Where to Eat in Santa Fe

Dig into the chiles, Christmas sauce and refined flavors of the oldest capital city in North America.

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Savor Santa Fe

“Red, green or Christmas?” If a server asks you that question during your trip to New Mexico, don’t worry: The question has more to do with Santa Fe than Santa. Dishes are slathered in red chile, green chile or a combination of the two. New Mexicans are as passionate about their food — especially their chiles — as they are about their unique history and culture, which give the Land of Enchantment a special charm. In Santa Fe, you can take in that history and culture while dining in classic adobe buildings, laid-back spots with dashes of hippie vibes, and places that honor the region’s multiculturalism.

Breakfast: Cafe Pasqual's

Since 1979, Cafe Pasqual’s has offered festive, Santa Fe-style feasting. In a room bright with colorful papel picado (tissue paper with intricate cut-out designs), vibrant murals and Mexican tile art, diners savor Mexican, New Mexican and global dishes, made with fresh and predominantly organic ingredients. Cafe Pasqual’s, located a block southwest of the Santa Fe Plaza, is particularly lauded for its breakfast dishes, although the lunch and dinner menus are also worth a trip. On the breakfast menu (served until 3 p.m.), try the huevos motuleños or huevos barbacoa.

Go to: Cafe Pasqual's

Burger: Santa Fe Bite

Perhaps the most-quintessential New Mexican food is green chile: The town of Hatch, in southern New Mexico, is known as the Chile Capital of the World. Each fall in New Mexico, the aroma of roasting green chile wafts through the air, whetting appetites for dishes to come. Santa Fe Bite — a burgers-and-more joint with a retro Route 66 vibe — has what could be the world’s greatest green chile cheeseburgers, with Hatch chiles and 10 ounces of southern New Mexico beef. For a double dose of the good stuff, order the green chile-cheese home fries, too.

Go to: Santa Fe Bite

Chocolate: Kakawa Chocolate House

The chocolatiers at Kakawa Chocolate House aren’t just confectioners. They’re artists, anthropologists and historians. The elixir drinks they have perfected are based on recipes from a breadth of chocolate traditions, from Mayan and Aztec to 17th- and 18th-century European to contemporary selections with chai or Havana rum. The 1775 Marie Antoinette Elixir, for instance, represents the drinking chocolate of the Versailles court under Madame Déficit. Understanding the backdrop to the varied elixirs makes them all the more fascinating, but they particularly astonish with their evocative flavors and textures. After trying the Kakawa elixirs, you can take home chocolates and truffles made in-house.

Go to: Kakawa Chocolate House

Eclectic: Tune-Up Cafe

Low-key, laid-back Tune-Up Cafe is always great, but it’s particularly satisfying after a hike or bike ride along one of Santa Fe’s trails. The menus — spanning breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert, along with beer and wine lists — are eclectic, including breakfast burritos, a range of burgers (including lamb and buffalo) and cubanos. An El Salvadoran influence means excellent pupusas and banana-leaf-wrapped tamale dishes. No matter your craving, you’ll walk — or bike — away happy.

Go to: Tune-Up Cafe

New World: Sazón

“Mexican food” often conjures cravings for enchiladas and tacos, but at Sazón, it means something else entirely. The small, focused menu includes exceptional dishes based on New-World Mexican cuisine. As Chef Fernando Olea describes, the cuisine at Sazón is “going from the Aztec roots to nouvelle cuisine with flavors of Mexico.” Appetizers include huitlacoche, a corn fungus that was eaten by the Aztecs, and taquitos with grasshoppers (chapulines). The stars of the menu, however, are Olea’s moles, a variety of which are presented nightly as specials. Sazón is also a mezcaleria and tequileria, with comprehensive lists of both spirits.

New Mexican: The Shed

The Shed is a Santa Fe dining institution. Follow the colorful sign announcing “creative cookery” — just east of Santa Fe’s historic plaza — into a bustling, bright hub happy diners and great food. The menu offers a combination of New Mexican food (green chile stew and the carne adovada plate) and American fare (the Shedburger, for example, topped with pico de gallo). The Shed is best known for red chile enchiladas — or really, any dish with red chile on top. Those craving “Shed red” can purchase jars of it to enjoy at home.

Go to: The Shed

African-Caribbean: Jambo Café

Jambo Café inspires such ardent fandom among locals that its popularity sometimes feels like the culinary equivalent of Beatlemania. Exaggerations aside, the restaurant serves phenomenal African-Caribbean dishes such as banana-leaf-wrapped mahi mahi and Lamu coconut pili pili shrimp; Lamu is the island off the coast of Kenya where Chef-Owner Ahmed Obo first developed his culinary talents. When Jambo was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy joined the legions of fans, saying of the restaurant’s slow-cooked African goat stew with roti, “If that’s the only dish you sold, I’d come back every week.”

Go to: Jambo Cafe

Fast New Mexican: El Parasol

New Mexico cherishes breakfast burritos, carne adovada, Frito pies, biscochitos (the New Mexico state cookie) and, of course, green chile. If a restaurant not only offers all those but even earns best-of titles for them, then it is, unquestionably, a landmark of regional dining. El Parasol, a counter-service establishment, has two Santa Fe locations — one with tables, the other pickup — and several others in northern New Mexico. The prices are right, the portions substantial.

Indian: Paper Dosa

Before opening their celebrated brick-and-mortar restaurant, married Paper Dosa owners Paulraj Karuppasamy and Nellie Tischler were already known among Santa Feans for their catering and pop-up business. Now they offer their renowned South Indian fare in a permanent space, a boon for locals and visitors. The titular paper dosa is a thin crepe-like dish that can extend past two feet long. It is served rolled, alongside chutneys, sambar (lentil stew) and potato masala. Paper Dosa’s vegetarian options are plentiful; meat and seafood dishes include a lamb dosa and prawn curry.

Locavore: Radish & Rye

Radish & Rye has two core foci: farm-fresh cuisine and bourbon. With a mission to source as many ingredients locally as possible, Radish & Rye offers seasonal small plates of vegetables and meats or larger selections such as lamb T-bones or pan-fried trout. The restaurant also has an impressive bourbon list, with more than 100 American whiskeys and a selection of creative bourbon-based cocktails. The Abuelito, for instance, is poured into a carafe filled with pipe tobacco before being served, for an indelible smokiness.

Go to: Radish & Rye

Fine Dining: Geronimo

Ask a Santa Fean where to go for a nice night out, and most will have one recommendation. Geronimo rarely inspires descriptions that are anything less than superlative: most-elegant night out and most-captivating flavor combinations among others. Despite the exceptional experience, Geronimo isn't stuffy. The restaurant’s setting in a mid-18th-century house, with kiva fireplaces and adobe walls, makes it inviting and intimate. Menu highlights include the tellicherry-rubbed elk tenderloin, green-miso sea bass and mesquite-grilled Maine lobster tails.

Salad: Vinaigrette

The salads at Vinaigrette are hardly spartan. Big, bright and beautiful, with fresh ingredients in creative combinations, the offerings include La Pepita, with kale, shredded chicken, black beans, cotija cheese, avocado and pepitas, and the Omega, incorporating sweet corn, tomatoes and pine nuts. Playful dish names like All Kale Caesar! and the Nutty Pear-fessor attest to the restaurant’s fun and upbeat personality. Vinaigrette started in Santa Fe and has since expanded into Albuquerque and Austin, proving that leafy greens may be the secret ingredient to success.

New World: Sazón

“Mexican food” often conjures cravings for enchiladas and tacos, but at Sazón, it means something else entirely. The small, focused menu includes exceptional dishes based on New-World Mexican cuisine. As Chef Fernando Olea describes, the cuisine at Sazón is “going from the Aztec roots to nouvelle cuisine with flavors of Mexico.” Appetizers include huitlacoche, a corn fungus that was eaten by the Aztecs, and taquitos with grasshoppers (chapulines). The stars of the menu, however, are Olea’s moles, a variety of which are presented nightly as specials. Sazón is also a mezcaleria and tequileria, with comprehensive lists of both spirits.

Margaritas: Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen

Debates about the best margaritas in town can turn into Wild West–style showdowns among New Mexicans. Many choose to wet their whistle at Maria’s, where visitors can customize their margaritas with more than 100 tequila types. Maria’s former co-owner Al Lucero wrote The Great Margarita Book, with a foreword by Robert Redford, one of many luminaries to have spent time at Maria’s since its opening in 1950. The restaurant’s substantial menu includes New Mexican staples such as blue corn enchiladas, homemade posole and sopaipillas, served either savory (for instance, stuffed with beef) or sweet (with honey on top).

Go to: Maria's New Mexican Kitchen

Japanese: Izanami

Have you ever worn a robe while dining out? At Izanami, on the grounds of the luxurious resort Ten Thousand Waves, some diners wear yukata, casual kimonos, while enjoying izakaya-style Japanese small plates. The omakase, or chef’s tasting menu, presents a parade of dishes that requires the entire table’s participation. (Don’t expect any sushi, however: Izanami doesn’t serve fish except on the tasting menu and special occasions, because of Santa Fe’s distance from the ocean.) Izanami’s exceptional sake menu is curated by Deborah Fleig, one of only several dozen female master sake sommeliers in the world.

Local Gastropub: Dr. Field Goods

Dr. Field Goods isn’t just a farm-to-table gastropub — it’s a farm-to-butcher-shop-and-table gastropub. With its butchery and bakery just a few doors down, Dr. Field Goods provides diners with the freshest in food to accompany a robust beer menu. Meat is sourced locally and processed at the butcher shop, and bread is baked daily at the bakery. Produce also largely comes from local farms. The menu tends toward comfort food, including wood-fired pizzas, fish & chips, enchiladas, burgers or hearty sandwiches with names like the Bad A** BLT.

Go to: Dr. Field Good's Kitchen

Dinner and Dance: El Farol

Dance is a huge part of New Mexican culture — it is a means of carrying on traditions and exploring new forms, and there’s a long history of exceptional Native American and Spanish dance in Santa Fe. One of the best places to see dance is at the Spanish restaurant El Farol, where flamenco dancers perform regularly during dinner. The performances, by members of Albuquerque’s National Institute of Flamenco, are masterful. The menu at El Farol includes tapas and paella, and its patio on artsy Canyon Road is a delightful place to enjoy a pitcher of sangria.

French Cafe and Patisserie: Clafoutis

Clafoutis, named after the French fruit dessert, serves breakfast, lunch and heaps of pastries in a quaint and joyous space operated by a French family. Savory options include omelets, salads and sandwiches; the plentiful sweets are almost too beautiful to eat. For a perfect weekend brunch, try the croque madame and a bowl of cafe au lait, and pick up some pastries and a freshly baked baguette for the road.

French: Bouche Bistro

Bouche Bistro is a chic Parisian space in the heart of the Southwestern desert. The menu includes the greatest hits of French dining — escargots, foie gras, steak au poivre with pommes frites and crème brûlée. Nice-born executive chef Charles Dale has worked with preeminent chefs including Daniel Boulud and Jean-Paul Lacombe, and has garnered culinary accolades throughout his career.

Bakery and Brunch: Chocolate Maven

Chocolate Maven makes for an oasis-in-the-desert feeling upon crossing its threshold: Little would you expect its warehouse-like exterior to house a delightful bakery and restaurant, with pies, cakes and cupcakes galore. Chocolate Maven is a particularly top spot for brunch with the family; what kid — of any age — could resist green eggs and ham (with green chile sausage patties) or waffles with strawberries and chantilly cream? Among the bakery offerings, the chocolate-based and carrot cake cupcakes are irresistible.

Go to: Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe

Watering Hole: Santa Fe Brewing Company

New Mexico has a burgeoning craft beer scene, but its oldest microbrewery remains one of its best. Since 1988, Santa Fe Brewing Company has produced excellent local options. Flagships include the Happy Camper IPA — true to its name, guaranteed to make you blissful when out camping in the nearby Pecos Wilderness — and the 10 percent ABV Chicken Killer Barley Wine, named in honor of brewery dog, Petey, and the day he got into the chicken coop. Though the tap room doesn’t serve food, it does host a steady rotation of food trucks.

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