textures, flavors and colors and conjures childhood memories for many.
The simple salad was fresh and filled with crisp vegetables–long, thin shavings of bright orange carrots, slivers of ruby red roasted beets and chopped tomatoes. The sherry vinaigrette remains on my mind as one of the best salad dressings I have ever had.
David was happy when he learned they use mahi mahi for the fish tacos, so he went that route, while I stuck close to the chef’s home (and heart) with a crispy and cheesy vegetarian pupusa plate. The fish tacos arrived with rice and beans and the pupusas were accompanied by a copious handful of cortido, a crisp, marinated cabbage salad–which is a Latin version of sauerkraut–and complements the cheesiness of this dish incredibly well.
This casual and simple meal was superbly prepared using good ingredients and that always wins me over. Nothing was over seasoned or under seasoned, which proves the owners know what they are doing and care about the food. We look forward to making regular visits to the Tune-Up for a tune-up.
We have walked by it a hundred times, but never stopped because it looked, too, well, touristy. But the Plaza Cafe is anything but touristy. This slender strip of a restaurant is nestled just off the bustling plaza and awaits you when you need a refreshing drink, a delectable meal and/or a genuine dose of hospitality. The friendly wait staff are crisp and attentive and the place is generally filled with characters.
The diverse menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner feed the need for New Mexican cuisine as well as traditional hearty breakfasts, authentic Mexican cuisine (like real chilaquiles) and even global flavors including Greek salad, spaghetti and meatballs as well as fish and chips. Several breakfast options are served all day for the all-day breakfast lovers.
As always, I went for the chile relleno omelette and David chose the huevos divorciados, which featured a to-die-for chipotle sauce on one egg and a flavorful green sauce on the other. We tried their chai latte and have decided they have one of the best in town.
Very Vegetarian, Vegan and Gluten-Free
When you have seemingly had your fill of red and green chile laced dishes or an overload of carbs and sugar, your body may be telling you to take a day off the hard stuff and give your belly a rest. Or maybe you are a strict vegetarian or vegan? Head straight to Annapurna’s for a world of healing Ayurvedic flavors that is crowded with sensational options for vegetarians, vegans as well as those that are gluten-free. And I know a particular carnivore who also enjoyed eating there, but, honestly, not as much as I did.
Having heard about this restaurant for years, we finally made it for a visit to Santa Fe’s only Ayurvedic restaurant. Plopped in the same lifeless strip center off of St. Michael’s where the famous Tecolote Cafe is located (FYI: we have been but it didn’t dazzle us like The Pantry or Plaza Cafe did), don’t judge the book by the cover.
The inside is colorful and clean and filled with glass jars or loose tea, buddhas hanging on the walls, ribbons hanging from the ceiling and happy people eating and drinking foods that heal and make you feel good.
Definitely start the experience with the lemon-ginger drink that is chock full of grated ginger, tart lemon juice and a touch of sweetener. In between a tea and a lemonade, all of these ingredients aid in digestion and the taste is sensational. When the liquid is gone, you can scoop up the ginger that settles on the bottom of the glass with a spoon and eat it.
Known as India’s national dish, I ordered the Thaali plate which features copious cups and varieties of freshly cooked vegetables of the day, along with dal, brown rice and a gluten-free dosa to scoop and sop up the goods. Each vegetable cup was packed with flavor and I felt amazing after eating this food.
Ending on a sweet note, we gave in to a gorgeous slice of coconut cream pie that is both gluten-free and vegan. Woo-hoo! Being coconut fans, we couldn’t pass this up and it was just enough to share and send us on our way with a smile on our face knowing we ate something grounding and good for us. I anticipate this becoming one of my go-to places when I feel the need for a truly balanced meal that heals and makes me feel great.
Out on the Town
Imagine dining in an adobe home built in 1756 filled with kiva fireplaces and stunning interiors and the luxury of highly-capable wait staff taking care of your every whim while the talented chefs prepare a meal that will last with you forever.
This is Geronimo.
Located on the highly-prized address of Canyon Road, we have been frequenting this restaurant as long as we have been visiting Santa Fe. It’s always the first reservation we make when we were headed west as it is a spectacular experience–both culinary and palpable hospitality–and we absolutely looked forward to this special night with great anticipation.
Voted one of the top 100 restaurants in the country by OpenTable and always named a finalist as a James Beard Award winner, in one visit, you will see why this restaurant remains at the top of everyone’s culinary lists.
Speaking of James Beard award nominees, La Boca‘s chef James Campbell Caruso has been nominated 8 times for his contemporary spin on traditional Spanish tapas. For years, we have heard people rave about La Boca, but with so many options to choose from on vacation and only so many meals, we never made it here as tourists.
But we finally scooted in the door when we were house hunting (as almost residents) and had a magical night of wine, tapas and chocolate pot de creme. Located on my favorite street, Marcy Street, this intimate space is always packed and feels like a European wine bar with laughter and joy emanating from every table.
Maybe it’s the impressive wine list, the adept staff or the savory and well-prepared tapas, but there is something about La Boca that makes everyone happy and that is a sure sign of a superior restaurant.
When we visited Santa Fe for our 10-day “trial run” at living like a local in 2013, we rented a house on the historic East side along the Acequia Madre on Garcia Street. This is a highly desirable part of town as you can walk everywhere, including the coffee shop at the corner, Downtown Subscription, frequented by locals and plenty of college students. Every morning, I would walk five minutes to the coffee shop for coffees and a New York Times.
Good magazines are hard to find (unless you subscribe to them), but this coffee shop has racks of magazines to choose from and it is next door to one of a handful of great independent bookstores in town, which makes my heart go pitter-patter. So grab a latte, a wholesome matcha latte or a spicy chai latte and sit on one of the two patios while you sip your beverage, bask in the sun and read something intellectual.
While traveling, I met up with a favorite friend who went to St. John’s College and frequently returns to Santa Fe for both business and pleasure. She was telling me about another favorite coffee shop (she also introduced me to the Downtown Subscription) called Ohori’s Coffee. With more than 30 years behind them, Ohori’s is considered Santa Fe’s original coffee roaster.
One location is nestled at the corner of St. Francis and Cerrillos near Cordova, while another is downtown off Cerrillos at Luna and a third a few blocks away at the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail, next to Kaune’s. They roast their own Arabica beans and have a diverse menu that immediately caught my attention. They have oat milk for the win along with matcha, chai, turmeric and a good decaf latte that keeps me coming back for when I want more than just a cup of coffee.
Algo Dulce (Something Sweet)
A friend of mine who comes here annually would always return with a box of chocolates from Kakawa, the city’s top chocolatier. Located on Paseo de Peralta at the curve near Canyon Road, this prime location is easy to find and as hard to forget as their famous chocolates, particularly the chile infused treats.
This popular stop for whatever form of chocolate you crave–chocolate truffles, chocolate candy, chocolate ice cream, hot chocolate elixirs and more–is always humming with chocolate lovers. The interior is puro Mexico with equipale tables and chairs so you can relax and sip hot chocolate and eat chocolate until you are ready to face the world again.
My friend had it right…always take a box of chocolates with you. You can share it, gift it or eat it all by yourself. Because chocolate makes everything better. And this chocolate is sensational.
I have never met an ice cream I didn’t like. While I prefer to indulge with non-dairy options, it’s hard to pass up a scoop of real ice cream made with organic milk and local ingredients. That’s what makes La Lecheria‘s ice cream so divine. Creamy and not too sweet with perfectly balance flavors, La Lecheria puts out a phenomenal craft ice cream. They have standard year-round flavors, like classic vanilla, mint chip, chocolate sea salt and Iconik coffee, along with seasonal additions such as citrus basil and ceylon cinnamon brown sugar.
Luckily, they opened the doors to a downtown location on Marcy Street, which means I see more scoops of Iconik coffee ice cream in my future. Bonus is that the new store is located close to the library. More scoops and books for everyone!
Warning: The French Pastry Shop, just off of the Plaza and next to La Fonda Hotel, is definitely a tourist spot, but their raspberry crepe is sinful and worth rubbing elbows with the tourists. Right after moving here, we were strolling the Plaza one Sunday afternoon acting like tourists, when we decided a crepe would give us the extra energy we needed to go back home and continue unpacking.
We asked the waitress which one she recommended and when she said, “Our raspberry crepe is by far the best,” we smiled nodded in agreement. Sometimes you have to ask the staff to lead you to the best dish on the menu and, she was right…the raspberry crepe was phenomenal. Next time, I’d skip the scoop of ice cream because it is a very cheap variety and detracted from the truly remarkable raspberry crepe.
Only in Santa Fe
If you are a cheese head, this singularly spectacular Cheesemongers store is heaven and the helpful staff will introduce you to some of your new favorite cheeses in no time. With a selection of more than 150 international and domestic cheeses, as well as cured meats, antipasto and related artisanal products including chutneys, mustards and crackers, you will wish you lived in Santa Fe.
Located on the toney Marcy Street, you can attend one or more of their well-curated classes and demonstrations to learn more about the phenomenal world of cheese, which you can then spread the love of your new knowledge by building a fantastic cheese board for your next get together.
Wherever we travel, we are pros at finding the best pickles and fermented foods in the area, so it was no surprise when we stumbled upon the Barrio Brinery. Hidden in a Santa Fe style strip center off West Alameda, the Barrio Brinery makes an assortment of pickles, sauerkraut and escabeche that can be purchased directly at the store front and enjoyed at numerous restaurants around town. If you are on the hunt for fermented foods, make sure you stop here for a taste.