Rani MollaZane FischerAlexa SchirtzingerWren Abbott
Our 20 favorite places you have to eat before the Mayan apocalypse.
Mention 315 and anyone who knows anything will let out a moan—part lust, part reverence and, if it’s been a while, longing. Apparently, kitchen maverick Louis Moskow, who has been at 315 since 1995, serves French cuisine. We consider it an act of hubris that any food dialect could claim all that goodness under such a tiny roof, but it’s best not to question the spectacular and ever-changing farmers market fare. The pork belly: tops; fried oysters: lustily earthy; roasted beets with Montrachet goat cheese: succulent; crisp squash blossom beignets: the equivalent of eating one’s way through Indian summer sunset—and we haven’t left the appetizer menu yet. We suggest the duck entrée or the grilled ruby trout, each of which, like the rest of the offerings, is paired with seasonal sides. Fingerling potatoes are the recent farmers market darling. Order from the immense and spectacular wine list and this could be love.
315 Old Santa Fe Trail, 986-9190.
Dinner Monday-Saturday. $$$
You can enter Aqua Santa in low-key fashion, slipping through its small, heavy door into the nondescript adobe-walled dining room, but no matter how much you try to be a wallflower, you’ll end up the center of attention. Aqua Santa serves dinner urban-loft style: Everyone eats, talks and cooks in more or less the same room, where a big central table brims with chunks of thick, crusty bread and tantalizing bottles of Old World red wines. Though it bucks the traditional white-tablecloth layout, the familial atmosphere is also appropriate. At Aqua Santa, the china is flowered and grandmotherly; the starters are hearty and comforting; and the entrées are sizable and perfectly finished with rich, savory, meaty sauces. It’s like coming home to a culinary experience you never knew you’d love so deeply.
451 W Alameda St., 982-6297.
Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$$
If you happened to be cruising the half-empty strip of the DeVargas Center and stumbled upon the New Mexico décor and green-chile atmosphere of Atrisco, you’d prepare yourself for a mediocre meal hot off a Sysco truck. Indeed, unless you checked the fine print or the humble hand-drawn sign by the door, you wouldn’t know that many of Atrisco’s ingredients—from the beef to the heat—are sourced locally. You certainly wouldn’t know from the price. That’s because Atrisco is full of surprises, from its mission to its performance. Just try the roast leg of lamb burrito with meat from Talus Wind Ranch—decadently delicious but karmically courageous—or, on the weekends, the Montaña de Papas, a pile of potatoes smothered with ham, chile, cheese and an egg. You’ll forget you’re in the mall.
DeVargas Center, N Guadalupe Street and Paseo de Peralta.
Breakfast Saturday and Sunday; lunch and dinner daily. $$
La Boca’s tapas are small (but not too small; just three can make a meal), simple (but not too simple; for every lightly seasoned vegetable, there’s a complicated cannelloni) and certainly inspired (the things done with prosciutto and melon should not be mentioned in mixed company). We suggest opting for the daily specials, recently plucked from the farmers market and the mind of chef and owner James Campbell Caruso. In the tiny restaurant, you can literally watch Caruso work—or contemplate his next feat/fete of food over one of La Boca’s many excellent wines. For the illiterates (and fans of minimalist design), menu items are sorted by fish, cow and carrot symbols. All of them—from the grilled pulpo to the jamón with poached figs to the marcona almonds—are delicious.
72 W Marcy St., 982-3433.
Brunch Saturday and Sunday; lunch and dinner daily. $$$
Body Café could restore balance to even the most toxic lives. That’s because Body makes seemingly poisonous choices—even enchiladas and burgers—healthy and delicious. The menu easily accommodates any eater’s lifestyle: political, dietary or simply annoying. The collard green burrito is a perennial favorite, but our new preference is the jicama rice raw sushi ($11.95 for practically two rolls). It’s somehow the perfect sushi roll: tasty, crisp, refreshing…and it doesn’t have fish (blasphemy, right?). We know Body is very ingredient-conscious, but we think it’s holding out. Apparently, the roll has only veggies—no fish, no rice. There are many reasons for eating a fishless, riceless dish, but we primarily suggest doing so because it’s delicious.
333 Cordova Road, 986-0362.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $
Santa Fe’s favorite bakery and breakfast joint had some chef shake-ups when it first started offering dinner, even though the menu was consistently bold and engaging. But consistency has come with chef Sat Kartar Khalsa. Khalsa’s superhuman palate and personal vegetarianism translate into meatless dishes that are symphonic, balanced compositions—exponentially superior to the typical offerings sloughed off on vegan and vegetarian eaters. But carnivores don’t suffer, either. Fish, beef and local chicken dishes are dinner menu mainstays, and very few kitchens are as attentive to proper temperature and moisture levels. Under Khalsa’s tenure, the menu has also become more affordable and approachable. We recommend affording and approaching the mushroom pot stickers finished with toasted sesame seeds, the sambar lentil-stuffed butternut squash and, if you do eat meat, the tenderloin carpaccio ingeniously offset with melon and watercress.
821-C W San Mateo Road, 984-1980.
Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$
During this year’s Best of Santa Fe readers’ poll, the defining characteristic of reader comments about Clafoutis was, almost without exception, pure ecstasy. “Amazing beignets!” one reader gushes. “Oh, the pastries!” swoons another. But a third’s comment encapsulates them all: “Ooh la la!” Clafoutis’ airy madeleines, sinfully buttery croissants and adorably tiny macarons have brought fame to its pastry section, but this breakfast and lunch spot also boasts the very best quiches, sandwiches and salads Santa Fe has to offer. Co-owner Anne-Laure Ligier’s bright smile and inimitably friendly “merci beaucoup” add a special French authenticity—not that you need it, of course: The rich creaminess of the chèvre in your salad and the perfect fry on the egg atop your croque-madame do the job just fine.
402 N Guadalupe St., 988-1809.
Breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday. $
If we believed in terms like “authentic,” we’d give La Cocina de Doña Clara that title. Mostly that means the Mexican restaurant is located on Airport Road, has a high ratio of Chicanos to gringos and might have been decorated by the neighboring dollar store. For your first visit, order an assortment of tiny tacos and gorditas, and top them off from the fresh and frisky salsa bar. Remember: The stranger the meat, the better. Each weekend, Doña Clara roasts a goat. Order it. Those of us weaned on this fine meat might be a little disappointed here by its lack of goatiness—which means everyone else will probably be relieved. Consider Doña Clara’s goat a gateway meat that’ll lead you on the blissful, downward spiral that is adventurous carnivorism. Next time, you’ll be ready for the pig head.
4350 Airport Road, 473-1081.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. $
Santa Fe is not known for barbecue. This has little to do with the barbecue itself but, rather, the city’s trillion other, louder claims to fame. To be sure, a great barbecue dinner is smoldering—or smoking—just below the surface. Case in point: Josh’s Barbecue. It can satisfy any sweet, salty or sultry barbecue yen, but with smart regional updates (yes, I want green chile in my corn bread, and yes, I want my brisket in a burrito). Josh’s is consistently delicious, delightfully comforting and, like any bona fide Southern belle, just modest enough. So successful is this favorite meatery that it plans to expand, in a new location and under a new name, in December 2011. Stay tuned.
3486 Zafarano Drive, 474-6466.
Beginning December 2011: 2571 Cristos Road, 474-6466.
Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. $
Even in lovely, scenic, holistic, consciousness-obsessed Santa Fe, sometimes you just need a break. You need a place that’s a different, lower-key kind of peaceful, where water trickles from fountains and everything feels clean, fresh and airy. Kohnami is that place. Its interior is Zen-inducing without being snobbish; its staff is kind and helpful; and the food—ah, the food! Fresh, tasty and served in generously sized portions, Kohnami’s delectable (yet affordable!) sushi rolls and sashimi make it hard not to gorge oneself. At lunch, sample a smattering of Japanese staples from the bento box ($8.50). With miso soup, sushi, tempura, teriyaki meat or tofu and deliciously sticky rice, it’s enough to share.
313 S Guadalupe St., 984-2002.
Lunch Monday-Saturday; dinner nightly. $
The best food at Lan’s tastes much fresher than anything you would expect to find nestled between a Curves and an EZ Ship in the College Plaza shopping center. For those new to Vietnamese food, it’s reminiscent of Thai, featuring lemongrass, peanut and curry flavors, but lighter, with less coconut and fewer noodle dishes. The my xào chay, a stir-fry with baby bok choy and pineapple, is airy and fresh, and lotus seed lends cooling yin to exquisitely textured green onions in the cary soup. In SFR’s two visits, only the thick and greasy rice crepes disappointed.
2430 Cerrillos Road, 986-1636.
Lunch and dinner daily. $
While most hotel restaurants have pulled their style notes from badly designed airports and cattle-trough cafeterias, Luminaria exudes simple, understated elegance. It’s easy to forget you’re in a hotel at all, even the charmingly Southwestern-embellished Inn & Spa at Loretto. The outdoor dining space is protected from the street and sits in the lee of the famous Loretto Chapel. As dusk fades, the space is indeed luminous, but the real enlightenment comes from the kitchen, where executive chef Matt Ostrander and pastry chef Andrea Clover direct a talented crew. Restaurants that serve a high volume of visitors throughout the year tend to lose sight of the details, but Luminaria offers consistent refinement and uncommon playfulness. Who’s up for a plate of puff-pastry ancho pirogues?
Inn & Spa at Loretto, 211 Old Santa Fe Trail, 984-7915. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$$
Dear Mu Jing Lau,
You’ve put your own spin on pan-Asian cuisine since you opened your restaurant in 1997. It’s your food, and we know it and love it. But your sustainable commitments, your inspired menus and, of course, you yourself have hogged the limelight too long. You were even honored with last year’s Restaurant of the Year award. It’s time to give the noodles—albeit noodles crafted by your deft hands—more credit. Those luscious curls of rice, udon, vermicelli and green tea really are the backbone of your restaurant. They make the shiitake and seared scallops in the Emerald Sauté sing and the bok choy and angus in the Beef Jantaboon boom. That’s why we’re suggesting a name change: Voodoo Noodles—because what you’ve done is nothing short of magic.
1494 Cerrillos Road, 983-1411.
Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$$
The best approximation of New York pizza to hit New Mexico, Pizza Centro’s pies go the distance (2,000 miles) with toppings based on Big Apple neighborhoods. Whether or not prosciutto, pineapple, green pepper, onion and balsamic glaze conjure up Chinatown or anchovies, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, garlic and onion bring back Brighton Beach is beside the point. The combinations are delicious. Pizza Centro also offers awesome sandwiches (housed in fresh-baked pita formed from pizza dough) and strongman salads (as much for lovers of greens as bacon). The Santa Fe location now offers outside seating, in case you forget where you are.
Design Center, 418 Cerrillos Road, 988-8825.
Lunch and dinner daily.
Agora Shopping Center, 7 Avenida Vista Grande,
Lunch and dinner Wednesday-Sunday. $$
Even in advance of the eventual (we hope) opening of Shake Foundation, Santa Fe is experiencing a burger renaissance, and Leonard Rozados’ enjoyable diner-style joint is leading the pack. The busy kitchen begins by sourcing New Mexico grass-fed beef for both its amazing rib-eye steak and eggs and its ground beef. All of the grinding is done fresh each day on the premises, and the patties are hand-formed. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth burger that you can confidently order with some pink on the inside. The light and airy potato buns are fresh-baked at the café as well, and the combination is, well, climactic. You won’t go wrong with regular or sweet potato fries, but you’ll probably want to add green chile. A perfect burger is just the tip of the iceberg at Plaza Café Southside: The menu pulls from culinary traditions as diverse as huevos rancheros, souvlaki and egg salad. Don’t forget to try a cupcake—and wash it down with prickly pear horchata.
3466 Zafarano Drive, 424-0755.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$
Shohko Café makes you question why you’d ever question sushi in the desert. After all, doesn’t this Asian-accented adobe fit the landscape with the best of them? And doesn’t Shohko’s sushi—replete with culinary cues from all over the map, especially Santa Fe—seem to make perfect sense? We suggest leaving dining decisions to the in-house sushi masters, who will prepare one-time-only arrays within a price range. These wizards conjure electric creations using invigorating and timely ingredients, so it’s a great way to try the freshest and funkiest ingredients—green chile, lychee, crawdad. That alchemy translates to the drink menu as well, with mind-melding cocktails as fitting as if they had welled up from the desert sands.
321 Johnson St., 982-9708.
Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday, dinner Saturday. $$
Though the jury’s still out on the Hotel Plaza Real’s reinvention as a shrine to all things Chimayó—including the lowriders and their dubiously interior-décor-worthy style—Tia’s Cocina, at least, is a quiet victory. Chef Estevan Garcia has made a point of incorporating northern New Mexico’s agricultural and culinary traditions, sourcing fresh green salads from the Santa Fe Farmers Market and bringing in red chile—a staple in many of the dishes—straight from Chimayó. While some offerings, such as the Enchilada de Chimayó, are good but not remarkable, others (think hot dogs wrapped in corn tortillas and then deep-fried) are too creative to ignore. Balcony dining makes for good people watching; if you’re lucky, a couple of real lowriders may cruise by.
Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe, 125 Washington Ave., 988-4900.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$
Despite Nostrani’s flower-bedecked exterior and elegantly intimate dining room, aspects of this classic northern Italian restaurant can, at first blush, seem forbidding. But don’t let the (seriously enforced) “no fragrances” policy or the preponderance of $500-and-up bottles on the wine list stop you. They’re merely the natural accoutrements of an establishment single-mindedly obsessed with food. Chef Nelli Maltezos knows the unquantifiable value of a succulent, warm-from-the-sun heirloom tomato; an austere salad—naked tomatoes, creamy burrata, tiny fringes of basil—is but a pedestal upon which to exalt its ingredients. Among Nostrani’s most sublime offerings is the pork tenderloin: Garnished with peaches and balsamic vinegar and stuffed with spinach, but otherwise left to stand alone, it dares the lucky diner to focus on anything else.
304 Johnson St., 983-3800.
Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$$
Tune-Up not only has the greatest tricycle-themed restaurant T-shirts ever, but it’s also the best place to get a bite-sized view of Santa Fe. Nearly every element of our diverse community piles through Tune-Up at some point, and the menu is styled to match. A smorgasbord of inspirations—halibut and shrimp pasta tweaked with feta and olives, tamales wrapped in banana leaves, Salvadoran pupusas—satisfies budget eaters and big spenders, vegetarians and carnivores, locals and visitors. Fresh juices are always available, and the scallion hash browns may be the secret to happiness in this mortal coil. Some restaurants get fussy when a couple of dozen bicycles are piled in front, but not Tune-Up, so consider two-wheeling to your meal. Better yet, ride your tricycle.
1115 Hickox St., 983-7060.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$
Don’t order a salad at a burger joint. Similarly, don’t miss the salads at Vinaigrette, whose main menu revolves around them. There, only the most inspired flavor combinations—from the tried and true calculus of fruit, nut and cheese in Cherry Tart to the more daring Arugula Duck, in which the sweet tartness of the hibiscus vinaigrette mollifies the succulent meat for a peaceful accord—make the grade. Add proteins such as duck confit, diver scallops or flank steak to any of the clever—and local and organic—offerings or, effortlessly, eat vegetarian. Admire the smartly appointed industrial kitsch of your surroundings. Then enjoy just how delicious a salad can be. But please, even though the sandwiches and soups are also excellent, order the damn salad.
709 Don Cubero Alley, 820-9205.
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. $$
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