Santa Fe has been an international city for thousands of years. Our geographic location between the eastern Great Plains and the western mountains and deserts made this area a natural meeting-point among Indigenous nations long before Europeans arrived, and today the city boasts immigrant populations from six out of the seven continents.
This richness of cultural diversity is a strength for the restaurant scene, and today it's possible to sample the world's culinary traditions in a small city of 80,000 people without ever pulling out a passport.
The cradle of our species has some strong, albeit limited, representation in our city. Most prominent is chef Ahmed Obo's Jambo Café (2010 Cerrillos Road,
473-1269), which has won accolades from SFR's Best of Santa Fe readers poll for the past bazillion years in a row. His menu is drawn from North and East African cuisines, with a healthy dose of Carribean to boot. The jerk chicken sandwich ($10.95) is easy but exciting: pillowy pita surrounds flavorful, juicy chicken topped with a spicy tomato sauce. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan options too, including a coconut lentil stew ($12.95) and a tofu curry ($13.95). Keep an eye out for both the Jambo Hapa food trucks as well.
We'd be remiss to not mention Cleopatra Café (418 Cerrillos Road, 820-7381; 3482 Zafarano Dr., 474-5644) in this space. Named after the famously powerful African queen, the menu at Cleopatra's two locations is inspired by the whole eastern Mediterranean and North African region, with a killer falafel sandwich ($6.95) and Egyptian kebab plates ($15.95).
Asia: It's a huge place with countless cultures and even its own subcontinent, so I can't pretend to be comprehensive. But to start, I love a good bowl of Vietnamese pho, and we're graced with two restaurants that have "pho" in their names: Pho Ava (2430 Cerrillos Road, 557-6572) and Pho Kim (919 W Alameda St., 820-6777), both with their own particular followings and offering similar menus. A bowl of beef pho will run you about $11 at both places.
We also have several restaurants with owners from India, including India Palace downtown (227 Don Gaspar Ave., 986-5859; temporarily closed after being targeted by hateful vandalism) and India House farther down the Cerrillos corridor (2501 Cerrillos Road, 471-2651). If you're unfamiliar with the cuisine, try India House's lunch buffet for $8.95, with a wide range of northern Indian meat and vegetarian dishes for you to sample.
In the Chinese category, find places like Lulu's (takeout and delivery; 3011 Cerrillos Road, 473-9898) and Chow's Asian Bistro (takeout only; 720 St Michaels Dr., 471-7120) with traditional sit-down experiences and wide menus. Another good to-go Chinese place on the north side is Chopstix (238 N Guadalupe St., 820-2126), with super-friendly service but an early closing time of 6:50pm.
Japanese restaurant and sushi bar Kohnami (313 S Guadalupe St., 984-2002) serves a unique dish that you can't find anywhere else in town, and it's actually Korean: the doltsotbap, a big stone bowl that gets heated in an oven, then brought to your table where rice, veggies and meats are fried inside ($14.95-$17.95). It requires a bit of attention to keep the rice from burning, but the richness of the flavor improves the longer you sit with it.
Relative newcomer Tibet Kitchen (3003 S St Francis Dr., 982-6796) -impresses with generous portions of traditional Tibetan food at low prices. Get down with some momo: traditional steamed dumplings that come in veggie, chive ($8.99 each for 8 pieces) or beef ($9.99).
Italian cuisine is well-represented in Santa Fe, with Trattoria a Mano (227 Galisteo St., 982-3700) and Il Piatto (95 W Marcy St., 984-1091) offering fine dining experiences. Pizzeria da Lino (204 N Guadalupe St.,982-8474) is owned and managed by actual Italian Lino Pertusini, and his food is consistently delish, but recently I keep returning to Midtown's Pizzeria Espiritu (1722 St Michaels Dr. Ste. A, 424-8000), with its ceiling mural of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" creating a divine (and denuded) atmosphere out of its strip mall abode.
Saveur Bistro (204 Montezuma Ave., 989-4200) makes French food a little more accessible with a daily lunch buffet, soups and sandwiches and is a favorite for state employees on a quick lunch break.
Central and South America
Pupusas are having their moment, with at least three restaurants dedicated to the El Salvadorean staple: Midtown food truck La Loncherita Salvadoreña (1741 Llano St., 316-2228), the simply named Pupuseria Restaurant at the Days Inn hotel (2900 Cerrillos Road, 474-3512), and Pupuseria Y Lonchera La Providencia (3920 Rodeo Road, 231-8617), another food truck. They each offer up the thick, stuffed corn pancakes for just a couple dollars each, making it affordable to try a bunch of different types—and we'll let you judge which out of the three is best.
Venturing further south in Latin America, the city is home to two restaurants dedicated to Peruvian food: Cuchara del Inca Peruvian Restaurant (317 Aztec St., 666-1577) and Sabor Peruano in the DeVargas Center (163 Paseo De Peralta, 358-3829). Cuchara del Inca aims for a more elevated experience at reasonable prices, while the whimsical Sabor Peruano has lots of vegan and vegetarian-friendly options.