In Santa Fe, high-profile restaurants with high-profile chefs stand beside unassuming, understated eateries. They offer intriguing variations of regional cuisine fused with international flair. Boasting some 200-plus restaurants in this city of 80,000, the choices are plentiful—and everyone from locals to tourists, the food-obsessed and the chefs behind the city’s most popular eateries like to mix it up.
Juan Bochenski When he is not turning out exquisite haute cuisine at Santa Fe’s reputable
(113 Washington Ave., 988-3030) executive chef Juan Bochenski swaps foie gras for grass-fed and treats his tastebuds to a simple burger at local fave
. Any burger. “It is a place where I can shut off being a chef so I can just spend time with my family.” It is also a neighborhood staple catering to all economic levels of the community (from A-list actors to starving artists). Chef Bochenski, a native of Argentina, says that burgers represent traditional American fare. Another fave,
Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante
(300 Juan Medina Road, Chimayó, 351-4444), epitomizes New Mexican regional cuisine. Asked if he would go to a chain restaurant, he laughed and reluctantly said, “The Olive Garden…for the kids.”
Patrick Lambert It was no surprise when Patrick Lambert, co-owner and chef at the
(319 Guadalupe St., 982-2565) admits that his favorite burger joint is, well, the Cowgirl. He passionately describes their popular “Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers,” made from antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed, grain-finished custom ground beef, blended with locally raised buffalo and applewood-smoked bacon. The kicker? It’s served on a pretzel bun with melted brie, heirloom tomatoes, chopped green chile and a drizzle of truffle oil. It was a surprise, however, to hear that some of his Cowgirl fare is, of all things, Asian-inspired. “I love curry and coconut milk,” Lambert says. This explains why he frequents
Lan's Vietnamese Cuisine
(2430 Cerrillos Road, 986-1636), where, he says, “they serve fresh authentic food that is well executed.” When in the mood for local flavor, the Cowboy heads over to
, another neighborhood joint that lives and breathes its surrounding community. Featured on the Food Network’s
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,
Tune-Up has a “killer” menu that’s replete with local flavor, and according to Lambert, “it is the best place for gluten-free desserts.”
Jesús Rivera Rivera, the owner and chef of
(1115 Hickox St., 983-7060), hasn’t had much time to eat out. On average, he spends approximately 70 hours a week pumping out comfort food, Southwestern favorites and delicacies inspired by his native El Salvador. When he can get away, he opts to dine at
Mu Du Noodles
. “I love Asian food,” Rivera says, “and I love the quality of the local ingredients used in every dish.” Mu Du buys local organic produce whenever possible and is working with local farmers in an effort to grow some of the unique herbs and spices needed to maintain the integrity of their dishes, including his “go to” entrée, the emerald sautée—pan-seared shrimp and wild sea scallops sautéed in garlic oil with green tea noodles, fresh spinach, shiitake mushrooms and fresh local veggies.
Mu Jing Lau Mu Jing Lau puts the “Mu” in
Mu Du Noodles
(1494 Cerrillos Road, 983-1411). Literally. A former software engineer, her journey into the Santa Fe kitchen began 20-some years ago when local, Asian-inspired fare wasn’t that common. With a commitment to sustainable food, Mu Du triumphed by providing patrons with nutritious, fresh and flavorful dishes. Now an accomplished chef and restaurateur, Lau likes to support new up-and-coming venues. “I want to try
(3451 Hyde Park Road, 428-6390), the newish Japanese restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves,” she says. Lau also frequents the seasoned, like
. Asked for her favorite dish, she’s hard-pressed. “Depends on if it’s breakfast or lunch. I like their hash, enchiladas, French toast—you name it. But I tend to go for the Mexican food.”
Katharine Kagel Katharine Kagel, original owner and chef at
(121 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-9340) for 36 years, has a profound respect for tradition—particularly in the kitchen. At home, Kagel says she cooks poultry in a traditional Moroccan horno. At Pasqual’s, she peels green chiles by hand, adhering to custom. When she eats out, she chooses venues like
, where time-honored African meals lace the menu. “I adore the complexity of traditional ethnic foods,” she says. “I love to make my world bigger.” Although housed in an otherwise nondescript strip mall, Jambo serves anything but ordinary food. The very distinguishable dishes, including Kagel’s favorite, coconut chicken curry, and the encrusted curry-pistachio goat cheese salad, are typically Kenyan, and they employ a variety of spices (ginger, curry and coriander) to give the food a bit of bite. “The flavors are so terrific,” Kagel adds.
Ahmed M Obo Hailing from Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya, Ahmed Obo, chef and owner of
(2010 Cerrillos Road, 473-1269), is no stranger to the savory and the seasoned. According to Obo, his native fare (a Swahili fusion from European, Arabic and Indian influences) is very much reminiscent of New Mexican regional flavor: spicy, piquant, aromatic. “Since I moved here, the green chile is one thing I’ve enjoyed about New Mexico. It produces a zesty flavor that is similar to that of the spices used in the food I ate growing up,” Obo says. So when he’s is in the mood to spice things up, he goes to
for chicken enchiladas with a familiar kick—Christmas style, of course. But according to Obo, eating out is not always about the food; there’s a camaraderie that exists among Santa Fe’s tight community of culinary superstars. “I often like to dine where my fellow chefs work,” he adds.
Jaime Chaparro Like Obo, head cook Jaime Chaparro of
(905 Alarid St., 982-0909) is a Santa Fe transplant who craves the flavors of his homeland, in his case, Chihuahua, Mexico. Importing fresh fish from neighboring states Sonora and Sinaloa, non-coastal Chihuahua has become a bountiful Mecca of fresh
that are typically purchased by locals from a profusion of carts parked throughout town. Catching fresh seafood from landlocked New Mexico has proven to be challenging, but
Mariscos "La Playa"
(537 W Cordova Road, 982-2790)—which specializes in traditional Mexican seafood dishes—seems to have overcome the odds. According to Chaparro, “The fish is
fresh” you forget you are in the high desert. So when he eats out, naturally, he goes to “La Playa,” where the food allows him to “take a small trip” back to Chihuahua, sans the carts.