Summer is arguably the most enjoyable season in Santa Fe. The lack of snow keeps the roads less treacherous; the lack of wind keeps in the dreaded pollen from invading everyone’s sinuses; and the lack of foreboding winter gives reason to wake up in the morning. --- And even though the sun can be found all over the city, one of the greatest places to bask in its rays is the Plaza. If it’s summer in Santa Fe, you have to make a visit to the Plaza. Whether inspiring or discouraging, it’s our downtown and it deserves your love.
Now, one of the greatest pleasures of a Santa Fe summer is dining on handheld cuisine under a beaming sun. Four vendors regularly provide this exact option, and now, we’ve tried them all. So hit up your closest ATM (not the ones on the Plaza, unless you don’t like having an extra 3 bucks) and head downtown for the sights, sounds and, especially, tastes.
Kernel’s Kettle Corn
Who: Owned by Leigh and Michael Murphy, Kernel’s enters its third year of operating on the Plaza. “Serving downtown is a privilege,” Murphy says. The Murphys worked with both Santa Fe SCORE and the business incubator to start up their cart.
Best bite: All of the many flavors of kettle corn are cooked in coconut oil, making them a tasty, and moderately healthy, treat, but the original sweet ’n savory ($9 for a jumbo bag) is a must-try. With just the right amount of sweet balanced perfectly with salt, this is kettle corn that actually made me like kettle corn.
When: Open daily, from noon until the last patron walks off the Plaza
Chicago Dog Express
Who: On and off the Plaza for the last eight years, this cart is the little brother to Chicago Dog’s main location off Cerrillos Road. Though the cart doesn’t have all the same menu items, it still carries the best—and the best of the best is a surprise.
Best Bite: Frito Pie ($4.50). Not to say their hot dogs aren’t delicious, but Chicago Dog does this Santa Fe special amazingly well. Pair it with any one of their gourmet sodas.
When: Daily 10:30 am-2:30 pm in the summer. However, this is the one vendor to get the boot during festivals on the Plaza. Sometimes they’ll set up a block down Washington Avenue, but there’s no guarantee.
Who: Roque was the first food vendor on the Plaza, nearly 30 years ago, providing fajitas and tamales to hungry Plaza-goers, but that wasn’t always his goal. “I ran for city council back back in ’84, ’85,” Roque tells SFR. Nowadays, he’s happy to serve incredible food in downtown Santa Fe.
Best Bite: Roque recommends the beef carnitas, and it does not disappoint. The beef has a mellow, grilled flavor, and the fresh tortilla leaves nothing to be desired. Topped with onions and peppers, and priced at a mere $5, it’s a full lunch.
When: Daily, 9:30 am-3:30 pm, through summer, but sometimes open as late at 9 pm come cooler months
El Molero Fajitas
Who: That fajita place on the Plaza, as it’s often referred to, is the colorful wooden structure on the corner of East San Francisco Street and Lincoln Avenue. In actuality, it’s called El Molero Fajitas and is owned by David Caldera, the man behind the grill. On the Plaza for 23 years, David once accompanied Roque near the clock tower until the city allowed them to serve from the Plaza. Don’t let the long lunch time lines scare you; Caldera and company know quick service. Additionally, El Molero boast an extra-hot green chile.
Best Bite: The fajitas, chicken and beef ($5). Perfectly seasoned and adorned with sour cream and guacamole (optional but foolish to avoid), the fajitas are reminiscent of Baja-style, Southern California Mexican food. The only way these could be improved would be to add more.
When: Daily, 10am-3pm