This post on Northern New Mexico road food first published in March 2013 was updated and republished on 4/25/2016.
We love taking day trips around Northern New Mexico. Pick a direction. There are interesting places within a few hours or less of Santa Fe no matter which way you decide to go. In a place where towns may be few and far between and restaurants in short supply, it’s good to plan ahead. We love to pack a picnic lunch. The upside is we can eat when we get hungry; the downside is that we miss the local spots that are so much a part of the travel experience. Here are some places to stop when exploring Northern New Mexico byways. We’ve eaten in all of them.
The High Road to Taos
If you’re heading up the High Road to Taos there are two great places to choose from. One towards the southern end of the road and one closer to the northern end. They are very different but both are worth a stop.
Rancho de Chimayó
Rancho de Chimayó, serving Northern New Mexican cuisine, is a landmark. The restaurant has been run by the Jaramillo family for over 50 years and was named as a James Beard American Classic in 2016. Reserve a table in advance, especially on weekends. On Sundays, you’ll see generations of local families eating dinner after church.
Sugar Nymphs Bistro
Sugar Nymphs Bistro is a local favorite. Everything in the comfortably funky eatery is house-made and they secure produce from local farms including Romero Farms, One Straw Farm and Llano Billy Ranch. They serve lunch Wednesdays to Saturdays, brunch on Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday. Save room for one of their homemade baked goods. Ki the owner is a pastry chef. Hours are seasonal. Check with them before you go.
The Low Road
The low road through the Rio Grande Valley is the faster way to get to Taos with the benefit of access to the Rio Grande at many places along the way. If you have the time. we recommend going up on the High Road and returning on the Low Road, aka NM 68. In summer we love to stop at Sugar’s BBQ to enjoy their brisket burrito.
Sugar’s BBQ, (505) 852-0604, (east side of NM 68, south of NM 75) open seasonally, Thursday through Sunday, is a funky roadside stand, home to brisket burritos, the Sugar Burger and more. It’s another of these spots that locals love and travelers “discover.” Order at the window and patiently wait for them to call your number. On summer weekends they can be pretty busy; be prepared to wait. Our strategy is to order and wait for someone to vacate their prized spot. If all else fails, you can eat in your car.
We’d passed La Tiendita, a gas station and convenience store in Alcalde, many times without stopping. One day we needed an emergency pit stop and this was the only place in town. We discovered their lunch counter, took note for the future. One day, really hungry with no restaurants close by, we remembered it and decided to give it a try. We were pleasantly surprised. The food was good and it’s a real slice of Northern New Mexico that outsiders rarely encounter. This is where the locals go.
This area north of Santa Fe, once home to iconic artist Georgia O’Keeffe, is worth a trip. Bode’s is your best bet for breakfast or lunch.
Bode’s, in business since 1893, is worth a stop even if you aren’t hungry. Part grocery, part general store, part gift shop, part restaurant, this is where locals go for gas, that ingredient missing for dinner or their coffee and breakfast burrito to start their day. They sell hundreds each day. It’s a great stop for a green chile cheeseburger (theirs was featured on the Food Network) or grab one of their deli sandwiches or daily hot specials. Eat in or better yet, grab it to go and picnic at Ghost Ranch, the picnic tables at Echo Amphitheater or a scenic spot overlooking Lake Abiquiu.
Pecos National Historical Park, site of an old pueblo and Forked Lightening Ranch once home to late actress Greer Garson and her husband Buddy E.E. Fogelson (they deeded part of their property to the National Park Service) is worth a visit. On your way, stop in town for some New Mexico road food at Frankie’s at the Casanova.
Frankie’s at the Casanova
Frankie’s at the Casanova is a bit off the beaten path, but worth a stop if you’re heading north or spending time touring Pecos. This historic spot run by Brian Sandoval was built between 1908 and 1911. Originally a general store, it later became Harrison’s Casa Nova, a hopping bar and lounge during the pre-1937 era when Rte 66 ran through town. The dining room probably feels much as it did 1948, when the western murals were painted onto the plastered walls. Frankie’s green chile is so good they bottle it. Take home a jar.
New Mexico Road food in Las Vegas, NM
Charlie’s Spic and Span
Charlie’s Spic and Span Bakery and Café (715 Douglas Avenue 505-426-1921) is so busy it seems like everyone in town gets their Northern New Mexican food fix here. Our friend, Tina, who sent us here, said they have “the best sopapillas in New Mexico.” They were pretty darned good! Try the stuffed ones smothered in your favorite chile, or go for Christmas.
El Rialto Restaurant & Lounge (141 Bridge Street, 505- 454-0037) a block from the historic West Las Vegas Plaza, is another place packed with locals. They’re open from 10:30am to 8:30pm Tuesday through Saturday. We tried it after two locals recommended it. The food is Northern New Mexican and the chile is hot.
The Turquoise Trail
The Turquoise Trail Scenic Byway aka NM 14 is another popular day trip. Head south to Cerrillos (an old gold mining town now considered a ghost town as well as home to Cerrillos Hills State Park); Madrid, a former coal mining town turned arts town and on to the Tinker Town Museum. Our two favorite places to stop for a bit to eat are San Marcos Cafe and the Mine Shaft Tavern.
San Marcos Cafe
San Marcos Café is tucked into the front of the eponymous feed store, and a bit hard to find. Look for for the vintage pickup truck parked by an old windmill and a freestanding sign proclaiming “Feed Store” on the west side of the road. The cozy, homey place, serving up breakfast and lunch, is really popular with locals and has made it into a few guide books. The menu is a combo of American and New Mexican. Check the daily specials board. It’s often a clue to what to order that day. At breakfast try one of the HUGE house-baked cinnamon buns. Wonder around the front and side yards. There are peacocks and other fowl both caged and wondering around.
Mine Shaft Tavern
Mine Shaft Tavern is a gathering place for locals and has a reputation as a biker bar. It’s worth a stop for a burger, their tangy chile con carne or other pub favorites. The walls are covered with art and murals done by the late Ross Ward, creator of the Tinkertown Museum, a bit further south on the Turquoise Trail. The bar offers live music on weekends.
This list is just a drop in the Northern New Mexico road food bucket. We’re missed a bunch. What are your Northern New Mexico road food favorites?
Northern New Mexico road is a companion piece to Road trips: Santa Fe Sunday drives.