When you think of culinary destinations, Santa Fe, New Mexico probably isn’t at the top of your list, but it should be.
First, let’s get one thing straight. Mexican ≠ New Mexican ≠ Tex Mex. You may think you’ve had a burrito, but you haven’t had a burrito until you’ve had a wet one (we’ll explain later) in “The Land of Enchantment.”
Famous for being the oldest capital in the United States, the picturesque high-desert town of Santa Fe offers a melting pot of cultural cuisines. New Mexicans are as passionate about their food (especially their chiles) as they are about their unique history and culture, which give this city its special charm. In Santa Fe, you can take in that history and culture while enjoying its incredible Native American, Spanish, Mexican, red chile, green chile, poblano, and serrano flavors…one plate at a time.
Here are our top 10 favorite places in Santa Fe to get the best New Mexican grub.
***PRO TIP: “Red, green, or Christmas?” A question you’re sure to hear often, but not to worry. This has more to do with Santa Fe than Santa Claus. Dishes here are slathered in red chile, green chile, or a combination of the two.
Happy Hour at Coyote Cafe Rooftop Cantina
The famous Coyote Cafe’s Rooftop Cantina perfectly encapsulates the quintessential Santa Fe dining experience, where a festive ambiance is equally as important as the menu. Head here for arguably the best happy hour in town. Grab a seat at the rail for a view of the hustling and bustling going down on the streets as you enjoy a variety of margaritas and Southwestern eats. There are almost too many tequilas to choose from, but we suggest going with the Hatch Green Chile infused Norteno Margarita. If your mouth can handle it, try the jalapeño poppers to start and the tacos al pastor for your main.
Breakfast at Cafe Pasqual’s
Breakfast is undoubtedly the most important meal of the day, so why not start it out the right way at one of Santa Fe’s most trafficked and beloved restaurants? The vibrant decor and flavorsome fare here at the historic Cafe Pasqual’s are sure to wake you up in the morning. Try the huevos barbacoa con chile d’arbol salsa — long-simmered shredded beef with black beans, crumbly cotija cheese, and two eggs any style. Or if you’re in the mood for some more heat, go with a bowl of the griddled polenta smothered with red chile sauce, chorizo, and eggs. Either way, you won’t leave hungry.
The Farmers Market
Obviously this one’s not a restaurant, but it’s a must when talking about experiencing the food of Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Farmers Market has been named among the top ten in the United States by both USA Today and Sherman’s Travel, and the second you walk up, you’ll see why. Located at the Santa Fe Railyard, this market has more than 150 active vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables, chiles (dried and freshly roasted), lavender, honey, buffalo, and more, and one hundred percent of it comes from the 15 counties of northern New Mexico. Before you graze the aisles and shop for your splendor, be sure to stop at Whoo’s Donuts (located inside the entrance) for a cup of coffee and their famous lavender blue corn doughnut.
Tapas At El Meson
Chef David Huerta learned most of his recipes from his grandmother in Spain, giving this tapas menu an Andalusian-inspired flare. Choose from the infamous jamón iberico, several different types of paella, or some fresh seafood if you’re in the mood. What’s even more overwhelming is the selection of alcohol. The sangria comes the most highly recommended, though you can choose from their full bar and fine wine bodega if you so please.
With a mouthwatering and wide-ranging menu of tapas, a seemingly endless supply of alcohol, and live entertainment five nights a week (we’re talking tango dances, flamenco guitars…the works), El Meson has it all.
Classic New Mexican at La Choza
If you’re trying to get local (which we HIGHLY suggest), head over to La Choza, the more hidden and less trafficked sister restaurant to the downtown hot spot The Shed. Here you’ll find super traditional New Mexican dishes that really bring the heat. Enchiladas with Christmas chile, red poszole soup, chile rellenos, wet burritos…the menu is filled with options for you to choose from.
And what is a wet burrito, you ask? A wet burrito is smothered in chile and cheese and baked to perfection in the oven before served. We’ll give you a minute to take that one in…but not too long. Each meal should end with a sopaipilla, the light fluffy fried pastry served after most New Mexican meals. Drizzle with honey and enjoy.
Fine Dining at Geronimo
Ask any Santa Fean where to go for a nice evening out, and you’ll be directed to one place: Geronimo. Housed in a restored 250-year-old landmark adobe building, Geronimo provides an intimate fine dining setting without being stuffy. Its carefully cultivated ambiance, set inside adobe walls adorned with local Native American artwork and antler chandeliers, has gotten it onto just about every “best” list in Santa Fe. The menu offers a robust fusion of Asian, Southwestern, and Mediterranean influences, most notably the tellicherry-rubbed elk tenderloin and the green-miso sea bass.
Sweets at Kakawa Chocolate House
When you feel like you need a break from the heat, Kakawa Chocolate House is Santa Fe’s best sweet spot. The chocolatiers here are more than confectioners — they’re artists and historians. Their recipes come from a breadth of chocolate customs, from Mayan and Aztec influences to 17th-century European tradition.
The 1775 Marie Antoinette Elixir, made with almond milk, orange blossom water, canella, and vanilla, represents drinking chocolate in the court of Versailles. If you’re still craving some spice with your sweet, try The Mayan — brewed with coconut sugar, chiles, Mexican vanilla, and an enigmatic array of spices and herbs. Don’t forget to take home their homemade chocolates and truffles to snack on later.
Margarita’s at Maria’s Kitchen
If you want the best (*strongest) margaritas in town, we have two words for you: Maria’s Kitchen. Former co-owner Al Lucerno literally wrote The Great Margarita Book (with a famous forward by Mr. Robert Redford himself), so you can be sure your margaritas will be top notch. Customize your own margarita from the 100+ types of tequilas Marias’s has to choose from.
Though they serve many of the classic New Mexican dishes, we recommend ordering the fajitas to go with your margs.
FYI: two margaritas here is = four margaritas elsewhere. Trust us, we’ve done our research.
Frito Pie at The Five and Dime
Did you hear that right? Frito…pie? Yeah, you sure did.
The recipe is simple: Open a bag of Fritos. Dump pinto beans, red chile sauce, shredded cheddar cheese, and chopped onions into the Fritos bag. Stick a fork in it. Enjoy.
This New Mexican favorite can be found at many restaurants around the city, but the Five and Dime General Store is the original — and our favorite.
Classic New Mexican at Tomasita’s
Another traditional New Mexican favorite, because we couldn’t just pick just one. Like any good New Mexican, they know their growers and pride themselves on their chile, which is HOT. So hot that their menu warns customers to taste the chile before ordering.
Aside from their extensive menu, their daily specials are especially popular. We recommend making a trip to Tomasita’s on a Tuesday for the hands-down favorite: the Deluxe Blue Plate offering a blue corn chicken enchilada, a chile relent and a beef taco served with Spanish rice and beans.