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
Indian: Paper Dosa
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 restaurantâs 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.
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
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
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
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.