Chile lovers travel to Santa Fe, looking for spicy dishes that will ignite their taste buds, but the city's culinary scene offers more than heat. Nationally-acclaimed restaurants, inspired by Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cuisine, line the historic plaza. Ethnic restaurants, ranging from Thai to sushi, sit between art galleries, and, restaurants owned by the same family for several generations dot New Mexico's capital. While it's hard to single out just a few restaurants, these are the ones the locals will recommend.
There's only one answer when a server asks, "Red or green?" at The Shed. Red, of course! This James Beard award-winning restaurant, located in a renovated shed just off the plaza, serves Santa Fe's best red chile sauce (green chile sauce is available, too, though). Sample the red chile enchilada topped with a fried egg, spicy carne adovada, pollo adobo, or pozole, a traditional stew made with hominy. Oddly enough, you'll have to pay extra for chips and salsa but fresh garlic bread comes with all meals.
Maria's New Mexican Kitchen
Opened as a take-out restaurant by Maria Lopez and her husband, Gilbert, in 1952, Maria's New Mexican Kitchen gained a reputation for traditional New Mexican cuisine, like carne adovada, cheese enchiladas, tacos, chile rellenos, and tamales. While the food is still some of Santa Fe's best – we recommend the stacked blue corn enchiladas – the margaritas set this restaurant a notch above. Each drink is made with real tequila and lemon juice, which results in a more consistent margarita than one made with lime juice. The drinks are strong, so be sure to have a designated driver.
New Mexican cuisine isn't just for lunch and dinner – TIA Sophia's elevates it to a breakfast art form. Known for its breakfast burritos, the adobe restaurant draws large morning crowds. The burritos come with a choice of meat (bacon, sausage, ham, or bologna – yes, bologna) and can be smothered in red or green sauce. Top it with a fried egg for a truly unique breakfast.
TIA Sophia's is also open for lunch. Local favorites include the green chile stew, blue corn cheese enchiladas, and tamales.
The Compound Santa Fe
Mark Kiffin, 2005 James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Southwest, owns this contemporary American restaurant that has been nominated for two 2013 James Beard awards – Best New Restaurant and Best Service. Signature dishes include made-to-order soups, caviar-topped tuna tartar, and beef tenderloin with foie gras hollandaise.
For something completely different, head over to the newly opened Bouche Bistro. Chef Charles Dale, who was born in France to American parents, serves authentic French bistro fare in a cozy space with an open kitchen and wood-burning fireplace. Start with a charcuterie plank of dry meats, classic escargot, or steak. Continue with black mussels in white wine, bistro steak with house frites, braised beef short ribs, or confit of duck. Dessert? Sample something from the cheese cart or succumb to a decadent chocolate soufflé.
What are your favorite restaurants in Santa Fe?