My favorite things to eat, drink and do in Santa Fe || Updated January 11, 2021
Updated: Jan 11
I read somewhere that if Paris is for lovers, Santa Fe is for eaters.
This is very true. So a lot of people I know, or friends of friends, come to visit Santa Fe and many of them are looking for some ideas: what to eat, where to eat, what to see.
Instead of recreating this wheel for the fiftieth time, I’m going to go totally off-topic for this blog and just post all my good things-thoughts here.
I won’t go into great detail on these, just give you a little reason why I like 'em. Also, I am vegetarian so all of these spots have plenty of options for those looking for plant-based deliciousness.
I’ll update it too, so if I’m missing anything or discover something new, it will be added.
Paloma: If I were to design my own house, it would look like the interior of this little gem. Beautiful cocktails from the bar and a restrained, but creative, full-flavored and vibrant Mexican-inspired menu. Get the salsa and queso -- seriously, the best queso in Santa Fe.
Izanami: Izakaya (Japanese tapas) restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves. Go for a soak then make a reservation for dinner. Try a flight from their sweeping, beautifully curated selection of sake and don’t miss the fried avocado or doria (it’s like the Japanese version of mac and cheese!) This is also a great place for people watching. Often, there's a celebrity of some sort in the house.
Black Bird Saloon: Located in the tiny, artsy town of Cerillos (about 30 minutes from Santa Fe) this is a prime spot to sit back and enjoy the local color in "enchanting, dusty, wild West style". Owners Patrick and Kelly have created a welcoming, genuine space with wonderfully creative, fresh food (try "The Smelter Grilled Cheese": Smoked Trout, Irish Whiskey Cheddar, Mascarpone, Apple & Onion Jam on Rustic Bread) and local beers on tap. I almost don't want to tell anyone about this place so I can keep it to myself.
Opuntia Cafe: Another place I almost don't want to tell anyone about. The food here is healthy and delicious, as are the drinks -- from beer and wine to teas and iced matcha lattes. Described as a "tea house within a glasshouse" the setting is bright and comforting -- wood and windows. Perhaps my favorite thing about this warm spot is the "shop within a shop" selling beautifully selected and potted succulents and cactus.
El Nido: If Santa Fe is the City Different, Tesuque is its wild child. El Nido is upscale yet casual, the food is creative yet approachable, and its "wine down wednesdays" are so popular you will need a reservation.
Geronimo: I call this the Canlis (for you Seattle-folk) of Santa Fe -- they have the secret of good service all figured out. And the food is amazing too. And, so is the location. In summer, it’s great to sit on the patio and watch the action on Canyon Road. In winter, snuggle into a corner table in the back room and get warmed by fine wine and, if you're lucky, your own personal kiva.
Taco Fundacion: If you like tacos, just go here. They have just about every kind of taco you can dream up...from fried oyster to lengua tacos or deep fried avocado to sweet potato tacos for the veggie folks. There are also big, beautiful burritos, bowls, quesadillas (the squash blossom is my fave), and the whole rainbow of Jarritos sodas. And, Mexican chocolate soft serve!
Tune Up: A true neighborhood joint busting at the seams with food options to suit everyone’s tastes and dietary restrictions. Their veggie enchiladas are my favorite in town -- filled with fresh veggies and covered in the best Christmas chile; full of flavor, not too spicy.
Counter Culture: Get lunch here if you can. You need to unhinge your jaw to eat the sandwiches but they are worth the effort -- fresh, beautiful breads bursting with goodness. I personally like the sesame noodle salad and fresh roll plate, too -- can’t be beat for $8!
Cowgirl BBQ: The line frequently extending from the front door of this touristy-yet-fun spot near downtown can be intimidating but you'll want to stand in it. The food is surprisingly creative and it has more veggie options than any BBQ I have ever been to. Family-friendly with a crowded bar (day and night) they also often have live music and their patio is prime on a warm day.
Paper Dosa: A dosa here is basically a delicious, crispy, non-spongy injera the size of a 20-gallon sombrero. Take that, stuff it with heaven and roll it up, and you have the Indian version of a burrito. Then, there is Paper Dosa's curry...which is so good, like buttercream icing, you lick everything it touched: the fork, the spoon, the bowl, the plate, your eating partner's face...
Dr Field Goods: There isn’t much to say about the ambiance of this strip mall standard other than dang, the food is good! Mostly healthy, vegan and veg-friendly, very delicious, super creative, and a little bit "different". Totally Santa Fe.
The Boxcar: This is the go-to for sports fans, as it has TV's all over the place. Not intrusively though, making it a great spot to grab a drink and some tummy-stuffing grub. At night they usually have live music -- ranging from metal to ska to salsa and Tuesday night Geeks Who Drink trivia. The staff here are always friendly and always looking out for you -- and usually raising funds for one good cause or another.
Gruet: Its bubbles weren’t named some of the best in the U.S. for no reason! Don’t miss a visit to the tasting room located in the lobby of the Hotel St. Francis. Tastings usually include a variety of bubbles as well as a still wine or two. If it’s sunny, they’ve got a lovely outdoor patio. Be aware it gets pretty crowded, especially evenings and weekends, so if you want your tasting not to last forever, try to hit in off hours.
Paloma: Also listed above due to its delicious food, this spot makes ahhh-mazing cocktails. My favorite is the Negroni Oaxaca (to the left), a refreshing mix of Vida mezcal, vermut rojo, and Campari. Try one on their beautiful patio when the sun is shining! It's like almost being in Mexico. ALMOST.
Second Street Brewery: The new brewery on Rufina street (just behind Meow Wolf) is spacious and boasts a much more creative menu than the Railyard location and Second Street locations. What could be better after a long hike than a cool IPA and a basket brimming with tater tots and curry ketchup? Nada muy mucho.
Whole Foods: No, I am not kidding. I am of the opinion that the bar at Whole Foods is among the busiest in Santa Fe. Why wouldn’t it be? The people-watching here is unmatched and the bar has 24 rotating taps, a good wine selection, happy hour, and even two 24” TVs. If you're airbnb'ing it in town, you can stock up while acclimating to the local color.
La Reina: The historic El Rey Court was recently purchased by lifestyle influencer wunderkind, Alison and Jay Carroll. Their first undertaking was to redesign this classic motel's breakfast room into a simple stunning bar, La Reina. Great beer and wine choices as well as a carefully curated agave menu. Cocktails focus on tequila (yes! Texas Ranch Water!) and mezcal and, keeping with the name, the talented bar staff is all-female.
Rowley’s Farmhouse Ales: This little joint is a sweet spot to share a pint and some good conversation on the patio. Great selection of beers -- both their own and others from local and international providers.
Soaking: Ten Thousand Waves and Ojo Caliente….sigh. Neither of these are a secret so make reservations well in advance if you plan to stay overnight, want to book services or prefer a private pool. These are very different places: Ojo is a little more “public” as it is bigger and has a wide variety of public mineral pools (my favorites are the iron and soda) while Ten Thousand Waves is smaller, quieter, non-mineral and with a completely different aesthetic -- a zen Japanese mountain resort (where you can be topless in the public pools, ladies!) versus a red rock desert health spa. Both have great restaurants and gift shops too.
Take a Hike: You really can’t go wrong with hikes in and around Santa Fe. I’ll just list some of my favorites and you look ‘em up. The All Trails app is really great for directions and legit descriptions on the difficulty, condition and rules (dog-friendly, bikes allowed, etc.) of local trails. Dale Ball trail system, Dorothy Stewart Trail, Sun Mountain, Tsankawi, Bandelier National Monument, Taos River Gorge, Ghost Ranch, Tent Rocks...
Museums: There are just so many. But my favorite is spending a day up on Museum Hill where both big and small gifts for the eyes (and soul) abound. From the quaint Spanish Colonial Museum to the hugely surprising International Folk Art Museum, the stunning Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian to the bright beauty of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden...ah, the beauty! Downtown, don't miss the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum -- it's the only museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to a female artist.
Shiprock Gallery: If you do not have money to spend, do not go in here. Just kidding. GO IN HERE! It is irresistible and therefore, dangerous for people like me but maybe you have more self control when faced with beautiful things. It's a place where art and artifact meet, and history makes for must-haves.
Maya: For the ladies, or just fans of pretty, and socially/environmentally responsible clothing, gifts and house thingamajigs, this shop on Galisteo is sure to delight.
Red River Mercantile: What a handsome shop this is. Many of the men I know shop exclusively for their wardrobes here and I've overheard "best men's shop in the Southwest" escape more than a few mustachioed lips. Great finds from Filson, Levi Premium, Barbour, Blundstone boots, and Tres Cuervos leather goods.
OK, that’s it for now. I’ll add more….manana. Oh, and one other thing about Santa Fe...manana here does not mean “tomorrow”. It just means “not today.”