It's Not Tex-Mex: It's New Mex

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.


Maria's New Mexican Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Maria's New Mexican Kitchen


Maria's New Mexican Kitchen has a long history in Santa Fe. In 1952, Maria and Gilbert Lopez opened a take-out restaurant offering traditional New Mexican food. In 1985, Al and Laurie Lucero bought Maria's. Al's goal was to take the restaurant...  Read More

El Paragua Restaurant
Photo courtesy of El Paragua Restaurant


El Paragua is in Española, about a half-hour north of Santa Fe started as a taco stand in 1958. It was run by brothers Lorenzo and Pedro Atencio, then aged 10 and 12. They sold their mother's homemade tacos and tamales on the town's main...  Read More

Cerrillos Road
Cafe Castro
Photo courtesy of Cafe Castro


Café Castro (originally Castro's El Comal) was opened in 1990. The New Mexican restaurant, owned by Julia and Carlos Castro, is now on Cerrillos Road across from Jackalope (look for their sign, it's easy to miss). Many of their recipes come...  Read More

La Cocina Restaurant
Photo courtesy of La Cocina Restaurant


La Cocina, on US 284/85 in Española, about a half-hour north of Santa Fe, is family owned and operated. Opened by Eddie and Jessie Martinez as La Cocina Café in 1970, the initial concept was to have a small shop and café catering to locals....  Read More

Historic Guadalupe
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins


One day in the early 1970s Georgia Maryol wandered into Tomasita's, a small café on Hickox Street (the building now houses Tune-Up Café). It reminded her of Albuquerque's Atencio Barrio where she grew up. She kept coming back. Hearing the...  Read More

Santa Fe West
La Choza
Photo courtesy of La Choza


La Choza (the shack), sister restaurant to The Shed, opened in 1983. It sits on tiny Alarid Street in the Railyard District, adjacent to the train tracks. It was started as a take-out lunch restaurant but quickly gained popularity and table...  Read More

Historic Guadalupe
Casa Chimayo Restaurante
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins


Each New Mexico town and family has its own variation on classic dishes. Roberto Cordova, aka "the King of Chile," wanted to bring Chimayó style cooking to Santa Fe. He opened Casa Chimayó in his family's former Water Street home in 2011. He...  Read More

Northwest / West Alameda
Atrisco Cafe and Bar
Photo courtesy of Atrisco Cafe & Bar


Want to dine where the locals go? Head for Atrisco Café & Bar in DeVargas Mall. Locals come here for the traditional comidas nativas de Nuevo Mexico (northern New Mexican cuisine). Owner George Gundrey, former Executive Director of the...  Read More

Sena Plaza
The Shed
Photo courtesy of Billy Vigil


The Shed, located a convenient half a block from the Plaza, has been dishing up their take on traditional New Mexican fare since 1960. Set in a historic former home on East Palace Avenue, diners are greeted by a warren of small, charming rooms....  Read More

Rancho de Chimayo Restaurante
Photo courtesy of Steve Collins


Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante, a perennial favorite of locals and tourist alike, will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2015. It's run by octogenarian Florence Jaramillo who started it with her former husband Arturo in 1965. The historic...  Read More


Meet 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...  More About Billie