One of the things we most like about living in Santa Fe is the robust food scene. Whether you’re coming for a visit or live here and want to work your way through local restaurants, our Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe will help you navigate the restaurant scene from casual to upscale.
Recently Santa Fe was named to the lucky number seven spot in the 2016 in Travel + Leisure’s readers’ poll The Best Cities for Food in the United States. This T+L reader hit it on the head. “For a small city the restaurant and food selections are outstanding.” While they mentioned Northern New Mexican specialties such as carne adovada, the city’s culinary scene goes way beyond the time-honored chile-based regional cuisine.
One of the things we love most about the food scene here and why we wanted to write a food lovers guide to Santa Fe is the restaurant community’s growing commitment to locally grown and produced food. You’ll find locally grown and raised food in restaurants in all price ranges. Due to the cost of ingredients it’s more prevalent in more expensive eateries. Even when not farm-fresh, there’s a lot of intriguing food to sample as you eat your way through the city.
We’ve broken the Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe down by categories and listed them alphabetically. Some restaurants fit the bill in multiple genres so we put them where they made the most sense to us. This is part one of what will be a continuing series.
Our Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe
When we first arrived in Santa Fe over a dozen years ago we wanted to celebrate our 30th anniversary in style. We asked locals what the best spot was for a special dinner. Two names kept coming up. One was Geronimo and the other 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar (then known as Bistro 315). We opted for Geronimo, but on our next special occasion a few months later, tried them out. We’ve had dozens of meals here over the ensuing years and they’ve all been good. Chef/owner Louis Moskow is committed to fresh and local; we’ve often run into him at the Santa Fe Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. This summer we discovered their bar menu. All dishes are priced at $8 or you can get five for $35. We were full after two dishes one evening. We wanted to know if the five dish deal would work for four, so we recruited two friends. We cheated a bit ordering a few oysters and one dessert which we shared. Under $50 (without drinks) for four people is a deal in Santa Fe! There’s an interesting wine list with good selections by the glass. There’s also a full bar. In summer, grab a table on the patio or under the front portal.
One of the newest entries on the Santa Fe dining scene, 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining, opened in May. When I called the newly opened eatery to get information for our monthly Tidbits post Chef Laura (pronounced Lao-ra) answered the phone. Her contagious enthusiasm and love for food won me over immediately. When she invited us to dinner we jumped at the invitation. The food on the frequently changing menu reflects both what’s in season and inspiring to the chef. Licona says she lets the food speak to her. Based on our dining experience, the dialogue is going well. Service was friendly and knowledgable and the wine list interesting. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Geronimo is probably the best known destination restaurant in Santa Fe. They’ve been wowing diners with their seasonal “global eclectic” menu accompanied by an impressive wine list and impeccable service for several decades. Set in the historic Borrego House built in 1756, the ambiance is Santa Fe meets upscale meets timeless chic. Each of the three dining rooms has its own distinct flavor. Our favorite in winter: the sophisticated front dining room with its cozy banquettes and sophisticated feel. In summer, we love to dine on the front porch (called the portal in these parts), with its people-watching opportunities and often cooling breezes. Reservations are a must at this hot spot and are often hard to come by, especially in summer. For something a bit more casual and lighter on the wallet, dine in the intimate bar. Arrive early or be prepared to wait.
Restaurant Martín, owned by Chef Martín Rios and his wife Jennifer, is a favorite with both locals and visitors. Chef Martín grew up in Santa Fe kitchens, starting as a teenage dishwasher. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America and eventually wended his way back here. After making a mark in many local kitchens including the Old House and Geronimo, he went out on his own. The restaurant was an immediate success. The dining rooms in the adobe former home have minimalist feel; bare white walls are adorned by contemporary art. Chef Martín’s “Progressive American Cuisine” features creatively prepared fresh and seasonal food. The chef’s mission: to enhance the food’s natural flavors while not overpowering them. His food is consistently pleasing to both palate and eyes. In summer, we recommend dining on the back patio. They also offer lunch on weekdays and brunch on Sundays. They’re closed on Mondays.
Fresh and local
While the Mexican-inspired ambiance at the tiny and rather crowded Café Pasqual’s, is casual, the food is anything but. Chef/owner Katherine Kagel, who has been called “the Alice Waters of Santa Fe,” has been offering her organic, globally-influenced cuisine for almost four decades. The place is almost always overflowing with a mix of dedicated locals and visitors who have heard about the magic at this culinary hot spot. There’s usually a wait for a table for breakfast and lunch’ they don’t accept reservations. If you don’t mind eating with random strangers, you can sometimes score a seat of two at the community table, a place where friendships and even marriages have begun. Dinner is by reservation only and tables are often booked well in advance. The food is all organic, much of it locally sourced and often globally inspired. It’s a great addition to any Santa Fe dining itinerary.
The ambiance of a neighborhood diner teams up with a nose to tail locavore philosophy at Chef Josh Gerwin’s Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen. It’s unlikely location: a strip mall on Cerrillos Road about 15 minutes from the Plaza. It’s worth the drive! The eclectic, casual menu at the almost always hopping eatery includes pizzas (they have a huge wood-fired oven in the open kitchen); interesting small plates such as chips, dips, salads and carne adovada egg rolls; some of the best onion rings we’ve ever eaten and amply-sized sandwiches including the goat torta and the Bad Ass BLT made with ground bacon (and not for the faint of heart) that can be shared by people with moderate appetites. This is just a drop in the bucket. It’s a diverse menu! There are also a few taco and enchilada offerings. Most of the food, including the meat, is locally sourced. Gerwin does his own butchering at Dr. Field Good’s Butcher Shop and Bakery, located a few doors down. The shop sells the meat as well as house-made charcuterie and in-house baked breads. You can also grab a quick lunch at the shop’s lunch counter. Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen serves lunch and dinner daily.
Salad lovers will love Vinaigrette – A Salad Bistro, on tiny Don Cubero Alley off Cerrillos Road, was a success from the moment Harvard graduate Erin Wade opened the doors in 2008. Wade grows many of the organic ingredients for the wide variety of salads on offer at her family’s Nambe farm. The somewhat loud, very California contemporary dining room is almost always crowded; people love the simple, healthy fare. Menu headings include Seasonal Salads, Bright & Zippy, Savory and A Little Sweet. Diners can add meat, seafood or other extras to salads. In addition, there are a few starts and sides, soups and sandwiches. The back patio is lovely in summer. The Vinaigrette formula was so successful that Wade opened branches in Albuquerque and Austin, Texas. They serve lunch and dinner every day but Sunday.
Northern New Mexican
Café Atrisco is owned by George Gundry, son of Georgia Maryol who opened the iconic Tomasitas in the 1970s. (George runs that eatery as well). What makes Atrisco special is their commitment to locally sourced food whenever possible, specifically their beef, lamb and chiles. They’re the only New Mexican eatery in Santa Fe with lamb on the menu. Look for their costillas (lamb ribs) special. They’re a local tradition. They’re open daily for lunch and dinner and breakfast on weekends.
Family-owned and run Rancho de Chimayó, who celebrated their 50th anniversary last fall and is designated a James Beard American Classic has been a local favorite for decades. It’s about 35 minutes from Santa Fe, but you can combine it with a visit to Chimayó which is high on our to-do recommend list. The extensive menu is based on old family recipes handed down for generations. Try the carne adovada, a classic Northern New Mexico comfort dish or my favorite, the stuffed sopapilla with shredded beef smothered in green chile. I pay extra to get all meat as I don’t like rice and beans in it and ask for them on the side. In winter we prefer the glassed in former porch and in summer, the outdoor terraced patio. Reservations are highly recommended. They serve lunch and dinner daily and breakfast on weekends.
The Shed is a Santa Fe favorite for locals and a destination for visitors. Located in the historic Sena Building a block from the Plaza, the small charming dining rooms are always filled with diners eating New Mexico’s version of comfort food. Lunch is first-come-first-served but they accept reservations for dinner; tables book up in advance. You can always sit at the bar sipping on a margarita and nibble on chips and salsa, guacamole or other appetizer and hope a table turns up. They do save a few for walk-ins. Sopapilla fans take note, they don’t serve them here. Meals come with garlic bread- it’s a tradition with a story behind it. If you’re a sopapilla fan, their sister restaurant, La Choza, opened in the Railyard District in the 1980s serves these plump fried dough pillows with entrees.
We’ll be adding to this post as we have dining experiences we feel worthy of the list. Santa Fe has so many worthwhile restaurants, we decided to break our Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe into several parts. Next time we’ll share our world cuisine picks.
Author’s note: Over the years as concierges and then food writers we’ve eaten in many of these places as guests of the management. We did not accept any meals specifically for our Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe. These are restaurants that we love and frequent and wanted to share with readers.