So, you've already taken your visiting family to view the miracle staircase at the Loretto Chapel, climb the ladders at Bandelier, and tour the entirety of Museum Hill. You're already planning to take them to the House of Eternal Return on their upcoming trip, but then what?
We suggest a walking food tour.
Last week, we tagged along for one of the lunch walkabout and eatabouts offered by Food Tours New Mexico, and while we’ve got some constructive criticism, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the middle of the day.
We met tour guide Carlos Zozaya at the predetermined spot on the Plaza this weekday morning—glad to discover ours wasn’t the crowd of 20 ringing a tall woman in hat, but the small group of eight standing near a smiley, puffy-haired guy in a beaded necklace. Score one.
Before we take even one step, Jonathan Medina pops out from behind the El Chile Toreado food cart and fills our hands with a ramekin of carnitas. Medina says his family’s green salsa recipe comes from its 16-year tradition of cooking. Its tangy, spicy flavor combo is everything you could want in a secret sauce. While Medina passes out the goods, Zozaya is steadily chattering away, offering advice on haggling with Native vendors under the portal and quizzing attendees about where they’re from and what else they’re doing in Santa Fe. Everyone outside the SFR crowd is on vacation. So we settle in for our own vacation of sorts when, after a short stroll, we ascend the stairs to the San Francisco Street Bar and Grill (50 E San Francisco St., 982-2044) for a barely-noon margarita and a small plate of chicken enchiladas served Christmas, and we’re absolutely entertained by Zozaya’s tourist-friendly explanation of the whole chile situation.
“Why are New Mexicans so addicted to it? Why is it that when we are at the hospital on our death beds, we put it in our IVs?” he asks before launching into a speech complete with instructions about how red and green chile sauces are prepared. This is especially helpful coming from Zozaya; he’s had formal culinary training. When he talks about blooming and terroir and capsaicin, we really believe him.
Next, it’s the sights and smells at Santacafé (231 Washington Ave., 984-1788) during what’s now become the regular mid-day rush. The fried calamari with chile-lime dipping sauce is one of the reasons this Asian-French-New Mexican fusion menu remains a standby, and we’re pleased with the way the squash soup and its maple accents pairs with the half-serving of New Zealand white wine we’re offered.
But here’s where we wish Zozaya had been a little more precise. He’s proud to point out that the restaurant makes a ton of its products from scratch, even down to the ketchup, which he says includes mango puree to make it sweet. But he says the condiment is for sale and called “Kathy’s Ketchup.” Really, it’s Judy’s. And it’s not clear how much longer that will be true. It’s named for Judy Ebbinghaus, a former co-owner who recently parted ways with the operation. While the visitors might not notice this slip-up, it’s the kind of thing that makes a journalist go a little cuckoo.
We don’t hold that against him for too long, though, because we’re too busy stuffing a book of matches in our pocket while we argue about “farolitos vs. luminarias” (Zozaya is from Albuquerque and says the latter) on the way out the door and across the street to Osteria d’Assisi (58 S Federal Place, 986-5858). The farmhouse murals on the walls couldn’t be more of a juxtaposition to the stark interior of the last place and what Zozaya called its “freaky horns” decorating scheme. Here, we get a nearly full serving of house-made pappardelle in a beet cream sauce and a full glass of California red.
Now, we’re practically waddling, so it’s good that we’ve got a few blocks to cover before the next stop, at Santa Fe Olive Oil and Balsamic Co. (116 Don Gaspar Ave., 992-1601), owned by Mike Aranda, a young member of the family with a claim on Santa Fe plumbing fame. Sure, you can stop in the store and taste everything on your own, but Zozaya offers a few nuggets of insider information that you probably won’t hear on your own. Last, it’s off to the Kakawa Chocolate House (1050 Paseo de Peralta, 982-0388) for the kind of blissful dessert that comes in tiny blue and white cups, plus samples of other goodies.
Food Tour New Mexico, owned by Santa Fe son Nick Peña, offers a number of lunch and dinner outings, each with the same all-inclusive style, and enough food and beverage to satisfy. At between $73 and $125 per tour, you’re looking being entertained and well-fed for more than three hours. Get more info at foodtournewmexico.com.
If this sounds fun to you, don’t miss comparison shopping with similar tours offered by the also locally owned Santa Fe School of Cooking, whose instructors also take to the streets for meets and greets—and eats. Those tours cover four stops and run $115.