Among the wonderful things about living in Santa Fe is what Georgia O'Keeffe called "from the faraway nearby." In this, she was referring to how the big skies and clear air of Northern New Mexico blur the lines of spatial distinction. One of the best ways to experience the faraway nearby is by heading north, to the lands that so inspired her; the white crags of Plaza Blanca and the purple shadows of Pedernal. Of course, there are many other reasons to head north from Santa Fe–a visit to Taos, a soak at Ojo Caliente, a need for Colorado weed–and such adventures require fuel of the human kind. Lucky for us, there exists a variety of delicious options as varied as the landscape itself.
Tesuque Village Market
138 Tesuque Village Road, 988-8848
Beloved for its down-home food and decades-old kitsch, Tesuque Village Market is as good a place to eat as it is to people watch. Between bites of fajitas ($12-20) or a tuna melt ($13) or green chile chicken posole ($15) or wood-fired pizza (starting at $18), diners can catch a glimpse of one of the area's many local celebrities and find constant entertainment in the slack-jawed lurkers haunting the old-school pastry case. The market bakes up goods as its mountainous nachos ($12), Tesuque Village Market bakes up everything from green chile cheese bread ($5/$8) and pecan sticky rolls ($4) to banana cream pie ($7 slice/$30 whole) and tiramisu ($7) daily. Everything is big in this community pit-stop, especially the personality.
1577 Bishop's Lodge Road, 954-1272
The fact that the parking lot here is always packed gives you an idea that El Nido, "the nest" of Tesuque, is an ideal place to tuck in for a treat. Stylish and cozy inside, with an expansive patio for warm-weather dining, it's an ideal spot to take a break from the area's rustic side and delve into its more refined edges. Many of the dishes—from pizza (starting at $17) and grilled Scottish salmon ($33) to Filet Mignon ($39) and rotisserie chicken ($26)—are cooked over a wood fire, with chefs expertly adjusting the heat by turning the cranks of a custom Argentinian-style grill. Seasonal salads may even be prepared over the embers, imparting a savory flavor to the Romaine leaves of a summertime Cesare alla girglia ($13), a creative take on the classic Caesar salad, topped with a smoked serrano Caesar dressing. If you time it right, daily happy hour is celebrated from 3-5 pm in the bar, and on "wine down" Wednesdays, all bottles on El Nido's extensive wine list are half-price.
4 Banana Lane, 455-7000
Located just off the Cuyamungue exit of Highway 84, Gabriel's is a Zagat-rated old school standard offering dependable New Mexican and Old Mexican dishes. During warm months, a seat on the outdoor patio is a must, with a fresh squeezed margarita in hand to toast the beauty of the Sangre de Christos. Though Gabriel's is known for its sizzling fajitas (starting at $17.95) and dinner platters featuring mesquite-grilled meats and seafoods (starting at $14.95), perhaps the most popular menu item is the tableside guacamole ($11.95), prepared just the way you like it—chunky, creamy, crunchy, spicy–in a traditional molcajete.
603 Santa Cruz Road, Española, 753-3211
Few will argue that El Paragua, the mothership of numerous El Parasols which dot Northern New Mexico, is, if not the best, then one of the best New Mexican restaurants in the Southwest. Authenticity is key at El Paragua, where the Atencio family has been serving the Española community since the 1950s. What began as a simple tamale stand has evolved into a menu of New Mexican favorites as expansive as the restaurant itself (which yes, did grow itself right around a tree). Time-honored favorites include smoky chicharrones ($5.25), a celebrated carne adovada ($16.50), chiles rellenos (stuffed with more chile!; $18.50) and massive enchilada platters ($15.50-$114). El Paragua is also a traditional place of celebration, so always expect a lively crowd, many celebrating with family for special occasions and holidays, or just celebrating the fact that this stalwart has–and hopefully will always–withstood the test of time.
20814 US-84, Abiquiu, 685-4111
Sitting unassumingly on the corner of Highway 84 (to Abiquiu) and Highway 554 (to El Rito) Mamacita's Pizzeria is a bustling spot for locals and passers-by aching for a taste of "Mamacita" Marta Uribe's sizzling New York-style pizza. From 8-inch personal, 14-inch large, and huge (or just New York-sized) 18-inch family style, pizzas can be prepared with your choice of toppings or from a creative menu which includes a Hawaiian ($7/$17/$21.50) made "New Mexican" with the addition of spicy jalapeños and a veggie supreme ($8.50/$19/$24.50) piled high with mushrooms, onions, garlic, bell pepper, tomato and black olives. Mamacita's also offers sandwiches, salads, a juicy ⅓ homestyle black Angus green chile cheeseburger ($8.50) and even chicken parmesans for just $7. Fill up without emptying your wallet.