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Santa Fe, NM – A Chile Lover’s Dream

by on March 16, 2012
New Mexico

Trip Advisor recently released their list of 2011 Travelers’ Choice Food and Wine Destination awards, and Santa Fe, New Mexico found itself in the Top 10, beside food greats like New Orleans, Napa, Chicago and New York City.  Not everyone thinks of Santa Fe as a food destination, but boy am I glad we had the inside scoop.

Santa Fe (“Holy Faith” in Spanish), was founded by the Spanish in 1610, and is the oldest capital in the United States.  Historically, it is known for the “the Santa Fe”, or the Santa Fe Railway, which still runs a 4 hour scenic round trip through the desert to Lamy, NM.   A century ago, travelers would connect from there to Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco trains.

But there is so much more to see and do in Santa Fe.  It is a wonderful combination of scenery, architecture, art and food.  We flew into Albuquerque International Sunport – where I struggled to keep my Bugs Bunny references to a minimum. (“Ahhh! Pismo Beach!”)

The Turquiose Trail

There are two ways to get to Santa Fe from the airport.   Most people take the most direct route, which is about one hour on I-25N.  We opted for the scenic route – and I would highly suggest the same if you have the time.  If, instead, you go East on I-40 and hop on NM-14, you won’t be disappointed.  They call it the Turquoise Trail, which got its name from the many turquoise mines along the route.  Some date back to the early Pueblo people in 900 A.D. , and the mining continuted by the Spanish in the 1500’s.  The mines have since mostly gone away, and all that is left are some of the neatest re-born old mining towns I’ve seen.

We stopped in Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid, not like the one in Spain) along the route.  After the miners left, Madrid became a ghost town.  I read that in 1954, the Wall Street Journal listed the entire town for sale for $250,000.  But in the 60’s and 70’s, artists came into town and re-built it from scratch into a town filled with art galleries, local handmade craft stores and restaurants.  We purchased some pottery and had a coffee at Java Junction.   I was very impressed with their genius idea of making ice cubes out of coffee  so it doesn’t water down your iced coffee.  They happily provided us with the required caffeine to make the rest of the trip to Santa Fe!


The architecture in Santa Fe is great, not like anything we have in the Northeast.  The color of Adobe against a blue sky is something I will never forget.  Thankfully I was able to capture it with my camera!  We spent time walking around Santa Fe Plaza, where they have markets in the morning where Native Americans sell hand-made crafts, pottery and jewelry.  This is a must-see.

If you like art, you can spend hours on Canyon Road, Santa Fe’s art district.  There are over 100 galleries and studios; something for everyone.  There are galleries that specialize in everything from early and current Native American art through contemporary and abstract art.  Another must see for any art buff is the  Georgia O’Keefe museum across town.  She came to Santa Fe in 1929, and used the landscape of New Mexico as a source of inspiration for her art and returned on and off for most of her life.

But the food, ah the food!

There is only one thing to worry about when you eat in Santa Fe.  Do you want the green chile or the red?  Or, if you’re adventurous, you ask for “Christmas” which is half green and half red.  One isn’t necessarily always hotter than the other, so if you don’t like spicy food (or if you do!), just ask.  Chiles are a religion in New Mexico.  These are peppers that are grown ONLY in New Mexico, and even then they are separated by town, each having its own special flavor.  Now, I eat a lot of peppers, and I have to admit that it’s true.  The flavor of a New Mexico chile is unlike any other pepper.  They say it’s in the soil, and I’m a believer.

 This is a chorizo burrito – a breakfast burrito, slathered in red chile sauce and cheese.  I ordered this at the famous Café Pasqual’s on the corner of Don Gaspar and Water St., one block from Santa Fe plaza.  This was as big and as delicious as it looks.

For less touristy local favorites, try breakfast at the Tecolote Café on Cerrillos Road.  The Food Network Show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives made a stop there in 2009.  Their logo is “Great Breakfast –  No Toast”, but don’t worry, they have a bakery basket with muffins, bisquits and rolls.  They are known for their green chile and their Atolé Piñon hotcakes, which are blue cornmeal, pine nut pancakes.  A very interesting savory pancake.    Another local favorite that’s worth the trip is Tomasita’s, near the railroad.  It’s where I got this priceless photo.

Some of our traveling partners couldn’t “stomach” all of the chiles we were eating at every meal, so we did venture away from the New Mexican fare.  We were lucky to try a few gems in town.  The first was recommended to us by a bartender when we discovered we couldn’t get a reservation at Geronimo (reportedly the nicest in town).  But off we went to Aqua Santa – and it was a great meal.  Slow-food, fine-dining in a cozy one room restaurant with an open kitchen – so you can see everything.  I really enjoyed it.   We also went to The Compound.  I apologize to PETA for my next statement, but it was the first time I’ve ever tried foie gras and it is (expletive) amazing.  Forget everything you think you know about liver and let this melt on your tongue like a delicious cloud of buttery richness.  After a walking restaurant tour with the Santa Fe School of Cooking (do this!), we elected to try out Rio Chama, which was another great night.  The wine list at Rio Chama is to die for.  Their website brags of over 840 bottles.  As part of the Santa Fe Cooking School tour, we were able to walk through the wine cellar…impressive to say the least.  There is actually a dining room in the wine cellar that you can have a small private party in.  Amazing amazing amazing; and we haven’t seen half of it.

Two words of caution before you go.  First, don’t assume because Santa Fe is in the middle of the desert in New Mexico that it is hot.  Average temperatures range from a high of 85°F in July to an average low of 15.5°F in January.  The reason for this is my secod note of caution – Santa Fe is at 7,199 feet above sea level, so if you find yourself having more trouble than usual making it up that flight of stairs, as we did, you will know why.  I can’t wait to go back.

All photos © Jessica Alvarez, who is a wanna-be foody and traveling buff.  I hope you enjoy!


From → Food & Travel

  1. Never apologize to PETA. There is no gain.

    • Jessica Alvarez permalink

      I guess PETA probably wouldn’t think much about my apology. But as an animal lover, what goes into the creation of foie gras is cruel and does honestly bother me. As does the treatment that most of our commercially raised livestock that becomes our beloved dinners (which we should ALL be cognizant of). But I digress…


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