At a certain point, we were worried this special issue wouldn't happen. With COVID-19 sweeping the nation, the hard truth was that we had to hit pause and reflect on what the future of local foodservice would look like. But then our beloved Santa Fe restaurants surprised everyone—they got lean, they got smart, they embraced a new takeout and pickup model so quickly and effectively, our heads spun. But that doesn't mean it's been easy for anyone, and that doesn't mean it's not a good thing that dormant eateries have been able to reopen in a limited capacity and with special considerations for outdoor dining. It's a little early to tell what these new things will look like moving forward, but with restaurants getting back to the grind, it felt important to get our 2020 Restaurant Guide out there. As always, it's hard to whittle down selections to a few favorites in a sea of notable and iconic restaurants, but the following five represent a lot of hours eating and more hours toiling over who's the best. Get hungry.
We know your name was Charles and not Pierre, but you understood that we wanted the French food experience, and you won us over for life as you played along while you also provided excellent table service. Bouche Bistro backs up to the Santa Fe River, not the French Riviera. Still, it's one of Santa Fe's best offerings of that regional fare. We'll stop right there and say such Americanized dining opportunities are as close as this writer has been to France, and hope that doesn't keep readers from understanding this local restaurant is a treat. Bouche has yet to announce a reopening date, but given our experience a couple months back, you'll definitely want to keep an eye out.
After delighting in a pile of highly recommended mustardy beef tartare served with potato chips ($18), our dining companion helped us drop the "t" from cassoulet when we ordered the classic country casserole for the main course ($28). The dish is stocked with white beans and three kinds of meat, and topped with panko bread crumbs, so the cherry on top of crispy confit duck leg might seem like overkill. More like over the moon. We've never had such a tasty duck preparation and, fancy or not, there were fingers and licking involved. For dessert, Pierre delighted in pouring the liquid chocolate profiterole au chocolate ($9), a glorified ice cream sandwich, with which we savored the last sips of our French Burgundy.
Bouche means "mouth" en Français. Yours is likely to be very happy. (Julie Ann Grimm)
French dining is all about slowing it down and embracing the experience. As American diners, we tend to rush through our restaurant visits; at Bouche, it's wise to take a deep breath, ask what wine pairs well with your dish and lean into one of the finer feasts in our local food scene.
Market Steer Steakhouse
If you've already finished your dinner at Market Steer Steakhouse in the Hotel St. Francis, you might not be surprised if you get a look at chef Kathleen Crook's tattoos. After all, by the time you've consumed a Crook-cooked 100% USDA Prime steak, you've already tasted the pride she takes in her work. But she also wears it on her sleeve: three animals that represent the cuts for pork, poultry and beef.
That's the careful ethos Crook, who comes from a long line of farmers and ranchers in Artesia, brings to the menu at Market Steer, the decadent restaurant she opened in 2018 with partner and general manager Kristina Goode. The dinner menu is heavy on high-end appetizers with a slightly South-by-Southwestern twist, like mussels steamed with Shiner Bock and green chile ($18). Entreés include five cuts of steak, rounded out by options like crab, lobster, duck, chicken, a smoky bouillabaisse and one vegetarian entreé; the ample side dishes are ordered family-style. Sundays through Thursdays, a more affordable prix fixe menu ($55 per person) offers a few other choices. A knife-and-fork Caesar salad with a head of baby romaine, sharp white anchovies and bitter shaved Parmesan led off one recent meal. A flawlessly crusted flat-iron steak followed, topped by a melting pool of blue cheese butter. By the time the chilled Nutella pot de crème arrived, I could barely roll out the door. And yet I was still fantasizing about what over-the-top item to try next time. Raclette potatoes? Lobster mac? When you can afford it, Market Steer keeps you coming back. (Molly Boyle)
We learned the hard (easy?) way that appetizers at Market Steer come in more than generous helpings—and are fantastic as leftovers the next day. With a little planning, you can be lunching in style and making your coworkers jealous. Plus, you'll want to save room for dessert, so don't eat everything.
Five years ago, Paper Dosa Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife and business partner Nellie Tischler opened the doors of their South Indian cuisine restaurant, having first tested locals' appetites with a year of pop-up events. Those appetites have yet to wane; expect a busy restaurant and a possible wait when you go, especially for as long as limited capacity rules endure. Don't let that stop you, though: Paper Dosa's staff is both friendly and efficient, and they will have you seated and happy in no time.
In winter, Karuppasamy's curries will fortify and warm every cold spot in your body and soul. A particular favorite, the Prawn Moilee—flash-fried shrimp in a savory yellow coconut curry ($18)—is garlicky, gingery and very filling. Best to plan on taking some home and splurge on appetizers. Favorites include the Bhel Puri ($8), a mystifying, tongue-tantalizing mélange of puffed rice, blended with mango, onion, cilantro and tomato tossed in tamarind and mint chutney. Paper Dosa riffs on its salad ($11) depending on available fresh ingredients, but some variation of artisanal greens and watermelon radishes always pops up, a fresh and delicious palette cleanser.
But whatever you order, start working your way through the dosas ($5-$14.50). These thin South Indian crepes come with generous portions of sambar and coconut and tomato chutneys, redolent with spices, cheeses, meats and vegetables.
It's easy to get stuck on personal favorites on this part of the menu (hello, paneer and peas), but the variation of spices, ingredients and innovation (hello, green chile cheese) shouldn't be missed. And now you know why it's always crowded at Paper Dosa. (Julia Goldberg)
Our best experiences at Paper Dosa have all come from going into the meal with friends willing to share. Ask anyone—this menu is broad, and unless you're willing to go at it with backup, you'll never get the wide array of flavors, textures and colors on offer.
In Sonora, Mexico, Puerto Peñasco is a seaside town on the Gulf of California—and in Santa Fe, it's the anchor restaurant to a busy strip mall on Airport Road. In both places, you can expect to find an abundance of seafood, and at this Southside standby, large Spanish-speaking families (kids, cousins, great-uncles) sit at long tables or comfy, well-worn booths.
The enormous menu includes fish, shrimp and steak plates, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, kids' plates, and some real showstoppers: market price lobster drenched in butter and garlic; piña carnaval (half a grilled pineapple stuffed with shrimp and octopus); various whole fish and surf and turf combinations.
Puerto Peñasco serves beer, wine and agave wine margaritas but no liquor, and a michelada with Bohemia ($5.75), liberally spiced with a chile-salt rim and Clamato, was roughly the size of my noggin.
Tortilla chips, a chunky red salsa, and a smooth pale-green avocado dip come gratis to every table. A small coctel de camarón ($9.45) contained so many pink, well-cooked shrimps that I lost count, distracted by the spicy-salty cocktail sauce—though I longed for more diced avocado. Like my butter-splattered red snapper tacos de pescado ($11.25), most plates come with a mountain of rice scattered with corn kernels and a heap of French fries alongside a lettuce-tomato garnish. Airport Road may give off the opposite of a coastal breeze, and the fish is undeniably fresher in Mexico. But the kind service, huge portions, and welcoming prices at Puerto Peñasco make you feel at home in Santa Fe. (MB)
We know there are people who worry about seafood in the high desert, but leave those worries at the door and lean into the oceanic items with gusto. Oh, and maybe you won't impress your hoity-toity friends, but fries on everything is the way to go.
4681 Airport Road, 438-6622
Lunch and dinner daily
Most of the time, a trip up Canyon Road comes with some kind of arts mission. But when it's approaching mealtime (any one of 'em), it's good to know The Teahouse is up there, too. Boasting dozens of teas from China, Sri Lanka, India, Japan and right here in Santa Fe, it's the sort of place one goes for a heady brew, but also for delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner items.
For us, The Teahouse will always be a Sunday brunch kind of place, and a recent stop-in for its famous oatmeal with gluten-free oats, forbidden rice, buckwheat and a thick side of whipped cream ($9) proved brilliant and upped our energy factor immensely. Our dining partner was ready for lunch, however, and they repeatedly insisted their roasted eggplant panino with goat cheese, arugula and balsamic glaze ($13.50) was easily one of their top five sandwiches of all time.
You can quaff a tea or two while dining in, natch, but the expert staff can help you put together a to-go care package as well. Study up on the massive menu and make repeated trips; you'll find a slow cooked dinner special each night plus options like grilled salmon, spicy Italian sausage, a balsamic roasted beet and goat cheese salad, plus so many other dinner items you'll wonder how they fit it all in there. (Alex De Vore)
Setting aside how glorious the oatmeal is with a dollop of whipped cream on top, the best advice we have for The Teahouse is to start a challenge with yourself to wend through the beverage offerings. Eventually you'll find something you'll want every day, and with their bulk selections, making that a reality is a cinch.