In the cradle of Southwestern cuisine, top Santa Fe restaurants emphasize local, seasonal ingredients and chile peppers on restaurant menus.
The question “red or green?” in Santa Fe refers to the chile salsa that tops many New Mexican dishes. Green is usually hotter. To try red and green, answer “Christmas.”
Although Santa Fe is a city of only 65,000, it is a citadel of the good life that boasts scores of restaurants that range from beloved dives to exceptional everyday eateries to world-class gourmet kitchens. These are among them.
By Karen Tina Harrison
01 of 07
There's no shortage of Santa Fe restaurants where you can burn the top of your mouth with potent chile dishes. But if you want to be kind to your taste buds and go someplace where it's actually worth tasting the food, The Compound is my first choice. In the beautiful dining rooms, furnished with treasures from designer Alexander Girard, savor exquisite contemporary American cuisine. Non-food snobs who appreciate comfort food can't go wrong with the chef's chicken schnitzel, although all the menu options tempt. ~ Susan Breslow
02 of 07Santa Fe's superlative restaurant occupies a 1700s adobe that once housed the family of Geronimo Lopez. The mood is New Mexico elegance. A porch tempts in warm weather, and private dinners can be arranged.
Chef Eric DiStefano’s deluxe dishes marry Santa Fe flavors with refined technique. Whether you prefer foie gras enlivened with figs, chile and honey-grilled giant shrimp, or peppered elk tenderloin, the dish is at its most wonderful at Geronimo.
03 of 07The Old House, a plushly modern dining room within the Eldorado Hotel, is the only Santa Fe restaurant to have been awarded Four Diamonds by the AAA and Four Stars by Mobil.
What matters to the diner more than Executive Chef Martin Rios’ continual accolades is the way his inspired, innovative dishes taste. Two outstanding dishes are the moist, rosemary-dusted halibut and buttery lobster with goat cheese risotto. His desserts are too spectacular to share.
04 of 07
Formerly known as Baleen, Luminaria Restaurant & Patio now occupies the former space inside the Inn at Loretto. Unlike Baleen's whimsical sense of humor (complete with its plush monkey mascot that might have shown up perched at your table), Luminaria aims to provide a tranquil setting and a globally inspired menu using ingredients supplied by the farmers’ market.
This top Santa Fe restaurant is named for the tea lights that are placed inside paper bags around the holidays and anchored with sand to create soft, romantic illumination.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Celebrity chef Mark Miller is credited with originating Southwestern cuisine at his landmark Santa Fe restaurant, open since 1987. Many chefs have since adopted Mark’'s innovations such as mesquite grilling and chile rubs. But the Coyote Cafe is still unique, and a must while in Sante Fe.
Its atmosphere is romantic Southwestern, its servers informed and warm. The wine list and food are excellent as ever. Carnivores: the West’'s definitive steak is Coyote Cafe’'s “cowboy cut” ribeye.
06 of 07
Rio Chama is one of Santa Fe’s favorite places to “meat.” It is centrally located in an 1800s adobe compound. Inviting dining environments include quiet rooms with soft jazz piped in, seductive courtyards, a smoker-friendly bar and the separate “Party House,” popular for wedding dinners and receptions.
Rio Chama’'s meaty chili nachos exemplify this oft-abused dish. The “tenderloin filet,” a filet mignon, is a fantasy steak: deftly grilled, bacon-wrapped and drizzled with truffled béarnaise.
07 of 07
A longtime favorite with locals, Pascual's is intimate, seating just 50 diners at a time. The menu sticks to organic and naturally raised beef, pork, eggs, dairy, produce. The New York Times called it "a national landmark for breakfast lovers," and the corned-beef and smoked-trout hash are specialties.
Lunch and dinner are also served, and reservations are recommended for the evening meal. Dessert selections can include roasted fig and cognac ice cream and Japanese persimmon carpaccio with caramel sauce and warm gingerbread, with a Chef's Dessert Sampler for those who simply can't make up their mind.