Santa Fe would not seem to be a dessert town.
If you've finished your dinner in the heart of the city and are pondering a stroll through the Plaza to a serendipitous dessert spot, you might well be strolling until sunrise. It's not that we don't like sweets around here. Bakeries like Dulce (110 Don Diego Ave., Ste. A, 989-9966) and the Chocolate Maven (821 San Mateo Road, 984-1980) whip up delicious treats. Kakawa Chocolate House (1050 Paseo de Peralta, 982-0388) and Clafoutis (333 W Cordova Road, 988-1809), too. Great options—if you've thought far enough ahead to pick something up for home or hotel because they all close at 4, 5 or 6 in the afternoon.
Downtown, your best option for dessert at night is probably to feed in place. Most restaurants within a motorcycle's roar of the Plaza have a respectable dessert menu, if not an outstanding one. Don't let the idea of not having "saved room" dissuade you from ordering. Split it, for heaven's sake. Or make room. There's always a digestif or shot of espresso to help you get ambulatory. If you are prone to wander, La Lecheria (101 W Marcy St., 205-1595) ice cream shop is open until 8 pm and the house-made gelato at Ecco (128 E Marcy St., 986-9778) just down the street keeps its doors open until 9:30, at least during the summer.
Drinks might actually be a better option, as downtown Santa Fe's cocktail scene features a few quality spots. Winston Greene's Tonic (103 E Water St., 982-1189) may have transformed into a true late-night destination, as his two-year-old bar has stuck to its Golden Age roots, providing live jazz and impeccably mixed cocktails ($10+). With a passion for classic cocktails and a palate for new mixes and underused ingredients, Greene's art deco haunt is worth a visit for a featured drink or an extremely well-made old favorite. A few feet away is the Coyote Café (132 W Water St., 983-1615), which offers sophisticated cocktails at a bar it isn't afraid to hide, or more casual combinations at its now year-round Rooftop Cantina. On Palace Avenue right outside the friendly confines of Paseo de Peralta, La Posada's Staab House (330 E Palace Ave., 986-0000) has upped its cocktail game. As SFR has pointed out before, it also offers some of the best fireside tippling in town when the weather is right.
If it's dessert you're after, though, your quest can—and perhaps should—lead you to some neighborhood restaurants that will open your eyes to non-downtown options.
As mentioned, the Chocolate Maven bakery is more than capable of cooking up an array of dessert treats that you'll most likely have to eat at home (or in the parking lot of the grocery store). Its San Mateo-meets-Second Street location also serves afternoon tea ($8) with cream currant scones, clotted cream, raspberry jam and delightfully cool lemon curd. Tea is included and other options for food are available.
At either end of St. Michael's Drive, you're likely to find a dessert that suits you. Many of the offerings at longtime world cuisine staple Annapurna's World Vegetarian Café (1620 St. Michael's Drive, 988-9688) are vegan; all are vegetarian. The pecan pie ($5.25), almost always dependent on butter and eggs, is dairy-free and delicious. A host of other sweets can be had while sipping a cup of chai and pursuing inner peace. Or inner pecans.
Loyal Hound (730 St. Michael's Drive, 471-0440), which shares culinary DNA with Arable in Eldorado, makes all its desserts in house, too. The lime meringue pie ($7) is a clever take on what you're served most places: a quivering stack of sweet, tart and sky-high foamy egg white that you're not sure if you should smush into the pie filling or fling against the wall in a gesture of defiance or, perhaps, joie de vivre. Befitting Santa Fe, this is a low-rise affair, with a smooth, tangy filling aboard a graham cracker crust. The meringue is toasted and while it might look like an afterthought, it's the key to the dish. A scant bit on the tip of your fork adds a sugary crunch to the pie. It looks great, is fun to eat and tastes amazing. Just like Ray Liotta.
Further south, the Plaza Cafe Southside (3466 Zafarano Drive, 424-0755) will sate your sweet tooth and is actually open later on weekends (10 pm) than its namesake downtown counterpart (9 pm). Pies and desserts are house made and usually spot on.
Year after year, some of SFR's favorite dishes and desserts are simple affairs, done exceedingly well. Such is the case with Southside staple Joe's Dining (2801 Rodeo Road, 471-3800). In summer, peaches rule the menu, and if you play your cards right, you can get away with dessert on both sides of dinner. The secret is cold soup. Joe's peach and almond soup ($6/$8) is a straightforward puree of local peaches with little interference from other ingredients, sprinkled with almond slivers. And dessert, oh dessert. Again, it's all made on the spot and the peach cobbler ($7) is summer in a bowl. Warm, with a shortbread-like topping, it has two full peaches in the portion delivered to the table. There's cinnamon and—is that a hint of clove that arrives on the inhale? Paired with ice cream, it's enough to make you realize that Santa Fe might just be a dessert town, if you're willing to venture out, or prepared to dine in.