Chile and Eggs: Breakfast the Santa Fe Way

Photo courtesy of Sweet Water Harvest Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Horseman's Haven
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Clafoutis
Photo courtesy of Harry's Roadhouse
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of La Fonda on the Plaza
Photo courtesy of Tia Sophia's
Photo courtesy of The Pantry Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
By Billie Frank, Santa Fe Local Expert

No visit to Santa Fe is complete without eating a traditional northern New Mexico breakfast. If you like heat, order something with chile. It’s the official state vegetable and much beloved all around the state. Try the local version of the breakfast burrito: a concoction of eggs, breakfast meat, potatoes and cheese smothered in either red or green chile. Want to sample them both? Ask for Christmas. Always ask to taste the chile before ordering it. Most restaurants won’t take your food back if you complain it’s too hot. You can also order local favorites such as huevos rancheros or an original offering such as Eggs Consuelo at The Pantry. Most eateries have at least one signature dish. Don’t want spicy? Most places have pancakes, French toast, waffles and the old American staple, bacon (or sausage) and eggs. You can find breakfast options from the downtown to the south side of town and beyond such as Harry’s Roadhouse or Café San Marcos. If you need something on the run, grab a handheld breakfast burrito at El Parasol. In the mood for delicious and healthy? Try Café Pasqual’s where organic reigns. If you want to go 180 degrees, try one of the many bakeries around the city where you can enjoy freshly baked breakfast pastries with a cup of good, strong coffee or an interesting tea.

10. Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Sweet Water Harvest Kitchen

You have to go looking for Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen to find it. Tucked onto Pacheco Street in the up and coming Midtown district, the contemporary space attracts food-conscious locals and tourists who want to eat fresh and local. The eatery is part of Santa Fe's Farm to Restaurant program and takes this seriously. They even make their own mead with local honey, and grind their gains daily. They also make their own coconut nectar twice a week. Sweetwater serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

9. Horseman's Haven Cafe
Photo courtesy of Horseman's Haven

Horseman's Haven is a local legend known for killer-hot green chile. Old timers will tell you they miss the original rustic café, opened in 1960, with its seven booths and community table in the middle. In 2003, they built a larger eatery when they weren't allowed expand the original. Their green chile, grown especially for them, is a cross between a Big Jim and Sandia. The Level 1 is edible if you can handle some heat. The Level 2 is only for those with asbestos palates. They won't smother your food in it no matter how nicely you ask. It's just too darned hot. Breakfast favorites include Carne Adovada, and breakfast burritos smothered in green chile. This is New Mexico home cooking like you'd get in your grandmother's kitchen. Generations of Santa Feans keep coming back.

8. San Marcos Cafe
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

San Marcos Café shares space with a feed store on NM 14 south of Santa Fe. The homey eatery draws mostly locals and a smattering of tourists including folks filming at the nearby Santa Fe Studios. Start breakfast with a big and gooey cinnamon bun made fresh each day. Favorites include made-from-scratch breakfast items like Huevos Rancheros and their signature Eggs San Marcos: scrambled eggs wrapped in a flour tortilla and smothered in red or green chile and baked. They're plated with pinto beans (the way beans are served in northern New Mexico) and avocado. After (or before) breakfast, check out the birds. Peacocks, turkeys and a few chickens roam free here. There's nothing like seeing a peacock strut his stuff. They serve breakfast all day. Their sign is a bit hard to spot, but look for the vintage truck parked by the equally antique metal windmill.

7. Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Clafoutis

Clafoutis, a pastry shop and café, will take you to Paris. Owners Anne-Laure and Philippe Ligier run this bustling boulangerie/patisserie. She runs the front of the house greeting customers with a cheery "Bonjour!" while he's in the kitchen baking the fresh breads and pastries they're known for. Breakfast can be as simple as a croissant teamed with coffee, espresso hot chocolate or even a bowl of café au lait. If you want something more, there are egg choices including real French omelets, crepes, Croque Monsieur or Madame and Les Gauffres (large House Waffles). Parking is a bit challenging here. Arrive at 7am when they open or mid-morning after the early rush. If you're staying downtown, walking is a great option; on foot it's about 15 minutes from the Plaza.

6. Harry's Roadhouse
Photo courtesy of Harry's Roadhouse

Harry's Roadhouse, a ten-minute drive from downtown, is busy no matter when you go. Be prepared to wait for a table unless you arrive early in the morning. On weekends, the crowds never seem to ebb. The quirky joint offers four indoor dining areas, each with its own character, and outdoor dining in their spacious backyard. The large breakfast menu ranges from house-baked goods to New Mexican and Mexican favorites. Want to go beyond the items like burritos and huevos rancheros found on most local breakfast menus? Try Migas (eggs scrambled with onion, green pepper, tomato, pickled jalapeño, tortilla chips and cheese) or Chilaquiles (eggs any style with tomatillo salsa and Asadero and Cotija cheeses and tortilla chips). If you aren't ready for spice in the morning, try the lemon ricotta pancakes, waffles, French toast or a traditional American breakfast: eggs, meat and home fries.

5. The Plaza Cafe
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

The Plaza Café, on the west side of the historic Santa Fe Plaza, claims to be the oldest restaurant in town. Originally opened in 1905, it's been owned by the Razatos family since 1947. Décor is 50s diner and you can see the original 50s eatery in the vintage photos hanging on the walls. While they have the usual burritos and huevos rancheros, there are a few more unusual breakfast offerings including Huevos con Nopalito (scrambled eggs with cactus, chopped steak, tomatillo salsa, cheese and Mexican sour cream) and posole, a traditional New Mexican stew made with hominy with a choice of pork or menudo (tripe). A few breakfast dishes are served all day. Be prepared to wait as the get really busy. Also try the newer Plaza Café Southside owned by a different branch of the family. There's usually no wait there and the food is just as good.

4. La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel
Photo courtesy of La Fonda on the Plaza

Looking for a more upscale breakfast with classic Santa Fe ambiance? Head for La Plazuela at La Fonda on the Plaza. The former Harvey House hotel is loaded with history. Recent renovations to the hotel and restaurant were true to original designer Mary Jane Colter's original vision. Tables are arranged around a fountain under a glass ceiling in this former courtyard, enclosed in 1975. When the dining room was renovated in 2008, designs from Harvey's original designer, Mary Jane Colter, were used. Local power-brokers often meet here for breakfast. The legendary Sam Ballen, the hotel's late owner, held a weekly round table in the dining room; it still meets informally once a week. The menu runs from classic American selections such as eggs with breakfast meat or blueberry pancakes to more exotic New Mexican/Mexican fare such as burritos, Huevos Oaxaca, or their signature dish, Huevos Rancheros.

3. Tia Sophia's
Photo courtesy of Tia Sophia's

Tia Sophia's, a few blocks from the Plaza, has been luring locals since 1975. It's a popular destination for local business people and politicians when the State Legislature is in session. Many a deal has been struck over a power breakfast here. Because it's one of the most written about (and televised) breakfast spots in town it also attracts flocks of tourists. According to owner Nick Maryol, the secret to their success is simple. He cites delicious food, generous portions, great service, reasonable prices, and consistency. Judging from the wait for a table, they've nailed it. Maryol says their breakfast burrito is their claim to fame. Family lore has it that Nick's dad, Jim, came up with this delicious concoction and it caught on around town.

2. The Pantry Restaurant
Photo courtesy of The Pantry Restaurant

The Pantry is a local fixture. Hungry Santa Feans have been starting their day here since 1948. The breakfast burrito smothered in your favorite chile is a winner. Their red is one of the best in town. The breakfast sandwich, a tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese and green chile with fresh salsa on the side, is one of their top sellers. Not in the mood for heat? Try an all-American breakfast. Pick from favorites including chicken-fried steak, fresh corned beef hash, biscuits with country sausage gravy, pancakes or waffles. The choice of breakfast meat goes beyond the usual bacon and ham, offering carne adovada, corned beef or chorizo. It's almost always busy here and you may have to wait but it's worth it.

1. Café Pasqual's
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Breakfast at Café Pasqual's is a local tradition. Because they've garnered a lot of national press, you'll also encounter lots of tourists. James Beard Award-winning chef/owner Katherine Kagel has long supported organic, fresh and local and that's what she serves in her small corner eatery in downtown Santa Fe. She calls her approach, "Never, ever," meaning that no chemicals, antibiotics, hormones or anything artificial is ever used in her food. The eclectic breakfast menu offers New Mexican favorites such as breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros alongside Mexican-inspired dishes such as Huevos Barbacoa, a delicious combination of marinated, slow-cooked shredded beef served on a corn tortilla and topped with eggs and chile d'arbol salsa. You'll also find cheese blintzes, corned beef hash and the more unusual smoked trout hash. Portions are HUGE but many dishes are available as half-orders. Arrive when the doors open or be prepared to wait.