Santa Fe is a food town. The city of just over 70,000 people has more than 200 restaurants. Many of them are good; some are great. Deciding where to have dinner can be challenging and fun. There are some Santa Fe restaurants that are nationally and even world famous. They have been written about extensively in guidebooks, newspapers and magazines. Some have been featured on the Food Network and Travel Channel. The Internet has become a major force for finding restaurants. Through sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, you can discover even the most obscure restaurants. Some Santa Fe restaurants are destinations for visitors coming to The City Different. Geronimo, The Shed, Café Pasqual's, The Pink Adobe and Santacafé have been around for a long time, have received lots of press and are on many travelers’ lists. The seven restaurants featured here, representing a spectrum of prices and cuisines, are places that are not necessarily on the radar for visitors to The City Different. Put them on your list.
Above: Striking interior of Chef Fernando Olea’s Epazote in Santa Fe. Photo by Don Nadeau of BidOnTravel. All other photos by Steve Collins of the Santa Fe Traveler. Epazote has closed, but Chef Fernando has opened Sazón at 221 Shelby Street in the Plaza area.
If you are looking for an inexpensive dinner, Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill is a great option. This casual spot (you order at the counter, they deliver to the table) serves Baja-style Mexican food. There is a commitment to what comes out of the kitchen here. They use fresh ingredients and everything is made to order. The only fried item they serve is the corn chips. The menu runs from soft tacos and burritos (sold a la carte), to entrees accompanied by a choice of white, cilantro lime or brown rice and a choice of black or pinto beans. You can choose wheat, whole wheat or corn tortillas. The restaurant doesn’t use microwaves, MSG or lard. Bumble Bee’s has a strong commitment to the environment. This no frills eatery uses fabric napkins and metal utensils. Drinks are served in reusable plastic glasses. Takeout containers and utensils are biodegradable.
Recommended: The slow cooked lamb taco or burrito, fish tacos or trout filet. If you want dinner to go, try the rotisserie chicken. It comes with beans and rice and will feed up to four.
Price range: The menus prices start at $2.79 for a single chicken, pork or tofu taco to $12.99 for the trout. The take-out chicken dinner is $16.99.
Almost from the opening day, word about Jambo (the Swahili word for "hello") was out. Locals flocked here to eat what chef/owner Ahmed Obo calls, “African Homestyle Cuisine”. The extensive menu also features Caribbean and New Mexico inspired dishes. Get here early or be prepared to wait; this busy spot doesn’t accept reservations. The good news is the restaurant has leased the space next door, doubling its size. The new space will have a bar, serving wine and beer, perfect for hanging out while waiting for a table. They will be open by early 2012 if not sooner. Portions are ample and prices are reasonable. They serve lunch and dinner continuously from 11am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday.
Recommended: Try the slow-cooked, succulent Moroccan Lamb or Goat Stew or the Grilled Jerk Organic Chicken.
Prices: Appetizers range from $4.95 to $7.95entrees range from $8.95 to $13.95.
UPDATE 2015: Alive and well with a new chef from New York City
Luminaria, the restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, is a bit under the radar. Executive Chef Matt Ostrander is turning out what the restaurant calls "Conscious Cuisine," and the results are delicious. Ostrander, a committed Buddhist and student of Ayurvedic culinary principles; brings these philosophies to his kitchen. His holistic creations are also influenced by French and contemporary American cuisine and his native Southwest. The results are what the restaurant’s website calls, “a feast for the five senses”. Ostrander has a strong commitment to fresh, local and organic ingredients, which he uses whenever he can. The hotel restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Breakfast is from 7 to 11am; lunch from 11:30am to 2pm and dinner, is served from 5 to 9pm.
Signature dishes: The award-winning Tortilla soup.
Price range: Appetizers range from $9 to $14 and entrees from $26 to $34.
La Boca, chef/owner James Campbell Caruso’s tapas restaurant, opened in 2006. The menu is a mix of traditional and contemporary Mediterranean-influenced small plates. In addition to tapas, there are a few entrée-sized portions on offer. Caruso, who was the chef at Santa Fe’s iconic El Farol on Canyon Road before opening La Boca, feels strongly about both using authentic Spanish ingredients and following the Spanish tradition of sourcing food locally. He has relationships with local food producers and participates in Santa Fe’s Farm to Market Restaurant Delivery program. As in Spain, wine is an integral part of the experience here. They have a list of “carefully chosen Mediterranean and South American wines,” combined with servers knowledgeable about felicitous pairings. If you are a sherry aficionado, this is the place to come. La Boca prides itself on being an ambassador of Spanish sherry culture.
Recommended: These three signature dishes are always on the menu: bruschetta w/ mushrooms, fried egg, truffle oil and reggianito; gambas al ajillo (traditional garlic shrimp with oloroso, a Spanish sherry, and shaved almonds) and New Mexico-ranched flat-iron steak with sea salt caramel or cabrales butter.
Prices: Tapas $6 to $14 and entrees $24 to $28.
By the time Chef Martin Rios opened Restaurant Martin he’d been cooking in Santa Fe for years and had a following. This was another restaurant that took off right from the beginning. It’s a Horatio Alger story. Rios, who was born in Mexico, started working as a dishwasher in local kitchens at the age of 17 and worked his way up to Executive Chef at prestigious local eateries before realizing the dream of owning his own restaurant. While you may have seen him competing against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef (Flay won), Restaurant Martin does not have the fame beyond New Mexico’s borders that some other local places do. Rios’ philosophy, for what he calls his “progressive American cuisine”, is to use fresh and seasonal items and to enhance the natural flavors of foods, not overpower them. They are open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and serve Sunday brunch. Lunch and brunch are served from 11:30am to 2pm. Dinner, served Tuesday through Sunday, is from 5:30pm.
Recommended: The menu changes seasonally, Chef Martin’s soups, risottos and scallop entrees are always popular.
Price range: Appetizers range from $12 to $17 and entrees from $23 to $30.
Narrowing down this list from all the wonderful dining options Santa Fe has to offer was a daunting task and some great ones are inevitably missing. If your favorite is not on the list, you can share it with readers by leaving a comment below.
If you want to sample New Mexican cuisine while here, check out Santa Fe Dining: Experience New Mexican Cuisine.
As former a hotel concierge and owner of a travel concierge and trip-planning business in Santa Fe, the writer may have at some time been the guest of business or services mentioned here or may be guests in the future. These experiences do not influence this post in any way.
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