Santa Fe is a city with a flavor all its own. Its beloved hatch green chile is the undoubted star ingredient, making its way into unique southwestern and international dishes all over town. With many budget-friendly and moderately priced options available, eating out doesn’t have to break the bank. But, if you can swing it, don’t miss out on some of the more lavish spots that are worth the splurge. Here’s how to eat well in New Mexico’s capital city for every budget.
When You Want to Save Some Dough
Our very first stop was an affordable one: El Merendero (Posa’s). Locals line up at lunch for burritos, enchiladas, and Frito pie, but we, suitcases in hand, went straight for the tamales, a New Mexican staple Posa's been whipping up for nearly 40 years. Our Santa Fe Plate ($7.95) came with two tamales (pork, chicken, cheese, or veggie) smothered in red or green chile (or both) and cheese.
You can’t leave New Mexico without sampling some traditional posole, a hearty pueblo stew of hominy, chile, and pork. The Shed, a colorful and quirky downtown eatery, scoops it up for just $4 a cup. In a city known for green chile, the Shed gets high marks for its red variety — try it over cheese and blue corn enchiladas ($9). Expect lines at lunch, as reservations can only be made during dinner.
Downtown’s Coyote Cafe may be known for its fine southwestern dining downstairs, but the scene upstairs at Coyote Cantina has a more relaxed vibe — and a great happy hour. Grab a stool at the rooftop bar and snack on some house-made chips and salsa ($4) or guacamole ($9) while sipping your afternoon margarita. We suggest a classic Silver Coin or a Norteño, made with green chile-infused tequila.
A Good Meal at a Good Price
Housed in an old adobe house one block from Santa Fe Plaza, Cafe Pasqual’s is an institution. Again, expect long waits at lunch but note that you can call ahead for dinner. The chile relleno plate ($28), the huevos barbacoa, and the mole enchiladas (both $18) are excellent, but our favorite dish was the mahi mahi tostada. With pan-seared fish and an avocado-tomatillo salsa, this $17 special was refreshingly light after days of heavier meals.
Shying away from typical New Mexican cuisine, Paloma, a new spot near the Railyard District, serves up modern and traditional Mexican fare. Head over for the lively atmosphere and the cocktails and stick around for the food. The roasted marrow bones ($14) are a can’t-miss small plate. If you’re not feeling quite so adventurous, try one of five tacos: chicken, lamb, short rib, grilled sea bass, or cauliflower ($10/2) or the spicy roast half chicken ($22).
Eating Japanese in New Mexico might seem odd, but it’s actually a great choice. Izanami, the Japanese gastropub at Ten Thousand Waves spa and inn, features small plates and an extensive sake list that are a nice change of pace and a great end to a relaxing spa day. We didn’t ditch the peppers altogether, opting for the roasted shishitos ($10) to pair with our gyoza ($8). If you came hungry for dinner, try a kushiyaki platter ($22-$34) or the more-extravagant omakase tasting menu ($69 per person).
If Money Is No Object
After days of eating and much discussion, we decided Sazón’s sopa de amore ($10) was the best thing we ate in Santa Fe. It’s a poblano cream soup poured over blue lump crab meat, finished with amaretto foam and a dusting of chocolate — and Chef Fernando Olea is famous for it. He’s also renowned for his signature moles, made daily and served with locally sourced meat or fresh fish. The bottom line: Sazón's fine dining is worth the splurge (entrees range from $31-$60).
Terra, at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Resort, is also known for a soup — an award-winning green chile corn chowder ($14). It's delicious, but we suggest going for breakfast, instead. Order the sunrise hash with grilled shrimp and green chile hollandaise ($26) and take a stroll through the chef’s garden afterward. Dinner entrees range from $32-$46.
If you’re lucky enough to visit “The City Different” at the end of September, don’t miss the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. At $150 per ticket, this is the best way to sample all the local cuisine the city has to offer. More than 70 restaurants — from established eateries to smaller gems — and 100 wineries participate in the festival’s grand tasting. And go hungry.