Santa Fe is internationally known as a food city thanks to its unique regional cuisine. Of course, the city has globally inspired eateries, fine-dining restaurants, and fast casual spots, but it is best known for New Mexican cuisine. Locals love these homey dishes and enjoying them sheds some light on the culinary history of the American Southwest.
Piquant peppers top, smother, and flavor nearly every traditional New Mexican dish. Native Americans gathered wild peppers prior to the Spanish’s arrival; the Spanish began cultivating varieties more than 400 years ago. Today, green chile is harvested early in the season, chopped, and simmered into green chile sauce. Red chile is left to dry, ground into a powder, and, again, made into a sauce. Both can top enchiladas—stacked or rolled corn tortillas filled with meat and cheese. Ask for the dish “Christmas” to try both red and green chile. The Shed has some of the best chile-topped enchiladas. If you’re ready to take on tongue-numbing chile, ask for the level two sauce on your enchiladas at Horseman’s Haven Café. Enchiladas are commonly served with a side of beans, another must-have traditional New Mexican dish.
Green Chile Cheeseburger
New Mexicans are fanatical about their green chile cheeseburgers. There’s even an annual smackdown where chefs compete to see who makes the best version in the state. The chopped chile brings a sizzling heat to the traditional burger that's hard to find outside the state. Local diners have long applauded Santa Fe Bite’s version. Terra, at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, serves a more upscale version with a garlic-avocado spread, red-chile candied bacon, and smoked Gouda.
Nearly every city has its fried favorites, and Santa Fe is no different. Sopaipillas may be round, triangular, or square, but the pieces of dough are always deep fried and puffed to perfection. You’ll mostly find them served with honey as a dessert after meals, but they can also be stuffed with a savory filling (like ground beef or eggs) and slathered with chile sauce. Local favorites include the versions at Tomasita’s and The Plaza Café.
The official state cookie of New Mexico, biscochitos are anise seed-laced sugar cookies dipped in cinnamon sugar. The anise gives them a slight, but not overpowering licorice flavor. They’re most commonly served during the Christmas season, but a few places serve them throughout the year, including El Parasol, which has several locations around Santa Fe.
This downhome dish sounds like a hot mess and Anthony Bourdain certainly thought so when he toured Santa Fe. However, it’s an oddly satisfying combination of. Although Frito pie is available at several places around town, the Five & Dime General Store serves the classic version: a layer of Frito chips topped with meat-and-bean chili stew, and cheese, then served in a torn-open snack size chip bag.
Posole is Santa Feans’ go-to comfort dish. It’s a hominy-based (dried or frozen corn) stew traditionally simmered with cubed pork shoulder and red chile. It’s commonly served during Pueblo Feast Days, and during Christmas and New Year’s family gatherings. However, it’s also just a savory, warming soup you can enjoy anytime you wish. Try a bowl at Tia Sophia’s or Del Charro Saloon.
Tamales are corn husks filled with masa (corn-based dough) and a filling like chile and pork or chile and cheese. When wrapped, tamales look like little presents. Although commonly part of New Mexicans’ Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, tamales are also available year round. Posa’s tamale factory and its El Merendero restaurant has been serving some of the best tamales in Santa Fe for decades.
Breakfast burritos may be served in numerous restaurants today, but they likely got their start in Santa Fe at Tia Sophia’s. The hearty dish wraps eggs, potatoes, cheese, chile, and, if you like, meat such as sausage or bacon in a pillowy flour tortilla. The handheld version is a good grab-and-go dish to take on a hike or day on the ski slopes.
New Mexicans have loved chocolate for centuries. Evidence of cacao was found at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where Ancestral Puebloan people lived from 1000 to 1125 A.D. Santa Feans don’t need too much arm twisting to carry on the tradition. Kakawa Chocolate House serves drinking chocolate—most likely the way Ancestral Puebloans consumed cacao—in an intimate shop. For the full chocolate fix, it also serves decadent brownies and truffles.
OK, this is not technically a food. But it’s certainly Santa Fe’s signature cocktail and while the margarita may have been invented elsewhere, the City Different mixes the cocktail with aplomb. The city made things official with its Santa Fe Margarita Trail, which features more than 30 different versions across the city. Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen is the place to go to taste the many variations possible; it has more than 100 margaritas on its menu alone.