How do you even pick favorites in a town like Santa Fe? Sure, people are visiting and moving here for the arts, no question, but as anyone who's ever tried to snag a table someplace on a weekend or any day during the summer will tell you—we're all about that food life, too. Which makes this hard. In planning meetings, we'd hit well over 100 restaurants to consider before our morning coffee had a chance to cool, and narrowing those down to the following 15 was both challenging and heartbreaking. But we think these will appeal to a wide variety of diners. These choices represent an -exciting combination of old favorites, new hotspots and reliable in-betweens that prove when it comes to eating out in Santa Fe, we're as spoiled as it gets.
Comfort food should not be so heavy and gut-sticking that the comfort it brings is really just a numb coma. Comfort food should make you feel a rainbow of good vibes; hope, nostalgia and camaraderie all layered over a clean, warm fullness is the ideal for any meal.
While these things aren't listed explicitly on Arable's brunch or dinner menus, you can find them hiding in items like their shrimp and grits ($16.50), Santa Ana Pueblo corn grits smothered in a Creole bell pepper sauce with jumbo, perfectly tender shrimps; or biscuits and gravy ($12.50), the latter which is only available at weekend brunch, when you can also order a waffle and eggs ($10) or bacon green chile mac and cheese ($12.50).
Arable's lighter plates retain the comfort angle, too; the Eat Your Beets salad ($10) with warm roasted beets, feta cheese, spiced nuts and greens helped me rediscover my relationship with the earth, which I think is the point—everything's farm-to-table, and chef/owner Renee Fox brings a deep respect for the ingredients (and the diner) to each preparation. I left my Saturday brunch with a smile that stayed on my face all weekend and with rave reviews for all my friends. (Cole Rehbein)
Back Road Pizza
This unpretentious Midtown joint sports friendly counter service and tasty pizza available by the pie or by the slice. There's no reinventing the wheel here, just consistently good food. The particularly fresh-tasting sauce is housemade and tangy, and the thin, crispy crust is whipped up and rolled out in-house, too.
The New Mexican pizza ($22.75 for a large) is a familiar assemblage featuring pepperoni and green chile, with the addition of slightly sweet red onion. The Veggiefest arrives with spinach, mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, the same red onions and black olives, and the trick here seems to be the proportions; there are plenty of toppings, but the pie isn't laden. You still taste the cheese, the sauce, the crust. Toppings are spread all the way to the edge, too, which means you're not loading up on dough—unless you want to, then garlic knots ($5) and pesto cheese rolls ($6.50) are there for you.
You can build your own, too ($16.50, large), plus, awesomely, certain grocery items—both for curbside pickup. Even better, during our visits, the staff have been uniformly friendly.
Bonus: there are a couple of pool tables in the loft upstairs and a great patio (though proprietor Piper Kapin tells us they're unsure when they'll open up for seating this summer)—and they'll even make you a vegan pizza if you supply your own vegan cheese—not perfect, but something.
In warmer months, Kapin takes her show on the road with a bright red Back Road food truck, making for a pleasant surprise or a handy pizza run if it's parked nearby. (Matt Grubs)
Prior to a change in rules about public singing, three to four nights a week, musicians strumming classical Spanish guitar tunes would make this small downtown tapas restaurant feel cozy and intimate. We argue the nights in the near future with a background beat of melodic electronic music, the contemporary décor and snippets of conversations happening in French and Italian at nearby tables still lend the restaurant a decidedly cosmopolitan feel.
The modern vibe is reflected in everything, but some of the more experimental dishes from chef James Campbell Caruso, an eight-time James Beard Award nominee, truly seal the deal. Try the chorizo iberico with thin slices of chorizo with goat cheese, blackberries and crispy fried sage ($16), and the flat iron steak served with a choice of smoked sea salt caramel or cabrales butter ($15). The bacon-wrapped dates ($14) are a personal favorite—rich, decadent, entirely delicious—but if you are in the mood for a more traditional Spanish tapas experience, don't hesitate to go straight for the classics: patatas bravas ($9), chicharones ($12) and the jamon serrano ($14).
La Boca is the kind of restaurant that'll either make you forget that Santa Fe is a small town in the middle of the desert, or make you wish you were in a bigger city with a younger crowd. Either way, the menu is worth trying, as is Caruso's around-the-corner wine bar/tapas spot, Taberna. If you really want to get the full experience, though, Caruso hosts annual culinary tours of Spain for those with an extra $5,000 or $6,000. (Leah Cantor)
The epitome of the neighborhood New Mexican spot, Café Castro called Midtown home before it was cool. Decades later, it remains a go-to for residents from across town, and its no-frills ambiance coupled with some of the most noteworthy chile in town do not disappoint.
We snuck our lunchtime meal in between errands, starting with chips and creamy guac plus a pint of Santa Fe Brewing Co.'s Pepe Loco ($3.50), a Mexican style beer that's refreshing and delicious no matter the time of day. It paired well with red chile chicken enchiladas ($11.49) stuffed with more than enough cheese and smothered with enough chile left over to sop up with a fresh sopapilla—over easy egg on top, of course. Café Castro serves breakfast items all day as well, and a breakfast burrito smothered Christmas ($8.99, and that's red and green chile both for our out of town friends) provided a satisfying protein boost midday. The green chile was bright and spicy, but plenty flavorful, while the rich, earthy red leaned into its own thick body just right.
Our server even recognized us, making the whole thing feel homey, and when the check came, it was almost hard to believe something so good could be so affordable. (Alex De Vore)
The Compound Restaurant
You might think of The Compound as the Canyon Road wing of the Museum of International Folk Art. Both its name and its hallowed white walls were carved out of the old McComb Compound in 1966, when designer (and major MoIFA donor) Alexander Girard unveiled the sleek gourmet restaurant.
Chef/owner Mark Kiffin marked two decades at The Compound this spring, and his James Beard Award-winning seasonal menus continue to showcase his own brand of folk art. A wild mushroom and polenta dish ($28) with Parmesan and field cress blended peppery notes with woodsy layers. Tangy grain mustard and Guinness-flavored pork tenderloin cutlets ($34) were sided with creamy Yukon and goat cheese gratin and a cabbage, chestnut and apple sheet-pan roast that exuded the robust flavors of fall. Kiffin's classics are impeccable, too: Giant orders of flaky onion rings ornament many tables at lunch, and bar diners rave about the enormous chicken schnitzel ($22) with capers and a creamy butter-lemon sauce. The 8-ounce Lone Mountain Ranch Wagyu burger is quite simply the finest in Santa Fe—get it with roasted poblano and cheddar cheese, along with a heap of golden fries, for $20. That's a damn good deal at what might still be, more than a half-century after its opening, the most stylish restaurant in Santa Fe. (Molly Boyle)
Dumplings Tea & Dim Sum
There are more than 20 dumpling dishes on the menu that fall into three general categories: pinched with a paper-thin dough that becomes crispy and golden when fried or light and noodle-like when steamed; fluffy buns made with a thicker, chewy, slightly-sweet dough that also come either steamed or fried; and soup dumplings that either come in a large bowl of steaming broth and veggies or are filled with broth that bursts into your mouth at the first bite. There are even a few sweet dumplings, which go well with passion fruit smoothies or mango bubble tea ($5.50 each).
Our best advice is to bring a friend along, order at least one dish from both the bun and the dumpling category and share. Fried dumplings are a great choice, satisfyingly crispy at the edges with a juicy, flavorful filling. But if you want to venture beyond the classic pot sticker, explore the many variations of the bun. Our favorites are the steamed pork bun and the red bean bun, each a fantastic combo of sweet and salty. When dining alone, try the chicken wonton soup—a generous serving as comforting as the homemade variety, but the shaved jalapeño, cucumber and cilantro courtesy of chef/owner Fen Wang make it more of a refreshing choice than a comfort food. You can watch Wang work, by the way, which ups any visit into a straight-up experience—plus, dumplings are a rare sight in Santa Fe, and one we're glad to have. (LC)
66 E San Francisco St., 646-945-5000
Lunch and dinner daily
It used to be hard to choose the best North Indian food in Santa Fe. India Palace set the standard downtown, Paddy Rawal's Raaga thrummed on Agua Fría, and India House delighted the Cerrillos Road crowd. Then, one changed hands, one closed (though Rawal has reopened a to-go version of Raaga) and India House was left to fend for itself. Instead of taking shell-shocked newcomers for granted, though, the eatery upped its game.
The food has always been good, but chef Kewal Singh Dhindsa and company have revamped the interior, creating a more elegant experience. Service is nearly impeccable. If there's something to be done, someone will do it—likely smiling.
The chai is savory with a crisp finish. Paratha and naan arrive piping hot and delicious and in several varieties ($2.95-$4.95). Vegetarians have long adored India House, and the aloo gobi ($12.95) manages to coax flavor from not just cauliflower, but the potatoes as well. Paneer-based dishes deliver tender chunks of cheese with the familiar tang of makhani, the sweetness of navratan korma (both $14.95) or the richness of saag paneer ($13.95).
The tandoor clay oven turns out kebabs and other spiced meats and seafood. Dessert, if you can manage it, is highlighted by sweet puddings and custards, with mango and saffron making for two wise choices ($5.95). (MG)
2501 Cerrillos Rd., 471-2651
Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Izmi Sushi Bar
This jewel box of a sushi bar on Marcy Street is just the right size for its vibe: intimate without being cramped, elegant but accessible. Offset by yellow walls and pendant Tiffany-style lamps, soundtracked by mellow jazz, the semicircular booths along the picture windows offer a cozy streetside perch.
Since Izmi changed chef-ownership in 2018, its menu has expanded to more than 20 special and classic rolls respectively, along with a host of appetizers and dinner entrees, but the food quality and service remain stalwart. Downtown lunchers frequent the daily specials or snap up chicken, shrimp, tofu, or veggie tempura bento boxes ($12-$14); others go for the udon, ramen, or soba noodle soups ($10). While the miso soup ($2) routinely needs more tofu and wakame, its warming, complex broth is a balm on a foggy day. The sushi is the star of the show, as evidenced by a recent shared 7×7 entreé (seven sashimi and seven nigiri, chef's choice, $28), which showed off dazzling cuts of tuna, red snapper, yellowtail, salmon, bigeye tuna, shrimp, salmon belly and eel alongside vinegar-kissed nigiri rice.
One such pristine experience might make a person prone to ordering omakase every time at Izmi—but go ahead, get that spicy tuna roll you know you want, too. They have two different versions ($9-$12). (MB)
105 E. Marcy St., 424-1311
Lunch and Dinner Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner only Sunday and Monday
1965 Cerrillos Road, 772-0169
Lunch and Dinner Monday-Saturday; Closed Sunday
Depending on who you ask, never having sampled a breakfast burrito from Ramblin' Café is a criminal offense. You wanna talk about spicy yet flavorful chile? This is your mecca, and the restaurant does it all from an unassuming strip mall on Second Street. Take yours smothered ($7.50) or hand-held, ($5.50), but don't forget about your other options, including the egg sandwich with chorizo, ham, sausage, bacon or without ($5.75) or the morning pan fry, two eggs your way with the requisite meats, red or green chile and, refreshingly, guacamole made in-house.
But say you've gone at lunchtime, and say you want to get more substantial, a combo between breakfast and lunch? Ramblin' has you covered with a rich carne adovada dish served with eggs however you like and toast or tortilla ($8.99), the hearty breakfast with eggs, pancakes, potatoes, meat and bread ($10) or the Fred special, six egg whites and one yolk with beans, cheese, red or green (or both) and a tortilla ($11). It's affordable, it's where the locals go, it's everything you ever wanted in a diner-like breakfast/brunch joint. You won't find them on social media, and they don't need an official site—everybody knows Ramblin' Café is worth it already. (ADV)
1420 Second St., 989-1272
Breakfast and Lunch Tuesday-Saturday
Rowley Farmhouse Ales
If you've been tempted, or even are among those who regularly cruise that one homophobic chain chicken joint, allow us to suggest a local and lively alternative. The kitchen at Rowley is where to find fried chicken in a biscuit with a pickle, plus a welcome atmosphere where you want to linger.
The brewery helmed by Los Alamos chemist John Rowley struck gold at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last year by winning the most medals, including Small Brewery and Brew Pub Brewer of the Year. Its farmhouse-style ales often feature locally (or nearly local) sourced fruits, like the award-winning Côte d'Or double cerise made with bing and Montmorency cherries from Palisade, Colorado. Rowley is retailing beer to other restaurants and stores, but you'll find the biggest variety of house brews in the taproom, along with selections of craft brews from across the country. We love that you can order 4-ounce pours and that bartenders are generous with tasting. We won't argue with the restaurant billing itself as gourmet comfort food and we trust the farm-to-table promise. In addition to the aforementioned chicken sandwich with horseradish crema ($14), we're also big fans of chef Jeffrey Kaplan's mac and cheese ($11), fried chicken and waffles with apple green chile slaw ($16) and skillet-based seasonal desserts. Plus, this is how community happens. Long picnic tables under the new roof outside, game nights, deep conversations about nerdy beer details—all of it hidden a stone's throw from Santa Fe's main drag. (Julie Ann Grimm)
Santa Fe Bite
Now generous in dinosaur kitsch along with diner deco, Santa Fe Bite reopened in the fall for a second time in a massive space, and Santa Fe didn't have trouble finding Bonnie and John Eckre.
We went on a mission for Sunday fried chicken and learned something new: The veggie burgers are killing it. Yes, they come to the table with a color scheme resembling something between deep blood and magenta, but that's because they're made from beets. This house recipe with brown rice, black beans and oat bran is packed with flavor and comes with quinoa salad if you're a health nut and chips if you're not ($12.25).
Also, if you're not, check out that chicken. Served only on the first day of the week, it's free range, with a home-skillet vibe fried in thin breading that's greasy in a good way, and served with a scoop of mashed potatoes and veggie medley ($15.50). Saturday night's rib special draws a similar following.
You might get the impression by now that the menu is huge. We also dig on the tacos, steaks and salads, but come on—it's really the burgers that keep the lights on. We highly recommend the green chile cheeseburger ($13.10 for a 10-ounce version, though it comes in a filling 6-ounce size as well).
Are milkshakes made with Blue Bunny ice cream a side dish or a dessert? A drink? All of the above? They come in five flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, espresso and mocha ($7-7.75). Just stop asking questions and pick one. (JAG)
Sassella's opening the summer of 2019 makes her still rather a new kid downtown. The space has in recent years been home to two other endeavors, and now it's contending with construction across the street at a historic county building. Yet executive chef and part-owner Cristian Pontiggia might just have an engaging enough concept to endure. It's high-end, to be sure, but the menu includes approachable plates of pasta alongside ideas that are much more extravagant and adventurous. For our visit, this meant snarfing the fried eggplant topped with fresh herbs and sizzling in its thin breaded crust ($15). We also began the meal with a selection from the bar's gin-forward cocktail list. With more than 40 varieties on offer, the restaurant offers gin flights as well as mixologist-made gin cocktails such as the bitter orange we tried: Hacienda gin, ginger syrup, lemon juice and orange bitters—topped with a dab of frothy egg white and a floating, edible flower ($14).
For the main entree, we channeled our inner tourists to order what's definitely not on the menu back east—rattlesnake risotto. A spicy sausage made with the rich meat provided a salty backdrop to the tender rice and pesto sauce ($25). Nearby, diners oohed as a platter of sea bass arrived with glistening silver skin ($40). The dessert list alone brought another round of oohs back at our table, as we landed on pasticcini, a sampler of a dozen tiny pastries served on a board ($15). Our favorites were
fruit-bedecked custards poured into dark chocolate shells. (JAG)
In the pantheon of classic, local New Mexican foods, Tomasita's has the pedigree and the 45-minute wait to earn its top spot. A down-home melange of all things chile, onion, avocado, tortilla and beyond, it's also the only place in town where one can slather honey butter within their sopaipilla—and it was good. Did we mention the stellar bar area with the seemingly endless margarita menu? We meant to, just be aware.
For our money, there's no better way to start than sharing the nachos grande ($6.95-$11.95), a plate of housemade tortilla chips swimming in melty queso, taco meat, refried beans (a strangely rare menu item in Santa Fe) and sour cream. It's brilliant for sharing and pairing with a nice marg or cocktail—it even comes in a half-sized version for $10.95.
When it's time to hit the entrees, one can't go wrong with enchiladas with cheese, ground beef, chicken (or some combo of those things; $6.96-$11.95), and even a grilled veggie variety. Tomasita's also boasts one of the most delicious chile rellenos dishes we've ever encountered ($13.75), and that's without mentioning sinfully good chalupas ($10.95-$12.95), the vegetarian tamales or the Randy Travis plate, two grilled pork chops with refried beans smothered in green chile and cheese ($15.95 and Travis himself apparently loves it). It only gets better from there, by the way, and if you're simply dying for similar fare during Sunday's dark hours, remember Tomasita's sister eatery Atrisco in the De Vargas Center is open that day. (ADV)
The salad section can sometimes be the saddest section of the menu, but some of us just really like big bowls of vegetables. Thankfully there's a restaurant just for us, and Vinaigrette's menu features not two, not five, but 18 handcrafted salads in categories like "Bright and Zingy," "Savory" and (my favorite) "A Little Sweet."
Shout-out the Eat Your Peas ($12), which is chock-full of peas studded with sauteed mushrooms, bacon shards and Asiago cheese, and you can throw various prepared meats ($6-$8) on top of your salad if that's what you're into. With some slight substitutions or omissions, several of the salads can even be prepared vegan, like The Omega ($12.25), full of vegetables such as corn, avocado, tomato and onion and dressed with a blue cheese vinaigrette. Sub a different dressing, throw on some griddled tofu ($6) and veg-heads are good to go.
Vinaigrette has also taken steps to make its carry-out options more sustainable. Take your salad to-go in a stainless steel box for a $20 deposit and swap the empty box for clean one full of salad next time. Try out the new delivery service too; after all, we know how chef/owner Erin Wade really feels about those third-party apps. (CR)