10 Things I Ate About You: Taos, N.M.
Ski destination Taos, N.M., may not generate the global attention of Colorado ski towns and New Mexican cultural centers like nearby Santa Fe, but the high-desert city is just as worthy a destination for its stunning views, year-round outdoor activities and unique heritage. All those aspects also show up in the food. Talented toques combine local flavors and influences into a wide array of dishes inspired by cultures from around the globe.
Paradise is in the eye of the beholder. For winter sports enthusiasts, it's lunch on the deck of the St. Bernard Hotel (pictured above). Throughout the season, skiers and snowboarders line up at the giant outdoor grills to refuel between morning and afternoon runs. They’re there for burgers, but also bratwurst, Alaskan salmon and portobello mushroom sandwiches. Opt for the classic cheeseburger and you'll get a patty of freshly ground Gold Canyon Angus brisket and chuck, grilled to your liking and tucked into a fluffy brioche bun. A heaping pile of fries comes on the side. Pick and chose your own toppings at the end of the bar, then grab a seat at a picnic table in the sun.
If you’ve ever heard the complaint that healthy food tastes like cardboard, you’ll know the complainer hasn’t visited Hero Handcrafted Fine Food. The shop, from local restaurant veteran Sheila J. Guzman, is small at just 500 square feet, but the flavors are huge, with a mash-up of Asian and Mexican dishes ranging from carnitas tacos on organic, GMO-free handmade corn tortillas to maki bowls with raw ahi tuna, avocado, sticky rice and sesame-wasabi greens. It’s all good, but the Seoul Bowl is the standout; it’s a craveable dish, hearty with a base of sticky rice and packed with spice from Korean-flavored meatballs, hot and sweet glaze, sesame slaw and hoisin mayo.
Pinon Caramel Ice Cream at Taos Cow Ice Cream Company
Long before the terms “all natural” and “rBGH-free” became part of food-lovers’ vernacular, Taos Cow Ice Cream Company was making frozen treats the old-fashioned way — that is, if ice creameries back in the olden days were run by mad scientists. Since 1991, this shop has churned out innovative flavors highlighting New Mexican ingredients. Options range from state-sourced lavender and pistachio white chocolate to more traditional flavors, like plain sweet cream, maple walnut and Mexican chocolate infused with cinnamon, all made with local milk. Pinon caramel is a must-try: Vanilla ice cream is laced with regional pinon nuts (aka pine nuts) and vanilla caramel chunks.
In New Mexico, one must eat Mexican cuisine. Housed inside an 1850s adobe building, La Cueva Café is the place to go for regional fare from south of the border. Owned by Guanajuato natives Chef Horacio Zarazua and his wife, the place offers popular local standbys like chile rellenos, enchiladas and chimichangas with the state's ubiquitous red, green or mixed "Christmas" sauces. Lighter, healthier dishes that are naturally gluten-free are also on the menu. The landlocked restaurant also has a nice selection of seafood. The chipotle shrimp tacos, made with corn tortillas, feature a spiced filling, lettuce, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo, all with a side of beans and rice.
Smoked Pumpkin and Juniper Berry Bisque at De La Tierra
Set inside the luxe El Monte Sagrado Resort, this ritzy restaurant and bar looks like it's been plucked straight from an HGTV show. Southwestern designs are embroidered on dining room chairs. An indoor garden room is lined with trees. A decorative bronze snake coils around the bar. It’s a fun place to grab a drink and light fare, particularly the Smoked Pumpkin and Juniper Bisque. The soup features pumpkin puree blended with roasted turkey stock. When it’s served, it’s drizzled with woodsy juniper berry-infused oil and toasted pumpkin seeds.
There are many culinary influences at the aptly named Medley in El Prado. Chefs Wilks and Colleen Medley have worked in kitchens throughout the United States, adopting new techniques and flavors with diverse ingredients. At their laid-back fine-dining restaurant and wine shop, the Medleys combine Southwestern flavors and influences from their native New England, creating boldly flavored dishes like the fantastic grilled duck breast crusted in hibiscus tropical tea, served over green lentils with seared turnips, pancetta and duck butter, beside sweet balsamic figs.
New Mexico Lavender Caramel Truffle at Chocolate + Cashmere
Skiing may be the No. 1 winter activity in Taos, but shopping is a close second, with cute stores and galleries that are a major tourist draw. This little storefront specializes in two sumptuous wares: plush cashmere for the slopes and decadent truffles. The latter are sourced from Joliesse Chocolates in Albuquerque and made with unique locally sourced elements, such as New Mexico lavender infused with caramel and robed in dark chocolate.
Way up the mountain, past Taos Ski Valley, at the base of Kachina Peak, The Bavarian is like an Alpine winter escape. The mahogany-hued facade with a planter-lined balcony is log cabin meets Swiss chalet. The interior of the restaurant is just the same: high ceilings with exposed beams, an imported fireplace, sheepskin throws on the wooden bench seats. It really is the ideal place to relax and restore — with a crisp German beer and hearty Bavarian eats — after a long day on the slopes. A visit isn’t complete without sampling the trio of wild game. Grilled venison, wild boar and buffalo medallions are served over chevre mashed potatoes with dried fruit and Port compote, then sprinkled with toasted pinon. The result is not overly gamey, as the rich, sweet sauce enhances the mildly earthy taste.
A trip to Taos could easily be dominated by long days on the slopes, but there’s plenty of culture, too, particularly at Taos Pueblo. More than 1,000 years old, the two main adobe structures Hlauuma (north house) and Hlaukwima (south house) are considered the oldest continually occupied communities in the United States, and they are still home to the Tiwa people, who have inhabited the area for centuries. There is a small cafe onsite offering snacks like red or green chile with fry bread, tacos and Frito pie. The freshly made fry bread is the star of the show. It’s rolled out right in the open kitchen, fried in soybean oil and served steaming-hot. Toppings include cinnamon sugar, honey, jelly and powdered sugar. The Pueblo is generally open to visitors daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except during tribal rituals and an annual 10-week closing from late winter through early spring, so make sure to call ahead.
This indoor-and-outdoor brewery, restaurant and music venue is the place to grab a beer and chill out during downtime in Taos (though there’s a taproom in Taos Ski Valley too). It offers different events nearly every day of the week, including trivia, live bands and football viewing, all best with a selection of great microbrews. The brewery recently doubled in size, meaning more house-crafted options. Every few days, the kegs change, but when the Knight Train Imperial Stout is on, beer nerds go nuts. Made with 25 pounds of local clover honey and seven different caramel malts, it’s sweet, with roasted coffee, chocolate and molasses notes. Word to the wise: Drink slowly, because it clocks in at a high-octane 8.9 percent alcohol by volume.