This might sound crazy, but here it is: There's an entire week during which you—yes, you—can afford to eat out in Santa Fe.

During a recent powder day, I found myself engrossed in a chairlift conversation with a guy from Albuquerque. I told him I thought our southern neighbors get to enjoy better nightlife.

"Yeah, but you guys have food," he said enviously. "So many great restaurants."

It's true, or at least it seems to be; that oft-repeated statistic of "most restaurants per capita" has been floating around for years.

"If only we could afford them," I said wistfully—forgetting, temporarily, that Santa Fe Restaurant Week was imminent.

In the fourth iteration of what's become one of my favorite local traditions, this year's Restaurant Week, which runs through Sunday, March 3, features lunch and dinner deals at 52 local restaurants. Prices range from $25 per couple to $20, $30 and $40 prix fixe dinner menus, plus some lunchtime steals for even less.

"There is more of a range" this year, organizer Michele Ostrove says, with "almost an equal distribution over the three lower-priced categories." The bottom line? "You don't have to be rich to enjoy a great meal during Restaurant Week, which is good."

Indeed. Upscale spots suddenly become (more) affordable—like Luminaria (Inn & Spa at Loretto, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail, 984-7915), whose three-course, $30 dinner menu delivers a succulent coffee-crusted flatiron steak over a sublimely cheesy green chile polenta and garnished with a saucy smear of mole, yet manages not to skimp on portion size. (For another $19, diners can enjoy a thoughtfully conceived wine pairing—which also doesn't skimp on portion size.) If you're trying to hit as many places as possible without spending too much, check out some of the lower-priced options, such as Restaurant Week newcomer Bert's Burger Bowl (235 N Guadalupe St., 982-0215), which will stay open for extended evening hours (5-8 pm) this week, serving up $25-per-couple specialty items such as a locally sourced Talus Wind Ranch lamb burger. The Cowgirl (319 S Guadalupe St., 982-2565) also has daily lunch specials on food and beer, and a $20-per-person, three-course dinner menu.

Restaurant Week also affords the perfect opportunity to sample new places without shelling out quite so much cash. Thunderbird Bar & Grill (50 Lincoln Ave., 490-6550), which recently opened in the old Ore House space, offers a creative three-course tasting menu at lunchtime for $25 per couple. (If, like me, you'd rather drink your treats, you can skip the flan and enjoy a flight of microbrewed beers in place of dessert for a $5 upcharge.)

On the higher end, it's a perfect time to try some of the city's best foodie spots, such as Restaurant Martín (526 Galisteo St., 820-0919), whose eponymous chef, Martín Rios, was recently named a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for best chef in the Southwest; the $40-per-person dinner menu may not be cheap, but the quality of its four-course menu, which ranges from tempura oysters to a vegetarian tasting plate, promises to be spectacular. In addition, several events—from a "history of beer" class to an introduction to fancy Balsamic vinegar—round out the week.

When I ask how she plans to spend Restaurant Week, Ostrove laughs.

"Actually, you're going to laugh: We do a lot of drive-bys to see how everybody's doing, like mother hens checking over the flock," she says. "We are going to go to a couple of places—I don't think I should say where," she adds. I beg her: just one?

"You know, we're going to go to Fuego! at La Posada," she admits. "Chef Carmen Rodriguez won New Mexico Chef of the Year last year, and I have honestly never tried his cuisine, and he is brand-new at La Posada, so—that's just one of several that we're going to try."

And if she's going, shouldn't you?

Santa Fe Restaurant Week
Sunday, Feb. 24-Sunday, March 3
visit for times and locations