La Choza in Santa Fe

La Choza is one of those restaurants I go to whenever I visit Santa Fe.  Sister restaurant to The Shed, it serves more locals because of its off Plaza location near the Railyard District.  The red chile sauce is some of the best in town, often considered second only to Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque. It looks more like a typical Mexican restaurant than most of the Santa Fe restaurants we frequent. It has a very basic menu but it covers all the bases; enchiladas, burritos, tacos and even sopapillas instead of tortillas on the side. They also make a wonderfully spicy carne adovado–with chunky, not pulled pork like at Tecolote.

Another bonus is that the enchiladas are made with blue corn tortillas, and they are stacked not rolled. Pinto beans are cooked whole rather than being refried, and you can’t beat the chips, salsa and guacamole. It has a big outdoor patio for dining in nice weather.

If you have an ounce of room in your stomach, don’t leave without trying the famous Mocha Cake, a frozen block of dense goodness that is not to be missed.

Can you tell I like the joint??!!

La Choza Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Geranimo in Santa Fe

Geranimo is a veritable institution in Santa Fe. It has changed chefs over the years, but has never lost its panache or its place as one of the premier restaurants in Santa Fe…if, that is, you are looking for an upscale, non-enchilada/burrito meal.

Geranimo is in a lovely house on Canyon Road, about 2/3 of the way up this very unique art gallery-lined lane. The restaurant is much larger than it appears from the entrance; once past the pleasant sidewalk patio, diners will find several elegant rooms decorated simply with gorgeous leather chairs and banquettes, providing a lovely contrast to the white walls. Service is refined, yet not stuffy or intrusive.

Breads are homemade and unusual, including chile dotted rolls and a very moist cornbread.

The waiter knew we were celebrating a special occasion, so he brought each of us a flute of blush champagne, a very festive way to start what was to be an outstanding dining experience.

Though it was not easy to decide among the mouth-watering appetizers, we were pleased with our selections. Duo of Tuna was quite different. Though there was a somewhat traditional tartar, the other half of the preparation consisted of mini bricks of tuna that were wrapped in a crepe-like buttermilk pancake with hoisin green garlic sauce and wasabi aioli.

One of Chef Eric DiStefano’s signature dishes is a fabulous fiery chile shrimp atop an almond rice cake with yuzu basil aioli, and he serves it here as well as his other restaurant, Coyote Cafe. I had ordered a half portion for an appetizer, but after taking one bite was regretting not getting the full tower for my entree.

Other appetizers included a crab cake with dill remoulade, wasabi Caesar salad with Japanese horseradish infused dressing, and orange and pepper seared diver scallops with vanilla crepes, all beautiful to behold. Tom never met a noodle he didn’t like so he had ramen noodles with Japanese vegetables for his main course. They are billed as a side dish and are more appropriate as such; though a nice addition to a meal, the noodles were a bit bland on their own.

Though tuna and wasabi mashed potatoes is a timeworn combination dating back to the 1980s, it’s one I never tire of and this was a worthy rendition. The bok choy and watercress added a layer of texture and all the flavors played well together.

The grilled lobster tail with green chile garlic sauce over angel hair pasta has been a mainstay on the menu at both restaurants. Though it was a lovely dish, it lacked a punch that one would expect from the menu description.

The birthday celebration was topped off with a complimentary piece of dense flourless cake and four forks, and was easily rich enough for us to share without fighting over the last bite.

Geranimo is not an everyday sort of hangout, though having a drink and appetizers on the patio or in the bar would be a nice way to spend an evening without spending big bucks. I consider it the finest fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe, having maintained its consistency and quality over the years.

Geronimo on Urbanspoon

Coyote Cafe Rooftop Cantina in Santa Fe

Coyote Cafe is essentially two restaurants; one that features upscale Southwestern and a $56 cowboy cut ribeye, and a rooftop cantina, which is more of a chips and margaritas type of gathering place.

I prefer the Cantina; it’s one of the best spots to eat outside in Santa Fe. I’ve eaten there in April with my fleece on and in June in a sleeveless shirt and sandals and always have a great time. Perhaps it’s the company, but there’s just a great vibe. Looking around the packed second floor deck, everyone looks like they are happy campers.

Maybe they’ve tried some of the high octane drinks, including the Norteno Margarita, a traditional margarita with hatch green chile infused tequila. I liked the idea of it, but not the taste particularly. It just wasn’t refreshing on a hot day. I switched to beer, which complemented our food better.

We started with the nachos, and could have stopped there in terms of filling up our stomachs. Piled high with spicy braised pork, red chile sauce, avocado sauce, whiskey cheddar cheese, serrano chiles and black beans, we made quick work of the impressive mound.

Having had burritos and enchiladas morning, noon and night for five days running, the tacos on the menu called our names. Ordering two platters for the table, we split tenderloin of beef tacos with caramelized onions and horseradish slaw, and tacos al pastor topped with the traditional grilled pineapple and tomatillo salsa.

This is not a place for quiet or serious conversation. Music blares and tables are close together, but that’s part of its charm. The quality of the food may vary from year to year, but the Cantina will always have a place on my dance card whenever I visit Santa Fe…I’m compiling a great array of memories there.

Coyote Cafe Cantina on Urbanspoon

Inn of the Anasazi–Santa Fe

Most people think of the Inn of the Anasazi as the top hotel to stay in while visiting Santa Fe. That it is. But I also love to eat there. Whether enjoying tortilla soup  and a tuna tostada at lunchtime, snacking on nachos and buffalo sliders with a beer on the patio, or going all out with duck mole enchiladas, blue corn crab cakes and a lamb porterhouse with adobo sauce in the dining room, it’s all excellent quality, beautifully presented and well-executed.

Santa Fe is one town where I prefer the local joints, but as a big fan of the Anasazi, it’s my one exception to that rule.

Anasazi Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tune-Up Cafe and Harry’s Roadhouse–Santa Fe

Santa Fe has more than its share of “joints” and “dives”. Most are New Mexican-centric, but I recently visited a pair of eclectic venues that sported a broader menu for those who may not want a steady diet of red or green chile sauce at every meal.

Tune-Up Cafe is near the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, but definitely off the beaten path. It’s not the kind of place you stumble upon, but it’s worth getting out Google maps to find it. It’s a funky, college-town type place, offering three meals a day, with counter service for the first two. The fare at dinner is  no more upscale, but table service makes the evening meal a bit more relaxing. At any time of day, it’s the kind of place where you could sit for hours and chill.

For those familiar with Santa Fe, Tune-Up is in the old Dave’s Not Here space. Dave was known for, among other specialties, the ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. Though still served here, in beef, buffalo and vegetarian versions, the emphasis now is more focused on its owners’ Salvadoran roots. Pupusas, a meat or bean-filled masa cake, are on the menu, as is a banana leaf wrapped tamale. Cuban sandwiches, Greek salad and even a tuna melt are also available. Chicken mole enchiladas are a standout–sweeter and lighter in flavor and color than the more traditional mole poblano,  but oh so good.

Harry’s Roadhouse is a local institution, a roadhouse in every sense of the word. Locals and tourists rub elbows and the menu features an equal mix of comfort food and New Mexican fare. Each room in the rambling house has a different personality, so check each one out before choosing where to sit to find a spot that fits your mood. (If you’re there during peak hours, you won’t have that option, of course. ) Specialties include blue corn turkey enchiladas, migas, lemon-ricotta pancakes, meatloaf and ribs.

The migas and pancakes had been featured on Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood.com and both lived up to their billing, especially the pancakes which were light and very lemony.

With more than 200 restaurants in Santa Fe, there are a wide array of upscale, continental choices. But it’s enchanting restaurants such as Tune Up Cafe, Harry’s Roadhouse and Tesuque Village Market that make Santa Fe the magnet it has become.

Tesuque Village Market–Santa Fe

Though I had been to Tesuque Market on prior trips to Santa Fe, I had never before experienced it.  It’s not just a place to eat or buy grocery staples,  it’s  a way of life and can become quite habit-forming.

I have now been for lunch, dinner and drinks, and each time I didn’t want to leave. There’s something about it that is so laid-back and relaxing, but it’s hard to define the quality that is so alluring. And  though online reviews are not always glowing,  I  can’t figure out why. The chile sauces were as flavorful as any of the more revered restaurants, the service was friendly and warm, and the drinks were the best we had during our stay in Santa Fe, using fresh squeezed blood oranges for margaritas and pineapple for specialty mojitos.  The selection of artisan beers was vast and there were even Happy Hour  specials, a rarity in a city that doesn’t  need to lower its prices to attract people. The posole, green chile stew and tortilla soup were all outstanding–flavorful  and hearty, and the market even has a relatively healthy version of  a chile relleno. It was roasted, not battered and fried, stuffed with corn and mushrooms before being smothered with cheese and red chile  sauce.

Not into New Mexican flavors? The Market even has an outdoor pizza oven and makes pies to eat in or carry-out.  There is truly something for everyone unless, of course, you are looking for a white tablecloth experience. That it is not.

While you can find plenty of upscale eateries in Santa Fe, I find the most rewarding adventures to be those of the local variety. There are certainly tourists at the Market, but its homespun, no-frills, laid-back, stay and play ambiance will entice you to become a local!

Tesuque Village Market on Urbanspoon

Breakfast spots in Santa Fe, Part 2

Breakfast is  not usually my favorite meal of the day, but that indifference disappears when I am in Santa Fe where the red and green chile sauces cast a magical spin on traditional breakfast fare.

In the past I always put Cafe Pasqual at the top of my list for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but a recent visit to Santa Fe revealed some new spots that are equally captivating AND easier on the wallet. Pasqual’s has, unfortunately, raised prices to the point that it’s more frequented by tourists than locals these days. Hopping in the car instead of simply walking to the Plaza opened up a new world, full of local hangouts that captivated me AND my stomach. (For additional options, including Tecolote Cafe, check out my archives.)

Chocolate Maven Bakery and Cafe. Here’s a classic example of not judging a book by its cover. Driving up to this out-of-the-way warehouse, one would never imagine that inside is a beautiful  bakery and white-tablecloth restaurant. Ask to sit on the first floor so that you have a clear view of the bakery in action. (You’ll need to get there early on the weekends to have that option). We were fortunate enough to sit by the huge picture window, where we watched bakers forming pastries and rolling  out dough for decadent croissants as we enjoyed a very civilized breakfast. Though the menu is dotted with traditional New Mexican breakfast items like the ubiquitous breakfast burrito, the strength of this restaurant is in its modern twists on those old-time specialties. You won’t find the very best red or green chile  here, but Chocolate Maven makes the finest rendition of chilaquiles and migas that I have ever had. Normally, chilaquiles are soggy tortilla chips that have been baked in a ranchero sauce, topped with a fried egg and cheese. But here, an astonishing array of flavors and colors graced the plate. Fresh tortilla strips had been sauteed in red chile sauce, topped with fried eggs, avocado, lettuce, tomato, queso fresco and black beans. Each bite did a little dance in my mouth. The migas, eggs scrambled with tortilla strips, tomato, serrano, onion, cheddar cheese and fresh tomatillo salsa, were as compelling and a bit lighter. Not interested in a Mexican-style entree? Pancakes, caramelized French toast and even scrambled tofu with spinach are all prepared with a deft hand.

The bakery has pastries, breads,  sandwiches and even salsas to go, and the cafe has started serving dinner, as well as breakfast, brunch and lunch.

The Pantry may not have the panache of Chocolate Maven, but it knows how to deliver solid, satisfying New Mexican fare. Breakfast is served all day, but it’s open for lunch and dinner as well. Both the red and green chile sauces have a kick, the service is friendly and efficient, and the portions are generous, which is a bit of an understatement. Tamales smothered in red chile, cheese enchiladas Christmas-style (red and green sauces), heuvos rancheros,  chorizo breakfast burritos (which my nephew put in his top five list of best breakfast burritos ever)…the Pantry deserves its coveted place as a Santa Fe institution.