Santa Fe is known for its sprawling arts scene, and this penchant for creativity certainly applies to the culinary arts as well. Just as its famous galleries and resident artisans have calcified the city as a full-blown cultural Mecca, so do its restaurants, bars and bakeries with popular vittles such as green chilies and blue corn, but also with a whole rainbow of flavors from red chile donuts to glittering purple mocha.
As for food, it’s a city that leads the needle from old school to new school, putting together a patchwork of local and global flavors. Here, traditional New Mexican cuisine takes on new twists from grafts, innovators and culinary artists inspired by the region’s impressive natural beauty and agricultural resources.
From bulging breakfast burritos and deep fryers fresh from the deep fryer to seasonal tasting menus and fancy beer gardens, here are some of the best restaurants and drinks for your visit to Santa Fe.
Soar up and shine with spicy donuts
In a nondescript room along Cerrillos Road, Whoo’s Donuts is a wonderful surprise that defies its humble motif. Follow the flavors of maple bacon, cinnamon sugar, and corn cake to discover a dizzying array of brightly colored donuts. The shop offers wild original recipes as well as seasonal unique items such as summer peach and strawberry-rhubarb. All the Americana staples are there and taken into account, like vanilla sprinkles and Boston cream, but what you’re really looking for are the novelties from Santa Fe: the blue corn-blueberry-lavender tastes as bright as the sheen on its fruity frosting, the green chilli -Apple-Krapfen gives a doughy classic a pinch of hearty smoke, and the red chili-bacon-toffee combines salt and sugar with a little heat.
Find your breakfast burrito luck
Breakfast burritos are to Santa Fe like cheesesteaks are to Philly. The ideal morning fuel before a day of hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, grab it to take away at Betterday Coffee. The coffee is excellent indeed and this is one of the few places in town where you can find café au lait on the menu. But the stars are the breakfast burritos full of cheesy scrambled eggs, crispy potatoes and red and / or green chilies. Options include sausage, vegetable, bacon, or bean and cheese burritos, but the real winner is the brisket burrito, which is filled with juicy slices of smoky beef.
Dolina Santa Fe
Combine a hearty brunch with Hungarian cake
Dolina Cafe & Bakery looks like a quaint little house that you would stumble upon in a forest. That makes sense when you consider that Dolina means “valley” in the Slovak mother tongue of the owner Annamaria Brezna. She is equipping her menu with sweet and savory dishes with new Mexican and Eastern European flavors. This includes a morning soup made from New Mexico lamb broth and wild rice, as well as a Slovak stew called Kapustnica, which is filled to the brim with sauerkraut, plums and klobasa sausage. Don’t sleep on those pastries at the counter either. The chocolate and walnut cookies are some of the best you can find, and the fruit-filled strudel and makos dios (a Hungarian poppy seed cake with walnuts and raspberry jam) are habit-building.
The royal court
Sip mezcal in style
One of Santa Fe’s must-see cocktail bars is a little mezcal-tipped corner called La Reina. This quirky pub is located in a polished adobe-style motel called El Rey Court, which is a great backdrop for a little desert-chic movie directed by Wes Anderson with pops of bright color and wall scribbles of a smoking cactus. Pull up a stool and let your bolo-style bartender make you something with agave. The narrow menu changes, but staples include masterful ranch water with tequila, topo chico, and lime. Or opt for La Ultima Palabra, made from Genepy, maraschino liqueur, mezcal and lime juice, which makes pine, smoke and fruit aromas taste good together.
Have an outdoor pizza party
If you’re at El Rey Court on a weekend, you’re probably in luck with a sourdough pizza from the Tender Fire Kitchen’s wood-fired oven, which usually does business on the hotel’s back lawn Thursday through Saturday. This roving mobile pizzeria uses naturally soured dough that has been fermented for three days to create thin crust patties that are rich in ripe, complex flavors. Seasonal offers change frequently, but examples of toppings are cream nettles, hot honey or coconut cream corn for the vegan Elote cake. Tender Fire’s gluten-free pizza uses batter made from buckwheat, brown rice, psyllium husks, chia, and flax, which is not only delicious and different, but also unobtrusively healthy (until you negate it all with a sourdough chocolate chip cookie, you should definitely).
Go for old-school Santa Fe comfort
This no-nonsense diner on Santa Fe Plaza has been hurling tamales and enchiladas since 1975. It is a place so sacred that it claims the term “breakfast burrito” and the term “Christmas style,” which refers to the combination of both red and green chillies. These are bold claims, but if there is one institution that can talk and walk the path, it is that of Tia Sophia. Although the restaurant has moved and grown over the years, its stale recipes have endured. Breakfast staples include eggs and chilli stew, huevos rancheros, and the necessary breakfast burritos. While the lunch dishes range from ooey-sticky enchiladas to Sophia’s sandwich, a ham melt on a tortilla with guac and salsa.
Get your green chili cheeseburger fix
At the top with a gaudy breakfast burrito, green chili cheeseburgers are indispensable in Santa Fe – but few scratch the itch as they do with the Shake Foundation. Looking like a retro roadside burger stand adorned with dangling chilli ristras, this casual counter spot grinds sirloin and chuck into plump patties, smears them with Jack cheese and green chilies, and heap them on buttered buns. The menu is refreshingly succinct, mostly just a few cheeseburgers, with additional options for lamb or bison, and, oddly enough, fried oyster sandwiches with red chili mayo. As the name suggests, there are milkshakes too.
Martin Santa Fe restaurant
Treat yourself to the fine things: Truffle Mac & Cheese
Every city needs its own Martín restaurant, a venerable, enduring restaurant with a consistent commitment to seasonality and an affinity for beautiful presentation. Led by celebrated chef Martin Rios, this is one of Santa Fe’s fixtures for finer dining (but still not froufrou or outrageously expensive as Santa Fe keeps things pretty casual). The dynamic menu includes the Snake River Farm’s double-cut pork chop with tamarind black malt glaze, garnet yam confit, pickled honshemiji mushrooms, grilled peaches and blackberry ancho reduction; or pan-fried salmon with shrimp sushi rice pave, sesame bok choy, Meyer lemon confit and jalapeño lemongrass dashi. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the epic Truffled Orzo Mac & Cheese.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales
Combine your fermented ales with farmer’s market risotto
Santa Fe, like any other city, is in the midst of a brewery boom, and Rowley Farmhouse Ales is at the forefront of that boom. Tucked away in a warehouse-filled part of town on the southwest side, this hip gastropub and microbrewery specializes in mixed fermentation beers, with an emphasis on farmhouse ales and sours. The wonderfully bold ales include the Germophile, a coffee sour that defies its oxymoronic sounding description by softening the acidity with dry and tart aromas of Thiriez yeast and hopping the brew with coffee dry, resulting in a perfectly sour, tart, and bitter. Rowley’s seasonal menu exceeds a gastropub’s expectations with pork belly corn dog, green chilli tuna melt, made-to-order pineapple cake, and an ever-changing, vegetable-laden, farmers market risotto.
Paloma Santa Fe
From farm to taco
Handmade tortillas are the specialty at Paloma, where chef Nathan Mayes uses old Oaxacan landrace corn that is nixtamalized in-house. Start with Baja sea bass ceviche, pumpkin blossom quesadillas, or smoked chicken sopecitos with dainty blue corn massa cakes and pickled onions. The tacos – like the pork shoulder carnitas sweetened with roasted pineapple or the crispy cauliflower with golden raisins and almond salsa – are basically mandatory in order to fully appreciate the texture and taste of the tortillas. But larger plates, like mole amarillo oyster mushrooms or short rib birria, are worth making space.
Coyote Café & Cantina
Sip margaritas with a view
For a modern, high-end twist on southwestern cuisine, head to the Coyote Cafe in downtown Santa Fe for chilli morita shrimp on grit cake or duck leg confit with chayote and corn succotash. But for something a little more casual, hold it back at the Coyote Cantina. Oh wait yeah – same place. In addition to a picturesque view of the street below, the lively rooftop terrace offers shared offerings such as mini chimichangas, grilled duck quesadillas, frito cakes with red chilli beef, and filling margaritas. It also has some of the tastiest tacos in town, especially the Al Pastor tacos with grilled pineapple, sweet onion, and heady arbol salsa.
Counter Culture Café
Have coffee with the locals
Come for the gratinated burritos and the cinnamon bundt cake frosted with cream cheese, then come back again and again for the beer-baked salmon tacos, the grilled tofu banh mi and the seitan spring rolls. This no-frills, folk bastion of dining on the terrace and drinking coffee has been open since 1996. The aroma organic coffee and surprisingly ambitious menu deserve repeated visits. Seriously, if one day you’re lucky enough to have saucer-sized cinnamon rolls in stock, you could be spoiled forever.
Immerse yourself in margarita clouds
It makes perfect sense that Meow Wolf, the trippy immersive art experience where fridge doors lead to neon-lit hallways, has an on-site bar so whimsical and over the top that the Mad Tea Party looks like Starbucks. Float Cafe & Bar is extra in every way, with traditional absinthe drops, lattes with glitter and “Meowgaritas” in purple with butterfly and pea blossom tea and topped with puffy “clouds” made of cotton candy. Float serves eccentric coffee drinks and cocoa, as well as purple hot chocolate garnished with Lucky Charm marshmallows and “unicorn shimmer”, also known as edible glitter. It’s a sparkling example of Santa Fe’s evolution into a city whose established art pushes the boundaries with edible and drinkable art too.
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Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for national parks, Disney, and food. He is the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a community blog, podcast and app for national parks. Follow him on IG @matt_kirouac.