Diners and Home Town Buffet aside, here in my little bubble of Orange County, California, large plates of food like what you see below is likely to cause cold sweats in those of us who are use to yogurt parfaits and smoothie bowls.
But just remember when you visit Santa Fe, it’s a vacation time -don’t sweat it, and who says you have to eat it all? And of course no one will judge if you double down on your Crossfit routine once you’re home, so let’s agree calorie counting while dining in the house of others—be it a restaurant or home is just downright wrong. Don’t be that visitor and ask for skinny, made-to-order portions.
Please don’t mistake what I’m sharing here in this post as an overall theme for what Santa Fe dining has to offer. The places I visited are a cross section of old and new, traditional and modern—it’s a small sampling of what Santa Fe, New Mexico has to offer in terms of what I really enjoyed and think you may too.
Here we go:
First dinner stop: Santa Fe School of Cooking. All the food was great, but the history lesson of how Santa Fe’s cuisine is an intersection of Mexican, Spanish and Pueblo Native American influences was even better—a rich history to match the food.
This is the place to get hands-on experience with how to make the red and green chile sauce New Mexico cuisine is known for. It’s also the place where I had the best mole sauce to date and one of my favorite corn soups yet (Surprisingly easy to make. See recipe at end of post).
The Pantry Restaurant – Every city has an established breakfast joint that on any given Sunday will be lined with regulars, but this place has generational regulars. Open for over 60 years, our guide shared with us, her parents are regulars as is she and her husband. It’s the kind of place that a local would name off if you asked a him or her, “Where would you go to eat if I gave you $20 bucks?”
The portions are huge, so you can definitely share. Or be smart and have everyone order their own, so you can sample a few dishes. That’s what we did. Lots of food all smothered in red or green chile, or sometimes both, referred to as “Christmas-style”.
You can go for the menu, or if you are more adventurous—go for the Chef’s Table reservation. With it you get a behind the scenes look in the kitchen since your table is pretty much ringside—in the kitchen. And the meals tend to be creative spins on sometimes limited quantity ingredients that the chef is able to source for that day. But what really sets this one apart is the guests also participate in a one-on-one cooking lesson.
For my tasting, I was able to go back in the kitchen along with Julie from Julie’s Kitchen. Chef Andrew Cooper was then kind enough take us on a tour of his on-site garden. Of course all of this ended with an amazing meal of small brunch tastings that the chef put together.
Tia Sophia’s – A family style restaurant. This is where you go for Mexican comfort food. We went there for breakfast. Another memorable experience as I watched our guide, Cynthia Delgado and my little guy play a verbal game of Chopped by giving each other ingredients to create dishes with. But back to the food—this is the kind of place that serves food on 12-inch platters and more than likely smothered in red or green or Christmas-style chile sauce. It’s also the kind of place where you might even spot the former mayor of Santa Fe there. At least we did while having breakfast.
Tomasita’s – My favorite of all the restaurants. The food was ah-mazing. The sopaipillas were the best I’ve ever had. I love that when we did the kitchen tour, the recipe was posted right there for all to see. The manager told us, it’s not so much the recipe but how you handle and process the recipe that yields the signature tender softness.
Eloisa – This one is not like the others—it definitely has a more LA trendy feel to it and the LA vibes that follow that: open kitchen, minimalist decor and lots of fusion-like food. The duck enchilada being one them, it had some Asian-flavored undertones that made it uniquely good. But admittedly, my favorite part was having our little guy Cole come to dinner with us and we had such a great time watching him ooh and ahh over all the different food.
Modern General– The was the last place we ate at before departing Santa Fe. The food was great – lots of fresh and healthy choices. The seating is a communal-cafeteria style that is right in the middle of the general store. What can I say about the store, other than I liked it even better than the food—so charming. The merchandise was high quality without being over priced and the store was laid out well and nicely merchandised for the small space. I wish we had a place like this here.