Want bang for your dinner buck in The City Different? There are a variety of inexpensive dinner options in Santa Fe that offer the winning combination of good food at reasonable prices. Of course, that can be relative, but in a city where two can easily spend upwards of $100 for dinner, it’s possible to eat well for around $30 or less without alcohol or gratuity. Dinner for two in some of these restaurants can come in at under $20. While Santa Fe has many of the familiar chains that dot towns and cities across America, these inexpensive dinner restaurants in Santa Fe we chose are all locally-owned.
Northern New Mexican cuisine
Our local Norteño (Northern New Mexican) cuisine can be a reasonable option. Taste the chile before having your food smothered with it- it can be spicy. While most of the restaurants serving New Mexican cuisine are reasonably priced, these three offer the best pricing. If you want a bit more ambiance and a margarita with your meal, The Shed, its sister restaurant La Choza and Café Atrisco are great options with entrees mostly under $15. Here are a few of the less expensive places we like:
El Parasol is a small local family-owned chain that started from a roadside table covered by an umbrella (the parasol in the name) in 1958. They have order-at-the counter, sit-down locations on the south-side of Santa Fe at 298 Dinosaur Trail, in Pojoaque, north of Santa Fe, as well as Española and Los Alamos. The Cerrillos Road location, the closest to downtown is take=out only. Prices run are reasonable; the most expensive item on the menu is the enchilada plate at $9. El Parasol also serves breakfast and lunch.
Café Castro, 2811 Cerrillos Road, has been serving up local favorites since 1990. This family-run spot located on Cerrillos Road is a favorite with locals. Enchiladas, stuffed sopaipilla or burrito plates all served with beans, rice and posole are under $10. The most expensive item on the menu is a steak, served with all the above-mentioned sides and a cheese enchilada is $10.99. All entrees come with sopaipillas (fluffy fried dough pillows) that you can eat with your meal or save for dessert. They also serve lunch. Wine and beer are available.
Posas on Rodeo Road is a bit out of the way, but it offers decent New Mexican food at great prices. The no-frills order at the counter place is locally known for their tamales. The extensive full menu includes burritos (which they will deep-fry for an additional charge), tacos, enchiladas, Frito pie, tamale pie as well as a host of “local favorites.” All are priced under $10; portions are generous. Posas also serves breakfast and lunch.
There’s something to be said for longevity. The Pantry has been feeding hungry Santa Feans since they opened in 1948. The Cerrillos Road eatery is a bustling local favorite. The same menu is served for lunch and dinner and you can get breakfast all day. Many entrée prices are under $10. The ample portions will fill you up. The menu offers traditional New Mexican favorites such as carne adovada, slow-roasted marinated pork cooked in The Pantry’s ‘signature red chile,’ alongside American comfort foods such meatloaf, chicken-fried steak and grilled pork chop. Sandwich choices run from burgers, to a classic Ruben to the all-American hot turkey covered with gravy. For dessert: try the tres leches cake.
Not only does the clientele at La Cocina de Doña Clara, 4350 Airport Road in the south side of town, tend to be local, sometimes we’re the only Anglos in the joint. The owners, who hail from Zacatecas, specialize in food from that region. The long list of meats on offer include cabeza (pig’s head), adovada (marinated pork), bistek (steak), picadillo (ground beef), buche (pork stomach), desebrada (shredded beef), pollo (chicken), carnitas (pork loin), and barbacoa (slow-cooked beef). On weekends they have birria de borrego (lamb stew), and cabrito (goat). The best bets price-wise are the tortas (sandwiches), tacos, gorditas and burritos mostly priced under $10 for a plate including rice and beans. They have a variety of more expensive plates, the highest price around $15. The salsa bar has a variety of salsas and condiments to add to your food. Fill a soufflé cup and taste before putting them on your food, they can be spicy. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Editor’s note: While their website says there’s a downtown location it was closed several years ago. Currently many of the prices on their website are obsolete.)
Bumble Bee Baja Grill is a Santa Fe favorite. The fresh, Baja-style food at this order-at-the-counter eatery is well-priced. The extensive menu offers a tacos and burrito (choices include steak, fish, shrimp chicken, pork, lamb, veggie, and tofu), stews, salads, burgers, quesadillas and more. Tacos are the most inexpensive offerings; most entrees are under $14. Their rotisserie chicken dinner, which can feed four people and offered to go only, is a deal at $20. It comes with cilantro-lime rice, beans, corn or flour tortillas, pico de gallo and chips. They also serve lunch. Wine and beer are available.
Though not always the case, world cuisine is frequently the best-priced food around. Here are some of the Santa Fe spots where you’ll get bang for your buck.
The Red Enchilada, 1310 Osage Avenue, sits in a small strip mall just off Cerrillos Road. It’s one of these places that locals know about but is off the radar and also off the beaten path. The ambiance is downright casual. The food, a mix of northern New Mexican and Salvadoran cuisine, is good and inexpensive. A handful of the city’s restaurant kitchens have cooks from El Salvador and a few have opened their own eateries and food trucks. Red Enchilada’s menu offers a few Salvadoran dishes such as pupusas as well New Mexican and Mexican-inspired dishes including tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Prices are the same at lunch and dinner (they also serve a reasonably-priced breakfast). There’s a great selection of entrees priced from around $7 to $10 range. The most expensive item on the menu is $10.95 for a steak. Portions are ample. If you still have room, try their house-made tres leches cake or flan for dessert.
Pho Kim, in the Solana Center at 919 West Alameda, serves acceptable, if not memorable Vietnamese food at affordable prices. Appetizers are in the $4 to $7 range. The ample portions of pho (pronounced fa), the Vietnamese noodle soup that they’re named for, run from $8 to $12. Other dishes are also in the $8 to $12; seafood dishes are priced higher and will break the budged. The real bargain is the banh mi (sandwiches made on crusty baguette introduced under French colonial rule). These filling sandwiches are priced between $5 and $6. Split one and share an appetizer and an average person will be satisfied. If not, add another appetizer and you’re still well within your budget.
Pyramid Café offers Mediterranean fare at a range of prices. The sandwiches and appetizers will keep you well within budget, main courses are pricier. With some of the plates you can add soup or salad and still be within our target price. The “create your own” appetizer plate, with three options (from a selection of seven) for $8.95 is enough for one person’s dinner. We’ve shared it for an inexpensive lunch. Pyramid Cafe, which also has a branch in Los Alamos, serves beer and wine. Cleopatra Café, with both Southside and downtown locations, also offers Mediterranean fare well within our budget. The menu offers appetizers and sandwiches. Both locations serve wine and beer.
While Chinese food in Santa Fe is generally acceptable but not memorable, one of the best dining bargains is the Chef’s Special Soup at Yin Yang ($4.95). We frequently get it to go for an easy dinner. We add two extra won-tons and an extra bag of crispy noodles per order for a more filling meal. Other Chinese food bargains can be found at the Monday Pop-up Dumpling House at Talin Market. Besides dumplings (which come with a variety of fillings) they offer other dishes including soups, Dan Dan Noodles, spicy steamed eggplant, and pork belly and duck sandwiches on traditional soft cha bao buns, all will keep you well within the target budget. Tuesdays through Saturdays there’s a ramen bar.
Burgers and pizza
Other options to keep you within budget are burgers and pizza. Great burgers with fries for under $10 can be found at Shake Foundation, a retro-50s style stand with outdoor dining and also at the popular Del Charro Saloon. They also offer a well-priced daily special and have a full bar, Other burger places include Santa Fe Bite, Five Star Burger and the new Burger Stand on San Francisco Street..
Our favorite pizza is at Pizza Centro with three locations, one at the Santa Fe Design Center between downtown and the Railyard District, one in San Isidro Plaza on the Southside of town and one in “suburban” Eldorado southeast of the city. We love the New York-style, thin-crusted pizza and they sell it by the slice. Two slices each usually fill us up. Small cheese pizzas run $12 to $17 before adding additional toppings. They also offer loaded “specialty pizzas” from $17 to $25. At Back Road Pizza, where they also sell slices, pies run from $8.25 to $18.95, toppings are extra. Both Pizza Centro and Back Road have other menu options and serve wine and beer.
A few strategies your keep tab down
- Eat early. There are Happy Hour deals and early bird specials that offer dining bargains. Check out restaurant bar menus; some offer great food deals. One of the best is at 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar.
- Eat at order-at-the-counter places- food is often a better value and you can leave a few dollars as a tip. In warmer weather, get take out and have a picnic in a local park or grab food at a local market.
- Drink water or a soft drink. Have your pre-dinner cocktail, glass of wine or beer in your lodging before dinner. A few glasses of wine or craft beer at a restaurant is like taking an additional person out to dinner. Moderation is the key or call a cab. DUI laws here are strict and there are random roadblocks.
- Have your appetizer at your lodging. Grab some cheese and crackers or chips and salsa or anything else that catches your fancy. Trader Joe’s has a large, well-priced selection and then skip or share an appetizer or salad at the restaurant.
- Buy dessert at a grocery store or bakery or go out for after dinner gelato or ice cream.
- Some of these restaurants close early. Always check days and hours of operation before you go.
Whether you live here or are visiting, sometimes you want to keep your food budget down. The restaurants and strategies we’ve covered here offer great options for inexpensive dinner restaurants in Santa Fe.
What are your favorite inexpensive dinner restaurants in Santa Fe?