Santa Fe's Eclectic, Delicious and Diverse Dining Will Wow You
By Billie Frank
Santa Fe Local Expert
Santa Fe is a foodie’s city. Food finds can range from downright cheap authentic Mexican dives to high-end eateries where fusion reigns. The local, spicy Northern New Mexican cuisine, aka ‘norteño,’ is a must-try. Based on in-state grown chile (the New Mexico State Vegetable), beans, squash and corn, it’s addictive. Start your day with a breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s smothered in either red or green chile or opt for “Christmas” and you’ll get both. The Shed is a destination for that authentic lunch or dinner chile fix. For the ultimate in high-end chic, Geronimo or Restaurant Martin. In between, there are tons of excellent casual dining spots such as the popular nose-to-tail Dr. Field Goods, to try. Good international choices abound: French at L’Olivier, Italian at Osteria d’ Assisi, Japanese at Shohko Café and African/Caribbean fusion at Jambo Café are good bets. For a fast lunch, try some street food. Roque’s Carnitas has been cooking up its tortilla-filled handful on the Plaza for over 25 years. Many restaurants have jumped on the farm-to-table bandwagon, incorporating locally grown and produced goodies on their menus in creative ways. No matter what your budget is, you can dine well in Santa Fe.
Back Road Pizza
Everybody loves pizza! Santa Feans think Back Road Pizza has some of the best; it's constantly on the annual Best of Santa Fe list. The eatery was featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives in 2009. You can catch it in reruns. Back Road Pizza started in Madrid, a small "ghost" town south of Santa Fe. It moved to its current 2nd Street location in 2003. What sets them apart? The thin flour crust gets a local twist. It's rolled in cornmeal, creating a unique texture and flavor. All food is hand-crafted on site. Meats are locally raised and much of the cheese is produced in New Mexico. Can't eat wheat? They offer a gluten-free crust. The signature pizza, the New Mexican sports New Mexico green chile, pepperoni and red onions. Enjoy Santa Fe micro-brews on tap as well as Santa Fe Cider Works' hard cider. ((505) 955-9055)
A Santa Fe best restaurant list wouldn't be complete without a New Mexican eatery. The Shed, on East Palace Avenue half a block from the Plaza, has been dishing up the traditional fare since 1960. Norteno, the local cuisine, has some similarities to Mexican, but it has its own very distinct character. It's based on the three crops grown by the Pueblo People: corn, beans and squash and chile which arrived with the Spanish in 1598. They take chile seriously here and grind their own. Their signature dish: red chile cheese and onion blue corn enchiladas. There's almost always a wait for lunch unless you arrive by 11:30. Enjoy a margarita made with fresh-squeezes lime juice in their bar or browse through nearby shops while you wait. Dinner reservations are available. Make them early; weekends fill up quickly. (505-982-9030)
Santa Fe Bite
Green chile cheeseburgers are one of the city's most iconic dishes. Everyone has a favorite. The juicy burgers at Santa Fe Bite (formerly Bobcat Bite) are the hands-down winner for the title of "best". Made from a mix of natural New Mexico chuck and sirloin, seasoned with Bonnie Eckre's secret mix and cooked on well-seasoned cast-iron grills, they rock. The original restaurant opened on Old Las Vegas Highway in 1953. Bonnie and her husband John bought it in 2003. Their burgers have garnered national attention from culinary and travel magazines as well as food books and travel guides. In August 2013 they moved downtown and changed their name to Santa Fe Bite. The new bright airy digs are a far cry from the original, but the burgers remain the same. The Bite, open daily for lunch and dinner (except Mondays), serves breakfast on weekends and closes at 6p.m. on Sundays. ((505) 982-0544)
Some places get discovered the moment they open. Santa Fe was hungry for a different experience and Jambo ("hello" in Swahili) provided it. Chef/owner Ahmed Obo, a Kenyon native, has mixed the flavors of his homeland with those of the Caribbean, creating a spicy and unique dining experience at reasonable prices. Why the mix? Lamu, the island he hails from, and the Caribbean Islands share some of the same spices and both have multi-cultural influence. The synergy appealed to him. It works. The restaurant was so successful they expanded to the space next door. The eclectic menu features dishes Obo watched his mother cook as well as favorites such as jerk chicken, Moroccan Lamb Stew and Caribbean Goat Stew. The menu remains fairly constant with diversity added by daily specials. (505-473-1269)
Like tapas? Head for La Boca, an intimate dining spot offering Spanish small plates infused with Chef/owner James Campbell Caruso's contemporary twists. Fresh, seasonal and local are important here with seasonal menu changes four to five times a year. There are always evening specials offered. In addition to the extensive tapas menu you will always find a few entrees including Local Flat-Iron Steak. Signature tapas I clude Grilled Artichokes, Boquerones (Spanish white anchovies marinated in white wine, garlic, and olive oil), and Patas Bravas (fried local fingerling potatoes with spicy sherry). The restaurant offers an extensive selection of Sherry and European wines, many available by the glass. For a more contemporary experience, try Taberna La Boca located just around the corner. Try the traditional Pintxos (Basque tapas) lined up on the bar. (505-982-3433)
315 Restaurant & Wine Bar
Where do locals eat? One popular place with resident Santa Feans is 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar. Dine on seasonally-inspired eatery serving fresh and local foods in inspired presentations in French bistro ambiance. The winter menu features more robust foods like braised local lamb shank. Warmer weather brings beloved specials such as soft-shell crab and stuffed squash blossoms as well as house-smoked trout. Their signature Steak and Frites are always on the menu. The menu changes several times a season with daily and weekly specials based on what Chef-owner Louis Moskow finds in his weekly forays to the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Originally a wine bar (they have a great selection of wines by the glass), the restaurant now offers full bar service. Save room for the luscious desserts including their signature Chocolate Pots de Crème. (505-986-9190)
Anasazi Restaurant at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi
The Anasazi Restaurant, an elegant, intimately lit haven, sits inside the Four Star/Four Diamond Inn of the Anasazi. Executive Chef Juan Bochenski adds the flavors of his native Argentina to the southwest influenced menu creating an exciting fusion experience. Start your meal with one of the bar's special cocktails that combine fresh ingredients with a southwestern flair while nibbling Bochinski's flavorful duck enchiladas with their dusky mole sauce. Their signature entrée, Free-Range New Mexico Lamb Rack is always on the menu. Want the perfect wine-pairing for your dish? The Chef will suggest what varieties work best with the dish's flavors. Save room for one of the tempting and unique desserts. In warm weather, opt for the casual dining experience offered on the front patio, one of the best people-watching spots in town. (505-988-3236)
Terra at Four Seasons Resorts Rancho Encantado
Want a sunset view with dinner? Terra at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, a 15-minute drive from the Plaza, boasts the best in town. If you time it right you can catch this nightly show. through the windowed wall in the contemporary chic dining room. Executive Chef Andrew Cooper creates seasonal menus using the best local ingredients sourced from the Santa Fe Farmers Market, local farmers and purveyors. He works with an impressive list of local farms. In addition to the regular offerings, nightly specials reflect market finds. Want to watch the chef in action? Dine at the Chef's Table in the restaurant's kitchen where Chef Cooper wows guests with his multicourse meals. Don an apron and grab a knife; you're helping to cook dinner. Garner culinary tips and trips as you work. You'll be talking about this for years. For a more casual dining experience, head to Terera's bar. ((505) 946-5800)
Chef Martin Rios, owner (with his wife Jennifer) of Restaurant Martin, is as close to a culinary celebrity as you can get in this town. Among his accomplishments are five nominations for a James Beard Award and appearances on both the Cooking Channel and the Food Network. He's always been featured in SAVEUR and Bon Appétit. The man certainly knows his way around a kitchen. Combine that with a chic dining establishment, extensive wine list and attentive service and you have a topnotch eatery. Rios is committed to using the freshest seasonal ingredients for his "progressive American cuisine." In summer he even has his own garden outside his kitchen door. Sit on the patio and you may see him picking a few herbs for a garnish. (505-820-0919)
Ask folks in Santa Fe what the best restaurant is and you'll almost always hear, "Geronimo." This upscale eatery, set in a historic adobe former home, gets it. The entire dining experience is special from the exquisite food to the mellow ambiance and world-class service. The "global eclectic" fusion menu combines classic French technique with ingredients from around the world, including fresh and locally grown and raised whenever possible. Executive Chef Eric DiStefano is known for his Peppery Elk Tenderloin. Signature dishes that will always be on the menu include the Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Sashimi & Tartare, the Maryland Blue Crab Cakes and Mesquite Grilled Maine Lobster Tails. The extensive wine list is carefully selected to compliment the food. Geronimo serves dinner daily. Reservations are essential. If you don't have one, dine in the intimate bar. (505-982-1500)
About Billie Frank
Billie Frank is a freelance travel, food and feature writer based in Santa Fe New Mexico. Her blog, Santa Fe Travelers, is a treasure trove of information on the oldest capital city in the USA. Billie is also co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, a trip-planning and tour business.
Read more about Billie Frank here.