Note to readers: Sadly, Coyote Cafe chef Eric DiStefano passed away suddenly in February 2016 at age 52. But his legacy, and restaurant, live on. A spokesperson at the restaurant told me, "The team at Coyote Cafe is determined to keep Chef Eric's commitment alive and his food fresh for Santa Fe to enjoy." Longtime executive sous-chef Eduardo Rodriguez is now executive chef, and, said the spokesperson, "Coyote Cafe's famous Cowboy Steak is as great as ever."
Coyote Cafe, the Most Famous Restaurant in Santa Fe
One of Santa Fe is a top luxury travel destination with extraordinary dining.
• Santa Fe is studded with great restaurants, from divine truckstops to elegant luxury restaurants
• Read about visiting sensational Santa Fe
• Find out more about Santa Fe's best gourmet restaurants
• And its best cheapo restaurants, dives, and bars
Coyote Cafe is one of these unforgettable restaurants. A dinner at Coyote Cafe is benchmark experience that will raise the bar for every restaurant meal thereafter.
Coyote Cafe Has Been Famous for Three Decades
Coyote Cafe has been Santa Fe's best-known restaurant since it opened with a bang in 1987. Its founding chef, Mark Miller, is often credited with inventing the style of Southwestern cuisine now emblematic of Santa Fe. (These days, Miller oversees Red Sage in Santa Fe and Washington, D.C.)
Coyote Cafe's Fearless Chef, Eric DiStefano
Coyote Cafe has been owned and run by Chef Eric DiStefano since 2008.
• A native of Hershey, Pennsylvania, this talented toque has spent most of his cooking career in Santa Fe
DiStefano was the chef at Santa Fe's renowned Geronimo restaurant for a dozen years before moving to Coyote Cafe.
• Chef Eric now co-owns Geronimo as well as Coyote Cafe, and there's some menyu crossover.
The Food and Menu of Coyote Cafe Chef Eric DiStefano
Coyote Cafe's chef Eric DiStefano has had big shoes to fill. Coyote Cafe's founder, Mark Miller, pioneered Southwestern cuisine.
• Miller gained international renown for signature dishes like the oft-imitated Coyote Cowboy Cut Steak, a bone-in ribeye served with chile-dusted onion rings.
• Chef Eric still serves Coyote Cafe's Cowboy Cut steak, and it's just as memorable as ever.
And Chef Eric has accrued acclaim for his own Coyote Cafe menu. This New Mexico chef has a distinctive, eclectic, global style.
• His hearty bistro-style dishes are imbued with Italian accents, Asian seasonings, and local Santa Fe ingredients.
• Coyote Cafe dishes can be spicy, but are never too fiery to love
Hungry Yet? Check Out Some Appetizers at Coyote Cafe
Chef Eric DiStefano's appetizers are so innovative, they are hard to picture from their menu descriptions. And when your starters arrive at your table, they are creatively presented like works of art.
But for all their novelty, they taste plain old-fashioned delicious. Some of Chef Eric's sensational starters at Coyote Cafe (dishes change seasonally, so these are samples):
• Creamy Cognac Crustacean Bisque (outrageously rich and savory, with hunks of lobster)
• Surf and Turf Tartare: Wild-Caught Sockeye Salmon/Avocado Tartare and Beef Tartare (a playground of a dish)
• Coyote Caesar Salad with Eric's Futomaki Twist (it's wrapped like futomaki rolls, like mini-burritos
• Softshell Maryland Blue Crab Tempura with Salad of Bacon, Onion, Watercress, Tomato
• Asian Seared Hawaiian Ahi Tuna & Foie Gras
Main Courses at Coyote Cafe
Entrees at Coyote Cafe are generously portioned. They are full of interesting tastes but are not overcomplicated. And they are invariably perfectly cooked.
Chef Eric offers a vegetarian tasting menu for diners of that persuasion. Some entrees from Chef Eric's regular menu at Coyote Cafe:
• Mesquite-Grilled Atlantic Salmon or Lobster Tails
• Colorado Lamb with Green Chiles grown in Hatch, New Mexico
• Sea Bass with White Miso, Wasabi Mashed Potatoes, Boy Choy and Truffles
• Naturally Raised Pork Tenderloin stuffed with Italian Sausage, Apples and Walnuts
Desserts at Coyote Cafe
Pastry chef Ericka Rodriguez's Coyote Cafe desserts are winners.
• On the lighter side are house-made ice creams and sorbets in creative but not outré flavors like fig, pomegranate-grape, and lemon basil.
• Richer meal-enders like Flourless Chocolate Raspberry Cake and Banana Crème Pie are worth every calorie
• If you can't eat another mouthful, you can order a glass of Port or dessert wine like Late-Harvest Torrontés from Argentina
Drink Up and Howl!
Sommelier and Coyote Cafe partner Quinn Mark Stepehenson keeps Coyote Cafe's extensive wine list high-end and global. You'll find luxury wines like Super-Tuscans, Opus One, Sassicaia, and Sine Qua Non. (More moderately priced California Zinfandels and Oregon Pinot Noirs are available, too.)
Cocktails are attentively custom-made.
• Do as New Mexican diner do and kick off your Coyote Café dinners with a glass of New Mexico's delicious méthode Champenoise sparkling wine from the Gruet Winery in nearby Albuquerque
Coyote Cafe's Elegant Wild West Dining Room
Coyote Cafe is set in the dead center of Santa Fe, a couple of blocks from the central Plaza. Diners enter Coyote Cafe up a half-circular staircase leading to the second-floor dining room.
• The 68-seat dining room is festive and elegant, but casual. (Wear your Santa Fe celebrity cowboy boots!
• Coyote Cafe's mood is bubbly, its lighting flattering, its soundtrack lovely but not distracting. In short, Coyote Cafe's ambiance is perfection.
Coyote Cafe's Top-Notch Service
Service is charming and efficient. Being a waiter at Coyote Cafe is a coveted gig in a hospitality town like Santa Fe, and Coyote Cafe attracts the best.
• Longtime server Brooks, for instance, is not only an ace waiter but a working screenwriter
Where to Sit at Coyote Cafe
There's not a bad table in the house. Semi-circular booths near the open galley kitchen are popular.
• And there's always a lovey-couple at tiny, secluded table 22, beside a glowing kiva fireplace
• Solo diners as well as foodies who like bantering with the kitchen crew, nab seats along Coyote Cafe's long bar counter
Coyote Rooftop Cantina: a Casual Coyote Experience
From April through October, Coyote Cafe operates the open-air Coyote Rooftop Cantina next door to Coyote Cafe's dining room.
• Chef Eric's Cantina menu is more casual; expect meaty tacos, burgers, and a margarita-centric cocktail list
• Coyote Rooftop Cantina serves lunch and dinner.
Dinner at Coyote Cafe has become a Santa Fe travel ritual. You will see why.
Keep Up with Coyote Cafe
Disclosure: The restaurant hosted a complimentary meal for review purposes. For more information, please see our site's Ethics Policy.
Eric DiStefano graces the cover of Local Flavor magazine, serving Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Courtesy of Local Flavor/photo by Kate Russell