People expect to find Tex-Mex cuisine in Santa Fe. But here, southwestern means northern New Mexican (norteño) cooking. Many of the restaurants serving New Mexican-style meals (comidas nativas) have been open for years. Owners can trace their New Mexico roots back hundreds of years. Most use old family recipes that their abuelas (grandmothers) cooked. Many weren’t written down. Roberto Cordova of Casa Chimayó tells of his mother teaching the restaurant’s cook the old family dishes. “Just a handful of beans,” she’d say. “If your hands are small like mine, two handfuls; if you have large hands like Grandpa Severo, one hand.” Florence Jaramillo of Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante tells a similar story of collecting recipes from her husband’s family. No one had ever written them down. While there is some commonality to how these traditional foods were prepared, every family had their own secrets. The local food is spicy and earthy. The cooking is based on “three sisters”: corn, beans and squash, the crops grown by the Pueblo people. Chile, which came with the Spaniards and is now the official state vegetable, is ubiquitous. Traditionally roasted green was eaten in summer (though now thanks to freezing it’s available year-round). The dried red, made into ristras (strings of chile), was used the rest of the year. Many of these restaurants should be in the number one spot. Just pick the one (or more) that speak to you and savor the spice and the history.
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