My favorite things to eat, drink and do in Santa Fe || Updated July 2022
Updated: Jul 10, 2022
UPDATED July 2022
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. On sunny days there is a charming back patio, usually with live music, that will have you feeling as though you teleported into the heart of Oaxaca Centro.
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: My previous draft of this post noted Opuntia as "another place I almost don't want to tell anyone about." Well, too late for that! With its recent move to the Railyard District, and subsequent build-out of a new space, Opuntia has been swooned over everywhere–from AFAR to TIME. The eclectic, internationally-inspired menu 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 greenhouse" the setting is bright and comforting–as are the beautifully selected and potted succulents and cactus that are also available.
Zacatlán: I'll be up front here and say I have not yet had the chance to dine at Southerwest-Mexican fusion spot Zacatlán but I can not WAIT to. I have heard absolutely amazing things from trusted friends (and palates) such as Natalie at the The Liquid Muse and Alex at the Santa Fe Reporter about chef/owner Eduardo Rodriguez's beautiful baby on Aztec Street. Others obviously agree, as Rodriguez was a semi-finalist for a 2022 James Beard award for Best New Restaurant and Zacatlán was named one of the Top 10 Best New Restaurants in the Country by USA Today.
La Boca: La Boca is my go to for people-watching and stuffing my face (gracefully). Basically a tapas taberna, La Boca features Spanish and Mediterranean inspired shared plates–one of which, the patatas bravas, is one I have a hard time sharing. Chef James Caruso keeps standard favorites on the menu but seasonal dishes are always popping up and fun to try. Be prepared to have more food than table space!
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.
Terra at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado: Also in Tesuque, Terra is unbeatable for its service, sensets, and of course, menu. Chef Jose Fernandez has crafted a creative menu showcasing the best of his homeland of Spain infused with a New Mexican kick. It's food that's almost too pretty to eat and most definitely tastes as good as it looks-especially the "boozy" churros. A great place for a memorable evening!
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.
Sazon: Just last month Chef Fernando Olea accomplished what some thought was impossible for a small town with big competition–he won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. Well-deserved, I think, as Chef Olea's Mexico City-inspired dishes really rise above in terms of flavor and creativity. The sopa de amor is a particular personal favorite–the strangest combination of ingredients your ears have ever heard make for one of the most amazing experiences your mouth will ever have. Make a reservation and be sure you've lots of room on your credit card–Sazon is pricey but worth it.
La Choza: A favorite of both locals and visitors, you'll need a reservation whether you're hungry for lunch or dinner. This place is busy, busy, busy and the hustle and bustle are part of it's charm. The sister restaurant to The Shed, La Choza has all of the same New Mexican favorites (try the green chile clam chowder, please) but because it's not in a historic building it also has a deep fryer which means...SOPAIPILLAS!
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.
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.
For damn fine coffee: try 35 Degrees North and Ohori’s Coffee Roasters. I was born and raised in Seattle so I can say "trust me." Also, Downtown Subscription makes a mean dirty chai.
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. The Dale Ball and Sierra del Norte trail systems are ideal for "choose your own adventure" hikes–at the end of each trail leg you choose your next direction on a map so you can be as quick or long about it as you like (also, the views are great). Dorothy Stewart Trail, Tsankawi, Bandelier National Monument, Taos River Gorge, Ghost Ranch, Tent Rocks...all are worthy of a visit.
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, IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, New Mexico Museum of Art, and New Mexico History Museum. Near the Railyard there's SITE Santa Fe and the (soon to open) Vladem Contemporary.
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.
Sub Rosa Mercantile: I don't really know how best to explain this shop other than the most beautifully-curated collection of must-have "things" I have ever seen. By "things" I mean the kinds of handcrafted things you never knew you needed but now must have. From ceramics and jewelry to bandanas, body products, matches, candles, t-shirts, and so much more...owner Maddie has an eye for items that are truly special. Be sure to stop in and take home a little treasure.
Santa Fe Vintage Outpost: This is a fun spot to find some real treasures of the West–vintage jewelry, leather jackets, cowboy boots, hats, perfectly worn denim–you name it. It's almost like a museum other than the fact that you can take the things here home with you. Also, if you want to dress like people think we all dress here, this should be your first stop.
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.” So, relax, go with the flow, and enjoy.