By Courtney Drake-McDonough
At every restaurant I dined at in Santa Fe, the chefs were creative, unbelievably enthusiastic and supportive of each other while maintaining a good-natured rivalry. It’s clear they see their roles as not just directing the culinary course of their own restaurants or cooking schools but also of Santa Fe’s food culture as a whole.
From a small donut shop to some of the most elegant restaurants in the city, the attention to detail and commitment to using local ingredients and flavors is strong. Over the course of five days, thanks to the elastic-wasted “eating pants” I had wisely packed, I ate my way through Santa Fe and lived to tell the delicious tales. There’s so much to see in Santa Fe and most of it can be taken in on foot. That means working up a serious appetite (and working OFF some of your meal). Stop into these restaurants to rest up and fuel up.
Rooftop Pizza http://www.rooftoppizzeria.com/ makes upscale pizza with creative combinations like the stellar Number 10: lobster, shrimp, leeks, truffle oil and alfredo sauce on a blue corn crust..Squeeze a bit of lemon on it for brightness. On the other side of the building is Marble Brewery (http://www.marblebrewery.com/santa-fe-tap-room/)which has a great view of the Plaza, the center of the city. Since Marble doesn’t serve food, simple order a pizza from Rooftop. How convenient.
Plaza Café (two locations) http://santafeplazacafe.com/. When you’re hankering diner food, this is the place to go. The bacon cheeseburger was delicious. The Frito Pie is a New Mexico staple.
Maria’s New Mexican Café (http://www.marias-santafe.com/) has the largest margarita list in the city. Watch tortillas being made and enjoy great food and mountains of guacamole.
Coyote Cantina http://www.coyotecafe.com/cantina.htm is the casual, rooftop cousin of the famous Coyote Café. The Jalapeno Popper shooters pack a wallop but are worth it for their oozy, cheesy centers. The nachos are novel and the mega Navajo Fry Bread has chicken, pork AND buffalo and all the wonderful goopy toppings you’d want.
Taberna La Boca (http://labocasf.com/) is a popular and chic place for tapas and wine and paella nights.
Il Piatto Italian Farmhouse Kitchen (http://ilpiattosantafe.com/ilpiatto/index.html), is a must with delicious food created by Chef Matt Yohalem, who I was lucky enough to go to the year-round Santa Fe Farmer’s Market (http://www.santafefarmersmarket.com/) with to shop for the produce he’d be using that day.
Roque’s Famous Carnitas – Grab a bite and some conversation in the Plaza at Roque’s Food Carte. The sign on his cart tells you where he has been written up. Another sign suggests all the great occasions he’ll happily cater, including divorces!
One of the best ways to discover Santa Fe’s culinary scene is to take a Culinary Walking Tour http://santafeschoolofcooking.com/. Work off a few calories in between stops to a wide range of restaurants to sample what they have to offer.
Other Restaurant Recommendations by the Locals:
P.C.’s Restaurant http://www.yelp.com/biz/pcs-restaurant-and-lounge-santa-fe– New Mexican food where the locals hang out.
Bumble Bee’s Burgers http://www.bumblebeesbajagrill.com/
Jambo Cafe http://www.jambocafe.net/– African homestyle cuisine.
El Parasol http://www.elparasol.com/– Best Chicharone and Carne Adovado burritos.
The Pantry http://pantrysantafe.com/ – Fresh corn tortillas, beef hash with eggs and green chili.
Mu Du Noodles http://mudunoodles.com/– Asian food fix – dinner only.
Let the Spirit Move You
Santa Fe Spirits (http://www.santafespirits.com/age-verification) After trying this distillery’s spirits in Denver, I was a fan. So it was a treat to meet the charming, English owner, Colin Keegan and to get a tour of his distillery (and try some samples). Watch for the opening of Santa Fe Spirit’s downtown tasting room soon.
Secreto Bar at Hotel St. Francis (http://www.hotelstfrancis.com/) Stop in for a cocktail at the bar within this beautiful hotel. It’ll be a spiritual experience to try something made by Chris (“The Barman”) or any of his staff who know their way around a well-crafted cocktail.
Eat Where You Stay
Many of the local, major hotels house top-notch restaurants run by excellent chefs. Here are just two:
Bishop’s Lodge http://www.bishopslodge.com/ The entertaining Chef Chris McLean prepares Santa Fe-inspired items like rattlesnake-rabbit sausage (delicious and yet alarming), 16-hour braised beef short ribs and venison stew.
Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe (http://www.fourseasons.com/santafe/) is home to Chef Andrew Cooper whose understanding and enthusiasm for food, like so many of the chefs we met on this trip, was impressive. His salmon, prepared “sous vide” was the best I’ve ever had.
Teach What You Know – Schools
Santa Fe Culinary Academy http://www.santafeculinaryacademy.com/ or Santa Fe School of Cooking http://santafeschoolofcooking.com/. Because sometimes we actually need to cook for ourselves, attending a cooking class at one of the local cooking schools can really take skills up a notch (or more). The staff at both places is knowledgeable and energized by teaching people to be the best cooks they can be.
Restaurants aren’t the only places to get a delicious bite to eat. Three, small shops drew us in for their goodies.
Whoo’s Donuts http://www.whoosdonuts.com/ are made fresh from scratch daily and fried in organic palm oil. Flavors reflect the region. The Maple Red Chili Bacon Bar and Blueberry Lavender I tasted were delicious.
The ChocolateSmith http://www.chocolatesmith.com/ right next door (a young couple owns both), continues the nod to local flavors with Green Chili Pistachio Bark and White Chocolate Lemon Lavender Bark, all homemade in small batches.
Todos Santos Chocolates http://www.bing.com/local/Details.aspx?lid=YN597x10286165 Located in the beautiful Sena Plaza, a delightful surprise in itself, is this charming shop that is almost sensory overload – until you stop to let one of the chocolates melt in your mouth.
Food as Art
New World Cuisine – The Histories of Chocolate, Mate y Mas at the Museum of International Folk Art http://www.internationalfolkart.org/exhibitions/current.html It should say something about the importance of food to Santa Fe, past and present, that an entire museum exhibit has been devoted to it. See this exhibit for a fascinating view of the earliest cultural mixing of food and heritage.
You really can’t go wrong eating your way around Santa Fe. Try to talk to the chefs along the way and you’ll gain a deep appreciation for, not only the food you are eating, but the entire culinary culture lovingly, purposefully put into every bite.
For more information about Santa Fe, visit http://santafe.org/.
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