This Is One Dazzling Destination
Santa Fe, New Mexico has so much going for it as a travel destination. This 400-year-old state capital, founded back when the Southwest was part of Spain, feels exotic. Nowhere else will you find Iberian traditions blended with Pueblo tribal culture and Wild West spirit. Here are all the reasons I think that Santa Fe is a spectacular luxury travel destination,
One of the Best Things to Do in Santa Fe: Eat!
Santa Fe’s dining reflects its hybrid soul. Here, you will find a whole world of cuisines, cooked up by passionate chefs in an abundance of restaurants. Some of their menus are distinctively New Mexican, while others are delicious blends.
This town's stupendous dining comes at every price range, and visitors quickly discover that cheap in Santa Fe can also mean great. Here, Santa Fe's top affordable casual spots to eat and drink
01 of 06
New Mexican Food in a Santa Fe Landmark: LA PLAZUELA
This Is It: The Perfect Santa Fe Lunch (& More)
Santa Fe has no shortage of restaurants serving Northern New Mexico classics like tortilla soup, posole stew, and red and green chile toppings on everything. One of the best for this kind of Roadrunner State chow is La Plazuela.
La Plazuela certainly has the competition beat on the atmosphere score. To dine here is a matchless Santa Fe experience for its setting alone. The restaurant is set in the hotel’s picture-postcard Old West lobby of La Fonda de Santa Fe hotel. A stained-glass skylight is above you, and beside you are a burbling fountain and full-size potted trees.
La Plazuela’s food is up to its ambiance. Executive Chef Lane Warner is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and a former cooking-school professor in Santa Fe. Warner knows his ingredients, his technique, and his New Mexico culinary history. His Northern New Mexico recipes are perfectly conceived and cooked.
Chef Warner's menu often features... classic American comfort foods like chicken pot pie, meatloaf, and mac ‘n’ cheese. They're nicely done, with New Mexican twists like a touch of charred Hatch chiles.
It's hard to order wrong at La Plazuela. I recommend a lunch first at La Plazuela. You’ll want to return for dinner one night.
La Plazuela dishes not to miss
• Lunch menu: tortilla soup, La Fonda Cobb Salad, Roasted Cashew Cake
• Dinner specialties: tableside guacamole, Chickpea &Gojiberrry salad, Roasted Corn-Poblano Chowder, Lamp Loin Chops, Filet y Enchiladas, Carne Asada
• On both menus, Tortilla Soup, Chile Rellenos, Red Chile Pork Tamales, Fajitas, La Plazuela Combination
• For dessert, rice pudding New Mexican style or a sopaipilla, a freshly fried cruller drizzled with honey
La Plazuela insider tips: Families with little ones come to La Plazuela early; dinner at 8 is calmer, Reserve a table beside the fountain. Margaritas are made with mix. If you prefer one with fresh lime juice, ask.
02 of 06
Modest Place, Magnificent Chow: HORSEMAN'S HAVEN
Horseman's Haven is a polarizing restaurant. You either love it or snub it.
• Santa Feans avidly air their opinions on it, the way New Yorkers debate Carnegie Deli vs. Katz's Deli, or San Franciscans and Angelenos weigh the merits of Café Gratitude, whose spiritual vegan dishes are named for emotions
For me, Horseman's Haven was love at first bite. But this is not a pretty place or a trendy place; it's set behind a gas station. Indeed, Horseman's Haven is the textbook definition of what some foodies call a fabulous dive.
It's all about the chow here, the very best of its kind. Horseman's owners, the Romero family, and their team are simply brilliant chefs who stick to one thing: traditional, hearty, spicy New Mexican recipes, perfectly cooked, served fast and hot. This is the place to find out what posole and carne adovada are, and why the green chile cheeseburger is a Roadrunner State icon.
The downside of Horseman's Haven: it breaks the mold. You will... never be able to order a sloppy enchilada combination plate again.
Horseman's Haven dishes not to miss
• Carne Adovada Plate
• Green Chile Cheeseburger
• Huevos Rancheros
• Chorizo Breakfast
• Breakfast Burrito or 3D Burrito
• Posole stew
• Frito Pie (if you're going to order it anywhere, this is the place)
Insider tips for Horseman's Haven
• It’s very hard to spend $15 per person here
• Come hungry; the food is filling and portions enormous
• Breakfast, lunch and early dinner are served
• Off-hours minimize your chance of a wait: after the breakfast rush, before noon or after 1:30 p.m.
• Horseman’s rolls up the sidewalk at 8 p.m.
• Booths are the ticket
• Dishes are cooked to order; if you like your home fries well done or your bun toasted, ask
• Spicy means spicy here; New Mexicans don't kid around
• Yes, there's a kids' menu
• And one dessert: house-made apple pie
• No liquor is served
• Beware the Level #2 Green Chile (or, even hotter, #3); you may get it down, but your stomach will ignite
• 4354 Cerrillos Rd. (on the extreme southern edge of town)
03 of 06
Hobnob with Santa Feans: TABERNA
Taberna is the casual, convivial annex of Santa Fe's renowned Spanish restaurant La Boca. Both are helmed by Chef James Campbell Caruso, a beloved local chef. He is an expert on sherry and the author of a respected cookbook on Spanish cuisine (check it out here). The culinary world has honored Chef Caruso with repeat nominations for prestigious James Beard Awards.
Taberna is a tapas bar that focuses on hearty Basque-style pintxos: Spanish snacks and appetizers that are stronger on meat and cheese than mainstream tapas. Taberna also serves a range of bigger dishes, notably the house specialty, paella.
The extensive wine list is Iberian-focused (Spanish, Portuguese, Basque). Other choices: sherry and port (which you’d expect) and cocktails based on wine, sherry, and port (which you wouldn’t expect). Beers are mainly Spanish, New Mexican, and Mexican.
Taberna pintxos not to miss
• Alcochofas (grilled artichokes, Serrano jam, pesto, goat cheese)
• Croquetas (creamy salt-cod croquettes)
•... Classic paella and mariscada shellfish stew
• Chorizo Bilbao, Basque-style sausage
• Remolatxa, roasted beets Basque-style
• For dessert: Bilbao Dulce, chorizo with dulce de leche caramel sauce (yes, caramel-topped sausage)
Taberna insider tips
• Locals hang here (and visitors with inquisitive dining habits)
• Vegetarians: you’ll be fine
• The service is warm but the room is a little bare; this is not Santa Fe's most romantic boite
• The outdoor patio is nice in summer
• Live music resounds several nights a week, and the musicians are good. But if you came to chat, it’s easier near the rear bar
• Lunch, seven days a week, is a great deal with a prix-fixe menu of three small courses
• Paella is always on the menu, but a variety of versions are offered on Tuesdays
• Happy Hour is two: 5 to 7
• Reservations are not a bad idea on weekend nights
04 of 06
Tastiest, Most Tuneful Tavern Dining: FUEGO
Guests at La Posada de Santa Fe, the luxury hotel where Fuego is set, are lucky. They get to experience Fuego's multiple settings and sole terrific menu.
Fuego is a fine-dining restaurant, where diners can murmur in its opulent main dining room, with cushy chairs, New Mexico landscape paintings, and a warming kiva fireplace. The room is elegant, but it is not lively. It's perfect for lovebirds, but not for night-owls.
Fuego is also a charming patio restaurant serving breakfast lunch, dinner and drinks. The Patio is open seasonally amidst the historic adobe casitas of the hotel
If you're looking for a entertaining evening, Fuego's relaxed Staab House bar and tavern is for you. It's is set in the hotel's central structure, an 1880s mansion named for its original owners, Abraham and Julia Staab. The ghost-in-residence (de rigueur in New Mexico historic hotels) is long-gone socialite Julia, sometimes glimpsed flitting by a long red dress. Perhaps she's checking out... patrons' bespoke cowboy boots.
Fuego's three sections share a menu and a kitchen, helmed by native New Mexican chef Mary "Mamma" Loya. Her Santa Fe dishes are first-rate, and the lady knows how to grill a steak.
I enjoyed a memorable Santa Fe evening dining at a bar table beside the fireplace. I relished bartender Tonya's perfect margaritas and Mamma Mary's Roadrunner State dishes -- and Santa Fe musician and storyteller "Wily Jim" Pfeiffer. He's a regular entertainer at the Staab House, and I sense that party-loving Julia Staab likes his "swingabilly" numbers.
Fuego dishes not to miss
• Green Chile Hummus
• Mamma Mary's Green Chile Stew
• Bacon and Corn Chowder
• Tumbleweed Steak salad
• Wagyu Skirt Steak Chimichurri
• Smoked Chicken Enchilada
• House ice cream trio
Insider tips for Fuego
• On Friday and Saturday, the kitchen serves cornmeal tamales filled with beef, pork, or vegetables
• Fuego's outstanding breakfast spotlights omelets and a marvelous platter of fresh fruit, yogurt, and house-made granola
• Santa Feans don't like to choose between red and green chile sauce, so they order "Christmas": both red and green
• Staab House specialty is handcrafted margaritas; bring your highest bar standards
Fuego at La Posada de Santa Fe
• 330 East Palace Ave
• Web page and menuContinue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Friendliest Cafe: KAKAWA CHOCOLATE HOUSE
Chocolate: how do you feel about it? If you're not a chocoholic yet, chances are you'll give in to this healthy vice at Kakawa Chocolate House. This is Santa Fe's irresistible café, with a cacao-centric menu and caring vibe.
Perched in a charming adobe near the gallery street Canyon Road, Kakawa has become a Santa Fe cult. Everything about it is distinctive: its sensational cacao brews and sweets (more in a moment), its earth-friendly attitude, its affable and knowledgeable staff.
They're led by Kakawa owner Tony Bennett, a New Jerseyan who became an ultimate Santa Fean, bringing Kakawa to the lustful attention of chocoholics everywhere. "The Aztecs of Mexico discovered and perfected chocolate," Bennett told me. "It's fitting that New Mexico should further this delicious tradition."
Kakawa is a full-service chocolatel shop. It serves hot and cold drinking chocolate, individual chocolate treats and gift boxes, and best-in-town brownies. Kakawa's many... regulars have been known to settle in for hours, either in the cheerful indoor café or on the sunny patio, living the good life with a few choco treats and complimentary wifi.
Kakawa's chocolate is made entirely in-house, and everything you find here is exclusive to the shop (and its website). Kakawa's experienced chocolatiers blend their own chocolate base. A very dark chocolate that's 80% cacao, it's a secret recipe. But Tony let on that it combines top-end baker's chocolates such as Cluizel, El Rey, and the renowned Valrhona from France. Sweetening comes not sugar but from nutritious agave nectar, the way the Aztecs did it.
Kakawa is both a café and a gourmet chocolate shop. As a cafe, it pours a variety of authentic drinking chocolates dubbed "elixirs."
• They are based on traditional, pre-Columbian recipes from Mexico, colonial New Mexico, and on historic innovations (including Thomas Jefferson's brew)
As a chocolate shop, Kawaka makes a variety of bonbons and truffles.
• Truffles come in a huge variety of flavors in these categories: Nut, Chili, Floral/Herbal, Liqueur, Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate
• Caramels come in exotic flavors like Piñon, Himalayan Sea Salt, Smoked Salt, Chili, Rose, and pure Caramel
• Novelties include Caramel Turtles, mendiant chocolate disks with toppings like candies rose petals or smoked paprika
• Kakawa's wildly creative and addictive signature treat: chocolate-dipped arbol chiles
Kakawa Chocolate House drink & treats not to miss:
• A cup of thick, intense drinking chocolate: I liked the rich Americano and the pepper-laced Chile
• A couple of caramels, or whatever strikes your fancy
• Brownies (a great value, too)
• Those chocolate-dipped chiles
Insider tips for Kakawa:
• The well-informed, helpful staff loves to talk chocolate and its history of connoisseurship, from Mesoamerica to Europe
• Kakawa's reigning style: to drink your chocolate elixir sans sweetening. See if it works for you
• About's Candy expert on how to taste chocolate
• 1050 E. Paseo de Peralta
06 of 06
Most Magical Bar: SECRETO LOUNGE
Santa Fe is a hotbed of creativity in the kitchen -- and behind the bar. The City Different's top mixologists are every bit as inspired and innovative as you'll find in New York, LA, San Francisco, or Portland.
According to local critics and connoisseurs, Santa Fe's top titan of tippling is Chris Milligan of Secreto Lounge at Hotel St. Francis.
About's Cocktails guru, Colleen Graham, calls Chris "one of my regular favorites."
He's got what it takes to be a nationally renowned 'tender: instinct, skills, taste, showmanship, and charm.
• Instinct: Chris has a rare palate and unerring sense of what goes with what
• Skills: Chris's craft has been honed for over 20 years, for an ever more knowledgeable and demanding cocktail clientele
• Taste: Chris knows how to improve on trends, and how to create them
• Showmanship: Chris and his bartending team are entertainers, as deft with smoke and flames as circus performers (see my pic for evidence!)
• Charm: Chris honors... not only classic cocktail recipes but the classic attribute of a great bartender: you want to chat with him over your drink
What to drink at Secreto:
• Bar signatures like Spicy Secreto and Agave Way
• A modern gin tipple like Lemon on the Edge
• A farmers' market-influenced creation like Local Beet
• A choice from the Classic Cocktail list such as Dark & Stormy or Satan's Whiskers
• Barrel-Aged Cocktails (mixed and aged in-house; selection varies)
• Dessert with a kick: Molly's Espresso Martini
Insider tips for Secreto:
• Even if you come with a date and intend to nest at a table for two, have your first drink at the bar to take in the top-notch theatrics and chatter
• Secreto's drinks are also served at the excellent Tabla de Los Santos restaurant beside the bar: a win-win
• Though you can also dine lightly at Secreto with Tabla de Los Santos's bar menu
• Secreto's cocktails don't have the 45-second turnaround we've gotten used to, so be patient. Every fruit juice used in your brew is squeezed by hand on the spot. The secret is out: there's no fresher drink in Santa Fe.