Doing Lunch in Santa Fe: From Fast and Easy to Elegant

Photo courtesy of Back Street Bistro
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Vinaigrette
Photo courtesy of Terra Cotta Wine Bistro
Photo courtesy of Il Piatto
Photo courtesy of Del Charro
Photo courtesy of The Compound
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
By Billie Frank, Santa Fe Local Expert

When you’re traveling and sightseeing during the day, you often want to make lunch short and sweet. Perhaps you’re on a day-trip and want to take a picnic lunch with you. For some, taking time to eat a great lunch is part of the adventure. Santa Fe offers midday meal options for all in price ranges to fit any budget, from carts to white linen. Try the local New Mexican cuisine or the infamous Frito pie at the iconic Five & Dime. If you’re in the mood for a burger, think green chile cheeseburger, they’re iconic here. You’ll find them all over including at Del Charro and Santa Fe Bite. Want a bit of barbecue? Head for The Ranch House at the city’s Southside. There are loads of spots for that American favorite pizza including Back Road Pizza. Want some world cuisine? Epazote on the Hillside, Café Pasqual’s or Lan’s are all good bets. Ever tried African? You can at Jambo Café. Want lunch on the run or to go? The Beestro, Roque’s Carnitas and Bang Bite are all good options. For a fancier sit-down lunch complete with white linen and cocktails, More great lunch places can be found on the 10 Best Santa Fe Brunch lists. There’s no shortage of good lunch spots in Santa Fe; it’s a food-lovers paradise!

 

10. Back Street Bistro
Photo courtesy of Back Street Bistro

Love soup? Head on over to the Backstreet Bistro, a local favorite, where they've been serving up house-made soup since 1994. Their aim: to serve fresh seasonal soups made from scratch. No base used here, just good stock simmered for hours. Diners get to choose from eight options each day including favorites like Thai Curried Squash, Sweet Pepper Bisque and Butternut Squash. The signature soup: thick and creamy Hungarian Mushroom. Fridays bring favorites from two very different traditions: the Jewish Friday night staple, matzo ball soup and the meatless Friday superstar, New England clam chowder. There is always at least one cream, meat, vegan, and gluten-free option on the menu daily. In 2013, Backstreet Bistro was featured on the Food Network's hit show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The episode highlighted their Smoked Turkey Wild Rice soup and pumpkin pie. Desserts are made fresh daily. Bring cash; credit cards aren't accepted.

9. M.A.M.A.'s World Take-out
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

M.A.M.A.S World Take-Out is in an industrial building so far off the beaten path you won't stumble upon it on your own. The funky, strictly take-out eatery (you can dine on the front loading dock in warm weather) offers a plethora of different cuisines. The name is an acronym for Middle-Eastern, American, 'Mexican(ish)' Asian and Salvadoran. This literal hole-in-the-wall opened in September 2014. Owner Mark Friedman isn't a newcomer to food, though. His company, The Providers, has sold prepared foods to local markets since 1999. Signature dishes include deep-fried hotdogs (a holdover from Friedman's New Jersey roots), along with a classic Italian hero; Chicken Shawarma; Burmese Crunchy Ginger Salad, pupusas and a perfectly-fried falafel. Friedman is passionate about food; if you love eating, you'll have a great time talking with him. At the moment, except for a few seats on the loading dock in warm weather, it's strictly take-out.

8. Vinaigrette
Photo courtesy of Vinaigrette

Some places catch on from day one. Vinaigrette is one of these. As the name implies, this is a salad place. The list of salads on offer is long and inventive. Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible including from owner Erin Wade's 10-acre Nambe farm. The interior is stark and industrial-feeling. Much of the seating is on backless stools and the noise level can be a little intense. But, if you want an outstanding salad, this is the place to go. There is a range of salads from ones offering meat, to vegetarian and vegan options. Whatever you chose, you won't go wrong. The menu also has a few 'Starters & Sides' including mac & cheese, some vegetable offerings, sandwiches including a Cuban torta and three soups. They offer an interesting selection of wines by the glass.

7. TerraCotta Wine Bistro
Photo courtesy of Terra Cotta Wine Bistro

Terra Cotta Wine Bistro, opened in 2011, is tucked away on historic Johnson Street, home to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The short byway (only a few blocks long), once home to Union Army barracks, is now a culinary treasure offering three restaurants, a bakery and the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The eatery's owners Glenda Griswald and Executive Chef Catherine O'Brien had run their successful Peas 'n Pod catering (still in business) since 1996. They were ready for a restaurant. The duo wanted a place that would both cater to locals and appeal to tourists. They've succeeded. They serve the same menu from their 11:30am opening until closing with the exception of the panini, which is only available until 5pm. Choose from small plates, soups and salads, entrees and sides. Signature dishes are planked salmon, Baltimore-style crab cakes and fried chicken with cheese grits and collards.

6. Il Piatto
Photo courtesy of Il Piatto

Chef Matt Yohalem opened his upscale casual Italian eatery, Il Piatto, in 1996. The rustic Italian country farmhouse décor sets the mood here. He sums the menu up as "regional Italian food with respect to the old country, using local ingredients, prepared by a French and Creole-trained New York Jew in New Mexico." His food philosophy is simple: "what grows together, goes together." His signature lunch dishes are grilled calamari served with shaved fennel salad; Caesar salad; fresh house-made pastas such as gnocchi with wild mushrooms and chicken liver agra dolce (Italian for sweet and sour). Or try one of the daily specials. Gourmands will love the well-priced three-course lunch menu. The restaurant also prides itself on its extensive wine list. The restaurant's farm-fresh deliveries arrive on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. If you're there at the right time, you may even meet the farmers.

5. Del Charro
Photo courtesy of Del Charro

Del Charro Saloon, just a few short blocks from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. The combination of location and reasonably priced, well prepared food is a winner. Their signature burger and fries plate is a great deal. The patties are made from locally raised, grass-fed beef. Want something different? Try the Stuffed Green Chile Cheeseburger filled with stuffed with apple wood smoked bacon, roasted green chile, gorgonzola cheese and green chile relish. Fans of batter-dipped and fried will love the vegetarian stuffed poblano pepper. The daily specials are really great deals. Save room for their signature chocolate mousse cake in Oreo shell with raspberry coulis. If you don't want to wait for a table, come right at 11:30am when they open or after 1:30pm when things slow down. Try for a table on the covered, heated patio.

4. The Compound Restaurant
Photo courtesy of The Compound

Lunch at The Compound is an occasion. There's white linen on the tables and the service is first-class. Longing for a leisurely lunch with a martini or fine wine? This is the perfect place. The seasonally changing menu has a few signature dishes (Lobster & Mango Salad, Sweet Bread & Foie Gras and Chicken Schnitzel) that are always on offer. The restaurant, opened in the late 60s, is now run by Executive Chef Mark Kiffen, winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southwest in 2005. The interior, designed by noted mid-century designer Alexander Girard, is notable for its bar, a conversation pit; patrons are at eye-level with the bartender. You can lunch there or in one of the dining rooms. In warmer weather opt for one of the outdoor patios with their Old World feel. Want to make sure you get a table? Book ahead.

3. Bang Bite
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Bang Bite Filling Station is right out of Jon Favreau's hit film Chef. Chef/owner Enrique Guerrero, a man with an impressive culinary CV, traded his chef's coat for a tee-shirt. He's cooking up some really good grub in his bright orange movable kitchen parked at the busy intersection of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta. People line up to order and then either take their lunches with them or, in warmer weather, eat at one of the picnic tables under festive red umbrellas. Fare runs from big burgers (there are at least 10 different ones offered), to sandwiches ('sammies') and 'Things with Cheese' including grilled mac & cheese. There are also daily specials. His perfectly fried potatoes are contenders for the title of 'best in town.' In colder weather, there are some hardy offerings on menu including black bean chile with turkey and local favorite: green chile stew.

2. The Beestro

The Beestro specializes in lunch to-go. This tiny spot started life as a lunch delivery service in October 2011. Enterprising chef Greg Menke and his partner Devon Gilchrist saw a need. A year later they opened a charming hole-in-the-wall on Marcy Street. Delivery is gone but the original formula remains. Food's prepared in a commissary kitchen nearby then biked to the café. Yes, biked. Chef Greg is a fan of sustainability. He also uses local produce whenever possible and is committed to saving bees, hence the restaurant's name which is a clever play on words. Patrons can take out or eat in either at an outdoor table or upstairs in their new chic dining room (which morphs into a crêperie five nights a week). The lunch menu is simple; panini, soups, and salads. They also offer simple breakfasts: burritos and French pastry as well as artisan-roasted coffee throughout the day.

1. Epazote on the Hillside
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins

Want something a bit different for lunch? Head to Epazote on the Hillside. The eatery shares space with Hillside, a cooperative gallery featuring local artists. Chef Fernando Olea took over the greenhouse at this former nursery. He lovingly prepares his 'inspired New World cuisine' in an open kitchen. Chef Olea uses ingredients from his native Mexico, some dating back to the Aztecs, to create a fusion experience that you'll long remember. His specialty is mole and he goes far beyond the traditional mole poblano, the chocolate-laced sauce that people are most familiar with. The horno (wood fired oven) in his open kitchen bakes bread and also heats rocks to cook the Botanas (Heart's Delight), bite-sized morsels that are cooked tableside using the heated stones. The menu also offers interesting 'especiales,' like chippolines, salads, main courses and daily specials. Prepare to spend some time; lunch at Epasote is a leisurely experience.