SFR's Best in Show

2016 Best of Santa Fe

So now you’ve seen the outcome of our hotly contested Readers Choice awards. This might be the section you really wanted to read: Our team of writers fills in the gaps. You’ll probably never see any of these categories on our “real” ballot. We’ve scoured the city to recommend desserts that wow us, gifts that bring smiles and places to go when the world is on fire. Some of what follows are shoutouts to people who have done amazing things and to others who have just done things that we want to poke at one more time.

Plus, who doesn't have an opinion on the best Santa Fe directions and tourist outfits, the best man buns and the best radio show for the apocalypse? Join us for the trip to the podium. Before you start in on what's missing or how some of this stuff is not technically in the city proper, take a breath. Don't take yourself, or us, too seriously. And come see us at Friday night's party in the Railyard.

Contributing writers: Maria Egolf-Romero, Alex De Vore, Gwyneth Doland, Julie Ann Grimm, Steven Hsieh, Andrew Koss, Elizabeth Miller
Illustrations by Turner Marc-Jacobs


Best Publicity that Made Us All Think, “Man! That Place is Going to be Cool,” but Then Ultimately Languished in Bankruptcy Court and Left Everyone Feeling Disillusioned and Heartbroken

Ring Side Bowl in the Market Station

The rumors swirled for years, and everyone you knew had some mysterious tidbit about it: that a bowling alley/venue was going to open any day now on the second floor of the Railyard's massive Market Station building and, when it did, all our problems would be solved. They have a dance floor, they have the lanes, they've got a stage and a full bar and arcade games, and the Railyard was finally going to be more than one fucking restaurant and a movie theater (that is, albeit, awesome). And then it never came to be. Developers changed as quickly as the seasons, and we all settled back into our usual ruts in the bars we already know and love. Oh sure, sometimes we drove out to Cities of Gold (see right), but we never gave up hope. Let us help you, Santa Fe—it's never going to happen, so let's just all let it go and be glad that we can get tanked at the movies over there. (Alex De Vore)

Best Santa Fe-ish Directions

Over by the Villa Linda Mall, Bro
4250 Cerrillos Road, 473-4253

You know you live in a small town when you give directions that involve landmarks like turn at the pink church (the Scottish Rite Temple) and used-to-be's such as you know that parking lot where Rainbow Snow was (on the corner of Cerrillos Road and Alta Vista Street) or the not-brand-new courthouse where the Paramount used to be? Our town also has colloquialisms for locations where nobody knows the real name, like meet me at triangle park (Tommy Macaione Park). While there are countless directions given regularly in this town that nonlocals would never comprehend or find in Google maps, the best worst directions are those that include the Villa Linda Mall as a marker. This year two big box stores fancied up its Rodeo façade, and the food court now includes glow-in-the-dark mini golf for the first time, but Santa Fe's largest (and still dullest) mall changed its name to the Santa Fe Place in the early 2000s, and over 15 years later, it still hasn't stuck. Villa Linda por vida. (Maria Egolf-Romero)

Best Only Place to Go Bowling

Strike Gold Lanes @Cities of Gold Casino
10-B Cities of Gold Road, Pojoaque, 455-4232

You'd think we'd have gotten over it by now, but the sting of losing Silva Lanes 800 years ago feels as real today as it did then. And yeah, there's a multimillion-dollar arts complex called Meow Wolf there now, but what does one do when they want to knock down the old pins (and maybe eat some disgusting snack bar food)? They head out to Cities of Gold, of course. The schlep is pretty much worth it, what with the 16 awesome lanes and drinks and stuff; just make sure you plan ahead Uber-wise. And even though we still think Meow Wolf could've run a permanent performance piece wherein the artists played the role of bowling alley employee and the installation itself was just a damn bowling alley, we know when we're licked and when we've gotta drive 25 minutes to knock pins. Wait a sec—is bowling actually even that cool? Usually we get pretty sick of it after, like, 10 minutes. (ADV)

Best Use of Two Hours of City Council Meeting Time

Elastomeric Stucco Debate

After just 75 interminable minutes of debate on texture, color and liquid penetration patterns, City Council allowed a home on Bishops Lodge Road, in the historic district, to use a synthetic alternative to traditional, hand-applied stucco. The home's owners were appealing the Historic Districts Review Board's decision to require more traditional "cementitious" stucco and arguing "Old" versus "Recent Santa Fe Style" designation. Discussion ventured near existential as councilors explored what truly traditional techniques and materials would mean, conjuring images of frontier-era hovels in Santa Fe and flashbacks to the last time out-of-towners dragged you to the "oldest house in Santa Fe" on De Vargas Street.

A close runner-up in this category was a home that sparked ire for being painted the wrong shade of sage to blend in to the landscape on the eastern edge of town and was (if you stood on the mailbox) visible from the road. (Elizabeth Miller)

Best Letters to the Editor Controversy

"Sign of the Times"

While the raging debate over the bar renovations at La Fonda in the Santa Fe New Mexican this year was a fine example of opinion-page sparring, the award for the most over-the-top letter-writing drama goes to SFR's weekslong airing of the Israel/Palestine conflict, which included lots of letters from people who have apparently never visited our town or paid attention to our paper until they heard from some angry rabbis. The whole thing started with a story about people vandalizing other people's yard signs. We thought it was interesting to consider how the global conflict played out on a little corner in Santa Fe. For fear of cracking it all open again, we won't get into the specifics here, but let us say for the record that we don't condone incitement to violence against any religious or ethnic groups just for being who they are. We never did. Still, the letters page is a forum for our readers. And sometimes this community needs a reminder that we're not a liberal bubble of agreement. At least not all the time. (Julie Ann Grimm)

Best Place to Take a Walk without Actually Getting Anywhere

Christ Lutheran Church Labyrinth
1701 Arroyo Chamiso Road, 983-9461

The circuitous route of a labyrinth lacks the diversion and dead ends of a maze, ensuring you'll always end up right back where you started. If this sounds like your idea of fun, you're in luck (and kind of boring). Santa Fe offers five different labyrinths for your meandering pleasure. The labyrinth at St. Francis is intricate and time-consuming, but it's too easy to step outside the lines. The exterior bricks are lava! You just burned to death! The raised-earth labyrinth at Frenchy's Field looks like Scrooge McDuck's worry room if Druids designed it. And what's with the shrine entrance? Are we walking into an alternate dimension? Unity Santa Fe's nontraditional stone labyrinth doesn't really have an entrance or exit. It loops back around with no end in sight, ensnaring you in a calf-burning nightmare in which you pace for all eternity until your feet are nothing more than bloody stubs. If you'd like to avoid that, we suggest the labyrinth at Christ Lutheran Church. The mountainous landscape looms above this quiet spot, creating a blissful respite from city life. Once you reach the center, take a seat and contemplate a life wasted walking labyrinths. (Andrew Koss)

Best Radio Show for the Apocalypse

KSFR 101.1 FM

Saturday morning: Sunlight breaks through the window blinds. The smell of coffee wafts through your living room. And a soothing voice on the radio reminds you of the nefarious forces exploiting commercial airliners to dispense chemicals in the sky, the primary weapon of a secret government conspiracy that has eluded the scientific community, not to mention the general population. Or maybe the soothing voice is talking about that other nefarious force, you know, the one that did 9/11. Or maybe he is reading the stars. For more than a decade, Terran and Bari Lovewave, partners in life and radio, have eloquently sermonized love and revolution, left-wing politics and new age philosophy. They sound great. Even when the duo airs some of our most unhinged crackpot theories, the calming cadence of their voices draws us in­—tin foil wrapped in tapestry. Gather round, children. Take a seat by the virtual campfire. It's beautifully apocalyptic in these woods. You won't be able to turn away. (SH)

Best Most Reliable Headache

Cerrillos Road
666 Roadblock Lane

Whenever we crave a bout of rage, all it takes is a turn southbound on Cerrillos Road from Fifth Street to soak in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, strip mall scenery and roadwork ordered by the devil himself. The stretch of road so dependable in its teeth-gritting, wheel-clenching, horn-blaring madness. This construction has been going on every summer since Don Diego traipsed in here with a peace medallion around his neck. Luckily for us, it's only going to get worse. Groundbreaking for an underpass north of the St. Francis intersection is set for next month. Good news for bicyclists, a bunch of bullshit for the rest of us. (Steven Hsieh)

Best Most Informative Hashtag for Newly Arrived Transplants


A hashtag that trended on Twitter on July 3, 2016, further proves what everyone already knew: To understand a community, learn the inside jokes. On a Sunday afternoon, I scrolled through an endless feed of frustration and pride, each Tweet offering another slice of hometown life. Having just moved to this state three months ago, I appreciated the flash education. "leaving the state and ordering chile and they give you some fake bs," writes @_nautixcaaaaa. Some contributions offered incisive commentary. As @ayitscarlee writes, "New Mexico being ranked 49th in education, but everyone from other states think we're part of Mexico. [Sad frog emoji]." Others, like @DevonBaird13, took the moment to be thankful: "people taking for granted what an amazing place we live in." For more local hashtag action, try #howtosantafe. (SH)

Best Bench

Janet's Bench
Cross of the Martyrs

Next time you summit our city's signature lookout spot, turn right and take a seat. Janet's Bench, one of two atop Ft. Marcy Park, offers one of the best seated views our city has to offer. Enjoy a sunset, share a lover's embrace, or just sit and think. Janet Lashbrooke, the retired English teacher for whom the spot is named, loved walking up here. She passed away last year on Christmas Day. "In the last year, as long as she could walk, she would go there," says Yvon Villaneuve, her husband. "I went there with her often." Earlier this year, Villaneuve called the city and asked for permission to install a bench where his wife found peace, so others may find it as well. It was her dying wish. On May 25, the day Lashbrooke would have turned 73, Villaneuve and about a dozen friends climbed the steps, walked past the Cross and installed a plaque in her honor. (SH)

Best Venue to Rise from the Ashes Like a Phriggin’ Phoenix or Something

The Bridge at Santa Fe Brewing Co.
37 Fire Place, 424-3333

Without getting into it, the former owners of what was once known as Sol Santa Fe—the inimitable venue attached to the Santa Fe Brewing Co.—were a complete disaster. Canceled shows (that were already in progress), weird community engagement, lackluster PR and an utter disregard for the clientele left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, but the longtime owner of the brewery, Brian Lock, is here to save the day. "I am so excited to revitalize the great outdoor venue at Santa Fe Brewing," Lock all but shouts from the rooftops. "The Bridge will provide the people of Santa Fe a great space to see music for years to come." There will also be food trucks, and Lord knows that's a mind-blowing prospect to Santa Feans. Still, if you can think of a better outdoor stage around here, we'd like to hear about it. Just kidding—we know there isn't one, though you could probably pour one out for your dead homie, Paolo Soleri Amphitheater. (ADV)

Buy Stuff

Best Place to Find Cheap Clothes that Someone Died in Yesterday

3294 Cerrillos Road, 919-7185

If ever there were a thrift store worthy of a Macklemore song, the new Savers location in Santa Fe is it. With a selection wider than any other used clothing store in town, there's something for everyone. Short sleeve knits and t-shirts for under $5? Don't mind if I do. Or how about a pair of tennis shoes for only $10? Get your glassware and cutlery for as little as 99 cents. Trying to furnish your new home on a budget? They've got couches and loveseats in the range of $15-$50. But don't wait too long to snap them up. Like the wild ravings of a television furniture salesman, we must advise you these items won't be around for long. Every day, Savers takes in new donations, and every day, those couches and chairs are out the door again. There's also plenty of the eccentric items you've come to expect from the thrift store environment, like women's panties with silicone butt pads, a monster-shaped cookie jar and a plaster cast of human lungs. Bring them some leftover clothes of your own or that old coffee maker, and get a discount off your next purchase. Get a Super Savers Club Card, and you'll have access to special offers and pre-sale events. Only got $20 in your pocket? That should be plenty. (AK)

Best Hipster Wine Glasses When Really Any Old Glass Would Do

Las Cosas Kitchen Shoppe
DeVargas Center, 988-3394

So we thought that if we knew fat glasses are for red wine and skinny ones are for white is so over, we were pretty much ready for prime time. Apparently there's more to learn. DeVargas Center has experienced a resurgence as stores from San Busco Center and elsewhere repopulate corridors that were sparse just a few years ago. Las Cosas has been there all along, however. This 20-year-old store carries just about anything you need or want for meal preparation and presentation. One of our favorite things is the line of stemware from Riedel that's grape varietal specific. That means there's not just red, but Bordeaux and Burgundy and merlot and a bunch more. They've also got stemless Champagne glasses that are more likely to stay upright if you or your guests have trouble with those top-heavy traditional versions. (JAG)

Best Wine to Totally Not Sneak into Fort Marcy in Your Backpack

Zozobra Red from ­Estrella del Norte Winery
106 N Shining Sun, Nambé, 455-2826

And while we are on the topic of wine … Back in the day, taking a bottle or 12 in your backpack for the Burning of Zozobra was a thing. That and lots of other stuff. But now there are drones and bulletproof-vest-wearing teams of police and all kinds of people from out of town jammed into a tiny space, and it's not quite the Party Central that it used to be. Don't do that. It's asking for trouble. Yet there's hope! You can celebrate with Old Man Gloom in the comfort of your own patio for Fiestas, or any time of the year, with a bottle of Zozobra Red from Las Estrellas winery in Nambé. Produced with the blessing of copyright-owning Kiwanis Club, the blend of smooth-drinking red grapes grown in New Mexico is a crowd pleaser. And cashing out at $21.99, they make great gifts for people who visit. Winery owners Eileen and Richard Reinders plan to bottle more of the vintage this fall. Available since just 2015, it's already one of their top three selling bottles. Take the short drive out of the city and stroll the shady vineyard and gardens after a tasting. (JAG)

Best Place to Find Both Bargain Shoes and the Latest Issue of SFR

City Shoe Repair
950 W Cordova Road, 983-8264

When your love affair with your favorite cowboy boots or black dress shoes has lasted longer than their soles or the stitches that hold them together, you know you can count on City Shoe Repair to help. But sometimes people move or forget they dropped off their shoes, or they decide they can't afford to pay the bill. Shop owner Vicente Trujillo then puts them up for sale in the lobby in a don't-miss display that beats the sale rack at Kohls all to pieces. Where else can you get newly repaired Naturalizer pumps for $10? Nowhere. Plus, and it's a big plus for us, City Shoe is a popular pickup location for SFR. Trujillo tells us on a recent visit that lots people drop in on Wednesdays to grab a new copy. SFR circulation manager Andy Bramble says the store, of which Trujillo is a third-generation owner, has been on our route for more than 12 years. (JAG)

Best Reuse of a Formerly Cancer- Promoting Vending Machine

Art-o-Mat at the Inn of the Governors
101 W Alameda St., 982-4333

It's been three weeks since your last smoke, and the trip to Santa Fe has been anything but stress-free. You're about to check in at the Inn of the Governors when something in the corner catches your eye. A cigarette vending machine? You thought they outlawed those years ago. Before you realize it, you're locked in its tractor beam. You search for your old friend, Lucky Strike. Instead, you see a cartoon peacock, a wire scorpion and "Wearable Glass by Dawn." You've stumbled upon an Art-o-Mat, the brainchild of North Carolina-based artist Clark Whittington. More than 100 Art-o-Mat machines dispense cigarette box-sized art pieces in the US, England, Austria and Australia. Local artist Victoria Brown hosts the three Santa Fe machines. The other two are at Meow Wolf, in the Siler Road district, and El Centro on Water Street. "We're going through about 200 pieces a week," Brown says. Artists from 17 different countries produce work for the Art-o-Mats, including three from Santa Fe. For just $5, you can be the owner of a 3- by 2-inch block of wood bearing an antique postage stamp. Or perhaps you'd like a fabric button hairpin. So go ahead—pull that brass knob and remove the cellophane wrapper. It's sure to be easier on your lungs than a pack of cigarettes. (AK)

Best Gift to Give a ­Musician without Spending All Kinds of Money on Instruments They’ll Give Up on When They Can’t Get Good at Them Right Away

Guitar Lessons with Ross Hamlin
(, 699-5470)

OK, this one will require your giftee to already own an instrument, but why not give guitar lessons? We've got just the guy, too! Maybe you were there when that Prince tribute band burned the Railyard Plaza to the mother-effing ground and maybe you weren't, but surely you've heard that guitarist Ross Hamlin—an integral member of this and many other bands—slayed big time. Shit, we could call him Shreddy Kruger or Shreddy Prinze Jr. or Shred Schneider or … lots of "shred" names. Anyway, the point is this: Dude rules, and as luck would have it, he teaches lessons to people of all ages. I guess that's just what graduates of the Berklee College of Music do with themselves in lieu of having actual, tangible, marketable money-making skills. By spending between $30-$50, you too can play like the masters thanks to Hamlin's ultra-affordable classes in guitar noodling (also actual playing) and headband wearing. "I combine over 25 years experience and 12 stylistic traditions into an intelligent, fun and challenging musical stew," Hamlin says. Sign your friends up already! (ADV)


Best Commencement Speech

Carley Cook

Michelle Obama certainly rocked it when she made her visit to Santa Fe Indian School and spoke of the cultural connections among minorities in the US and the desperate need for the next generation to create a nation that walks away from the hate, racism and misogyny that dominate the other half of the political spectrum this election season. But we've got to give props, once again, to Santa Fe High's salutatorian Carley Cook, who used her graduation speech to call out the excessive use of standardized tests in schools and to suggest that if you really want to see more than 67 percent of students finish high school on time, perhaps they shouldn't be treated as though their test scores are all that matter. (EM)

Best Man Buns

1st place: Mario C Pacheco, barista @ Iconik Coffee and server @ Paper Dosa
Honorable mentions:
Joe Haggard, manager @ Duel Brewing, and David Grey, artist and former SFUAD professor

If you have a man bun, it should incite jealousy with its sheer volume and arouse suspicions of your magical powers and/or great mental prowess. It's the promise of the bun, think about it … George Harrison, Terra Cotta warriors or, I am just going to say it, Jon Snow. But in recent history, they are just another cringe-worthy trend. We blame Justin Bieber for sporting a bleached nugget atop his noggin circa 2014. Thanks, Biebs, for making it easier to spot a douchebag from a greater distance. Like all trends, some people were ahead of this one, and those are the men we are going to throw nods, not shade, to. Salud aforementioned fellows, for including all the hair on your head into your buns, for having them pre-Beiber, and most importantly, for being masters of your respective crafts, so much so that you convince us there could be magic tied up in those tresses, and that you may be a modern-day samurai or king of the north. Pacheco says, "My advice to men that want to have man buns is, ask a woman around you how they make theirs so pretty." He's been growing his current bun for six years, and when SFR asked him if his man bun is magic, he replied, "My man bun is a mystery. I never know how I get it up, and I am surprised when it stays up all night." Top-notch latte art skills, great man bun, even better jokes. (MER)

Best Thing Tourists Think Santa Feans Wear so They then Wear that Thing when They Come to Visit

All of It

We don't know about you guys, but we don't come to work on a Tuesday in a full-length broom skirt cinched with a concha belt and a flower-patterned, button-up blouse, knotted at the waist. We don't accessorize with tall cowboy hats, custom extinct snakeskin cowboy boots and a fuck-load of turquoise. Somehow tourists wear this, in the blistering heat, we might add, and think, Oh hell yeah, I am going to blend right in! "They probably think Santa Fe Style is rhinestone cowgirl," says local barista Zak Young. It's part of that Disneyland-vibe some expect from this historic place. Overheard on the Plaza a few weeks ago: "Honey, it all looks so real." It is real, dummy. This isn't a theme park full of people dressed in costumes. People live and work real jobs here, okay? Well, kind of, anyway. But most would say they regularly rock a tee shirt and a pair of jeans or "yoga pants and ethnic clothes," says Young. The real point here—be yourself. Drip in turquoise if you want to, we are all for freedom of expression in the City Different, just don't do things because you think other people are doing them or because you are afraid to stand out in a crowd. Sheepish moves are how we get people like Trump as a presidential candidate. (MER)

Best Comeback from Pop Quiz to Election

Anna Hansen

This year, SFR brought back our favorite election feature: the pop quiz. For the unfamiliar, we cold-called Santa Fe-area candidates and asked them five questions pertaining to the office they sought. We've never explicitly told our quiz-takers that Googling the answers is against the rules. Despite a questionable quiz performance, Hansen unseated sitting county commissioner Miguel Chavez by earning 58 percent of votes among Santa Fe County Democrats. She faces no Republican opponent in November, so we'll look forward to her first board of county commissioners meeting in January. Hansen did not respond to interview requests this month, writing only when we nagged her that she was "out of town." (SH)

Best Ultra-Enthusiastic Interviewee

Emily Grimm, aka La Emi

When last we met with the celebrated flamenco dancer, it almost seemed like she couldn't believe we had asked for some of her time. Simple questions like, "So, you like dancing?" were met with sincere and emotionally explosive comments like, "Oh my! Oh, what a fantastic question that was!" And it felt good. Usually we either get a bunch of yes-and-no answers or absurdly angry statements about how we're the death of culture or statements about how whatever band/artist/dancer we're speaking to doesn't like labels (which is so effing annoying—YOU KNOW IF YOU PLAY ROCK OR NOT!). Grimm, however, seems to have no problem in receiving any kind of press attention, and it's her ability to intelligently and passionately describe her love of movement that we find exciting. Grimm started lessons through Maria Benitez' Institute for Spanish Arts when she was barely 4 years old. Her father had worked the box office for flamenco events, and she says she wanted to be a flamenco dancer from as far back as she remembers. We appreciated her über-niceness and now kind of find ourselves wishing that everyone else was as excited to see us instead of cursing the day we were born, like they usually do. (ADV)

Best Knowitall

Karen Heldmeyer

Mayor Javier Gonzales pretty well nailed it when he looked out over a conference room stacked with people for a city budget presentation, spotted former city councilor Karen Heldmeyer, and compared the feeling to having to teach a class to your own professor. The longtime city watchdog, and former chair of the city finance committee, has a mind like a steel trap, and she's happy to tell you whether you got it right or wrong. No one in this newsroom is exempt from that policy, and we imagine the feedback extends to councilors, who see her habitually make use of those two or three minutes of public comment to layer on background information and advice. (EM)

Best Helpful Nerd

Ramon Chaparro

There's this weird thing in the nerd community with people acting like they're the only ones allowed to enjoy the stuff and everyone else fails in checking off whatever arbitrary list of boxes they've concocted in their minds to make up for nobody ever wanting to grab hold of their wieners. It's pretty annoying and can even become taxing when folks get like that, but for those who lean more toward video games and gaming, there's one guy in town who wants to share with everyone and is so helpful, it's crazy. GameStop Senior Guest Advisor Ramon Chaparro loves games, is incredibly nice, has super-cool tattoos and is not just out to make a sale; this man wants you to enjoy your purchases, and he makes it clear by talking with you like you're a person, not just a customer. "I think of it more as a community thing," Chaparro says of his job. "I want to talk about games, and if I can help you save money while doing that … it's the circle of life." Chaparro is extra-pumped for the October release of Gears of War 4, but he is basically a super-fan in all arenas. "Introducing or reintroducing people to games and gaming is really cool," he adds. You've got that right, Ramon, ya old so-and-so. (ADV)

Best Local Comic Book Artist Who Hand-Drew All These Cool Anthropomorphized Illustrations You See in this Part of the Paper

Turner Mark-Jacobs

Mark-Jacobs blipped up on our radar during the research phase for a recent SFR story about comics in New Mexico, and when we saw his art, we just knew to commission him for that cover. It was a killer representation of local comics heroes in a throwback Marvel Comics style. And then we got to thinking about how his specific style would go well with the humanimal layout for this year's Best of Santa Fe issue, and the rest is history. Mark-Jacobs still does everything by hand (even his lettering), first creating rough sketches and then completing the work in watercolor. It's fantastic stuff and even attracted the Palace of the Governors Museum, which hired him to create an original comic about New Mexico history. We think the illustrations are simply gorgeous and imagine Mark-Jacobs will have a long and productive career in the art world, y'know ... if he wants. (ADV)

Food & Drink

Best Dessert that Will Abracadabra Reach out and Grab Ya

State Capital Kitchen's Chocolate Sphere
500 Sandoval St., 467-8237

The simplicity of a well-made crème brulée or the nostalgia of a flaky piece of apple pie can make the heart sing. But sometimes they can also make the eyes roll. This again? Lucky for adventurous eaters, some Santa Fe chefs see the dessert menu as a chance to take risks, make creative leaps and really show off. One of our favorite WOW moments this year was dessert at State Capital Kitchen, where a perfect globe of dark chocolate melted before our eyes with the flick of a server's wrist. A warm pistachio sauce quickly melted through the thin walls of the chocolate globe. It was sort of like … Remember that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when that one Nazi got his face melted off because he made the mistake of staring straight at the open Ark? Yeah, it was like that, except more of a positive spiritual experience. The chocolate sphere is delicious and clever and not at all evil. Plus, our faces didn't melt off, but whatever. The point is that this thing is magical. It's genius, and it's delicious. It's perhaps second only to the restaurant's exploding passion fruit balls, which are like … Remember that scene in the original Ghostbusters … Oh, never mind. (Gwyneth Doland)

Best Mom ’n’ Pop Restaurant Where They’ll Remember Your Name Like You’re Norm Peterson or Something

209 E Palace Ave., 989-3505

Damian Muñoz worked his ass off at downtown institution The Shed for about a bazillion years before he struck out on his own with his wife Maria and opened up Palacio just about three years ago. The only business to have successfully operated for more than two seconds in their Palace Avenue location, Palacio has been kickin' out the breakfast and lunch jams so well that it's often hard to find a table. "I'm happy. Very happy," Muñoz says of this very prestigious honor. "I don't know, I just love people and when I can cook for them." By the time you read this, Palacio will have opened a second location on Alameda Street (by Del Charro, bro ... see above blurb about directions) to be run by Muñoz' kids, which is great news for those of us who can barely make it a day or two without their green chile cheeseburger. Breakfast burritos are also a treat since they put hash browns inside the dang things (it's genius), and a number of lunchy sandwiches round out the varied menu. Just promise yourself you'll go, because Palacio is straight amazing … did we mention they have the best fries in town? (ADV)

Best Place to Sample Wine and Get a Faraway Mountain View

Rancho Viejo Village Market
55 Canada del Rancho, Ste. F, 474-2828

The Village Market is the little beating heart at the center of this suburban development, an oasis in the sagebrush where all the weary travelers meet to pick up a box of crackers, a block of cheese and a bottle of wine. Every Friday night from 5-7, the market hosts a wine tasting, usually three or four different bottles, with a few nibbles on the side, maybe a dip or some cheese and crackers. The tasting may be small compared to bigger bottle shops, but it's free, and the market knocks 10 percent off the bottles in the tasting. For the folks who live there, it's a weekly opportunity to meet and mingle with neighbors new and old. Oenophiles who drive a little farther get to take in the stunning views. Maybe someday they'll turn this into a little café where you can sit and have a bowl of mussels along with a cold glass of rose. Sigh … one can hope. (GD)

Best Sopapilla I’ve Ever Had in My Life and Also They Totally Know I Love It There Because the Waitress Literally Told Me, “You Can Just Say ‘The Regular’ When You Order” the Other Day

Red Enchilada
1310 Osage Ave., 820-6552

OK OK OK OK OK—I know I've made all my friends crazy by constantly talking about this place, and I know I've made the SFR higher-ups a little crazy by suggesting it for coverage any time we're talking about food in staff meetings, but the unassuming brilliance of Red Enchilada knows no bounds. Am I just supposed to ignore that? I can't do it. I won't do it. And I shan't bore you with statistics on how their affordable Mexican, New Mexican and Central American cuisine can lead to a longer and more sexually satisfying life, nor will I go on at length about how putting fries right on top of your tortilla burger (X-mas, of course) is the smartest plan you've had since you decided to ditch the 'tude and give my pals at RE a try. Instead, I'll just point out that the massive and fluffy sopas that come with most meals are like fluffy warm pillows of love. They make 'em fresh, folks, so none of that stale, cold nonsense you'll find at other restaurants. Instead, a reasonably priced meal that you can stuff inside a just-fried sopapilla. Does Joe Hayes know about this? Because it's folk tale-worthy, without a doubt. (ADV)

Best Bougie Happy Hour for Poor People

Il Piatto
95 W Marcy St., 984-1091

Have you ever had a fearsome craving for a luxurious, carby meal and thought, Well, that sucks because I'm ballin' on a budget? Well, fear that craving no more, because at Il Piatto's happy hour, you can feel bougie, afford gourmet pillows of gnocchi and drink a glass of wine, too.

From 4 to 6:30 pm and 9 to 10:30 pm, the Italian eatery becomes the place (and seriously one of the only places) to grab a meal. Anais Mendez has worked at the pasta haven for six months and says the farm-to-table aspect is attractive, but the best draw during happy hour? "It's the pricing," she tells SFR. "We do 50 percent off appetizers, special appetizers and small portions of pasta," all of which is made by James Beard-nominated chef Matt Yohalem. And to make the deal even sweeter, their 50 percent happy hour discount includes a list of wines by the glass. So have that small plate of potato gnocchi with local oyster mushrooms ($9) and a glass of Pulenta Sauvignon Blanc ($6.50) and leave feeling happy for around $20, depending on your glass count. You don't have to wait until date night for this treat— bring a book and date yo'self. (MER)

Best To-Go Containers

Betterday Coffee
905 W Alameda St.

It only took one irreparable round of breakfast burrito goodness gushing all over the front seat to understand the real value of Betterday Coffee's approach to tortilla-free breakfast burritos. Their sustainability-friendly approach is to ditch the inevitably leaky wrap, and stick the contents in a jar, and hand it over with a spoon. The vastly more travel-ready approach not only makes for pleasing, easy eating, but bring the containers back and they can wash and rinse them again (or, at least for now, glass can still be recycled at home), sparing the landfill a little space.

Of course if your life is a little less on the run, taking a seat at one of their booths, letting kids take a turn in the play corner, and enjoying your burrito and coffee without having to balance one or the other on the steering wheel is also a commendable way to go. (EM)

Best Mobile Mexican Food Court

Airport Road Corridor

Taqueria Argelia, El Queretano, Burrito Familiar, Nana Pancha: Taco trucks line the flanks of the stretch of Airport Road that serves as the main artery of the neighborhood known as Little Chihuahua. Sprinkled over vacant lots—and the parking lots of brick-and-mortar carnicerias and panaderias—these trucks and trailers actually serve much more than tacos. You're missing out if you're not taking a liberal tour of their menus. The Taqueria a la Hacienda trailer, an island of delicious in a sea of gravel and goat heads, offers an eye-popping foot-long hot dog, wrapped in bacon, speckled with pinto beans, dotted with chopped onion and Jackson Pollocked with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and avocado sauce. It is gigante and muy sabroso. Poke around and try the tortas (sandwiches), caldos (soups) and cocteles (seafood cocktails). Yeah, they maybe come with a side of whizzing traffic, but you can wash them down with a Mexican glass bottle Coke for about $10. (GD)

Best Milkshake that Will Bring All the Boys to the Yard … of Your Villa in Provence

Lavender Shake at Shake Foundation
631 Cerrillos Road, 988-8992

The green chile cheeseburgers and shoestring fries might lure peckish diners to this retro downtown outpost, but the Adobe Mud Shakes cement the relationship. Shakes are offered in reassuring normal flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) and the mild coconut, intense coffee and balanced salt caramel are attractive, too. But the unlikely hit of the list is the lavender shake. Yeah, lavender, like the scent of your laundry detergent, hand lotion and dish soap. But no, not like that at all. The sweet, herbal aroma is mellowed by its molecular bond with the ice cream, delivering a delicately floral mouthful that's never overwhelming. Once you get it in your mouth, that is. The name isn't just a cutesy nod to architecture; these milkshakes have the consistency of a half-cured mud brick. At first, sipping is hopeless. You need a spoon. But wait 10 minutes or so, and the straw will begin to deliver a thick but slurpable slurry of awesome. (GD)

Best Place to Remember This Town Is for Locals, Too

Fire & Hops

The hallmark of a spot for tourists are a timeless menu that makes sure Bob and Peggy get the classic dishes they had when they visited a decade ago, and that they taste pretty much the same and Peggy still gets just a little giggly after that margarita. These places have their, well, place, and we're glad they're here, and we're also glad that while Fire & Hops pulls in its fair share of out-of-towners and gets plenty well crowded—and the Brussels sprouts have not ever failed to grace the menu—it never fails to provide a list of specials, sneak-worthy treats to compensate you for carrying your season pass for the ski hill, and a rotating beer menu that says they want you who make this city home instead of a temporary destination to feel like there's something new and interesting to come back for. So we do. And then we do again. And then, OK, it's a little late and that patio is just so damn nice. So here we are, again, and we love it. (EM)

Best Place to Take Your Gluten-intolerant Friend for Drinks/Dinner

Bouche Bistro
451 W Alameda St., 982-6297

For cuisine we have, at least in our co-opted American way, come to love for its bread and baked goods, when chef Charles Dales' French-establishment Bouche Bistro was more than a little accommodating to gluten-free dining companions, it came as a happy surprise. All the often problematic territory of cheese plates and chocolate-laden desserts came blissfully gluten-free, and conscientious wait staff allowed us to relax and enjoy (three bottles of wine) without not-gluten-free diners needing to taste-test and guess at the contents. Guessing gets tough after that second bottle. (EM)

Best Visually ­Obscured Hamburger Joint, Coming Up on the Right, No, Turn ... Shit, You Missed It. Turn Around

The Original Realburger
2641 Cerrillos Road, 474-7325

The Original Realburger tries to catch your attention with a sign in front of State Farm Insurance and Check 'n' Go, as those businesses almost completely block the restaurant from view. There's even a sidewalk sign on the corner, boasting their win as "Reigning Chomp" in the edible Santa Fe's Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. But if you're driving along Cerrillos Road (especially with the ever-lingering construction), you're likely to miss this hidden haven of mouthwatering munchies. If you want one of the best burgers in Santa Fe, hang a right on Maez Road as you travel south on Cerrillos (mind the construction barrels and careless motorists speeding down the incomplete section of road). We suggest the Tortilla Burger. Ask them to throw on some pepper jack cheese, mushrooms and green chile. You'll find this concoction of beefy delight melts in your mouth. The French fries aren't bad either, and they'll give you a generous serving. If you're no enemy to cholesterol-spiking (read: delicious) greaseball slabs of meat, and you've got $9 in your pocket, make the extra effort to stop by this locationally challenged establishment for lunch or dinner. (AK)

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