Santa Fe’s vibrant restaurant scene is speckled with more than 200 options. How can any one ever know them all when coming through town for a few days? You can’t, which is why I am working to distill the information for you and offer what I feel are some of the city’s best dining choices. As we encounter additional restaurants that meet or exceed our expectations, I will proudly add them to the list so you, too, can enjoy some of Santa Fe’s best culinary delights.
I have categorized our top recommendations into Our Standards (places we have been returning to for years) and New Favorite Finds (ones we have fallen for since living here). These top picks are featured on this page, while other pages include On the Town, Healthier Bites, Just Java and Tea, Algo Dulce (Something Sweet), Only in Santa Fe and Worth the Drive.
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 craveable. 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 is way more than a just a salad and the fish and chips (pictured below) 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. These 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 incredibly 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 after 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 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.
And every time we return to Dolina’s, we leave saying we love it even more. We slid in for lunch the other day and were welcomed with smiling faces and a packed house. Every seat was occupied in this intimate gathering spot that seems to attract a wide variety of people who come for the thoughtful menu that speaks to all palates and return for the hospitality, quality and well-priced menu and the supreme case of baked goods that greet you on arrival.
This tuna poached sandwich surpassed my expectations. Light on the bread (which is the way I wanted it) but heavy on flavor (which is the way I wanted it), the freshly poached tuna paired beautifully with the briny capers, while the pesto provided a serious layer of flavor and the tomato gave it just enough moisture. The lightly dressed salad accompanying the sandwich offered enough greens to make me feel wholesome.
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.
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.