When traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, you’ll want to savor the flavors of the area. New Mexican cuisine primarily consists of traditional Mexican dishes recreated with New Mexican flavors, spices, and cooking methods. You’ll find Native American fry bread-style sopaipillas; lots of red and green chile peppers, posole, and slow-cooked beans; plus creations native to the area, including the green chile burger, Frito pie, and the breakfast burrito.
Take a tour of these delicious foods and beverages that are at their best in Santa Fe.
Be prepared to answer the classic New Mexican question: “Red or green?” The chile, which ripens from green to red, is a New Mexican staple. If you’re unsure which to order, try the Christmas, which includes some of both. But beware -- because chile creations can be quite spicy, some restaurants post signs stating that if the food is too hot for your taste, your meal will not be refunded. So if you have a low tolerance for spicy foods, consider ordering your chiles on the side. That way you can build up a tolerance for the fiery dishes.
You’ll find different incarnations of the chile pepper at many restaurants in Santa Fe -- smothered on enchiladas, roasted, stuffed (chiles rellenos), served with eggs, and even topping cheeseburgers.
One of the most popular places in Santa Fe for a traditional New Mexican meal is The Shed, famous for its Shed Red chile that is delicious on enchiladas. Its warm, meaty stew with roasted green chiles is also superb.
The green chile cheeseburger was invented in Santa Fe (there’s even a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail). Second Street Brewery has won the annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown on multiple occasions, and you’ll find several of the winning burgers on the menu. Try The Plate Lickin’ Fatty Burger, a hormone-free beef patty stuffed with American cheese and topped with Hatch green chiles and bacon.
The sopaipilla, a light and airy fried pastry that’s sometimes topped with sugar and served with honey as a dessert, is often served sans sugar in Santa Fe. This fluffy side dish is ideal for sopping up chile sauce or wrapping around tender carne asada.
Legend has it that Frito pie was first served at a Woolworths lunch counter in downtown Santa Fe. According to the story, an employee cut open a bag of Fritos, poured chile on top, and the classic dish was born. You can still get Frito pie at the same location, now called the Five & Dime General Store. Another good place for Frito pie is El Parasol.
You’ll often be served posole, rather than rice, as a side dish in Santa Fe. Posole is a hominy-based stew. Many recipes include seasoned pork cooked with chile, onions, and garlic; garnished with lettuce or cabbage; and served with avocado and salsa or lime juice.
As a main dish at Posa’s Restaurant on Zafarano you’ll get posole topped with red chile pork and served with a tortilla. The restaurant offers a vegetarian version, too. Del Charro Saloon, located inside the Inn of the Governors, is a local watering hole that serves up a delicious red and green chile posole. They even share the recipe.
New Mexican beans, usually pinto or black, slow simmered and tender, are a favorite side dish in Santa Fe. Try the Cowboy Beans with chile de árbol at Harry’s Roadhouse -- either as a side dish or stuffed inside a burrito. Or, if you prefer black beans, Atrisco Café & Bar serves a spicy puréed black bean soup.
Okay, so breakfast isn’t a food group, but Santa Fe offers many unique combinations that we couldn’t leave out.
Tia Sophia’s claims to have invented the breakfast burrito. Try one smothered Christmas-style, or order the huevos rancheros with two eggs over easy on top of tortillas covered in chile, whole beans, and cheese.
At Café Pasqual’s, the focus is on fresh, seasonal, organic, and naturally raised foods. Try the omelet-style chiles rellenos for a unique spin on the traditional dish.
Known as “the Margarita Capital of the World,” Santa Fe takes this libation seriously. If you’re not used to the altitude, residents suggest sticking with just one margarita until you see how it affects you. The altitude tends to amplify the tequila’s effect.
You’ll find traditional margaritas of tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, of course, but many places serve up unique twists on the beloved cocktail. At Coyote Café and Cantina, you can sip a New Mexican version with a spicy kick from house-made green chile-infused tequila. If you prefer fruity drinks, try one of the signature strawberry jalapeño margaritas at Luminaria Restaurant & Patio at the Inn and Spa at Loretto. Cowgirl BBQ’s Cadillac Margarita, a blend of organic Azuñia Reposado, Grand Marnier, half a fresh-squeezed orange, half a fresh-squeezed lime, and a touch of sweet and sour, is delightful. Or, you could stop by La Fiesta Lounge, located inside a historic hotel, for the Don Rael Margarita made with Sauza Hornitos Reposado, Sauza Hornitos Añejo, Grand Marnier, and Patrón Citrónge, plus a lemon-lime juice.
Download the Santa Fe Margarita Trail app to discover 45 of Santa Fe’s most-loved margaritas on a self-guided tour. The free app gives you access to a map of participating locations; there are step-by-step directions on the interactive map to help you find the location you’re looking for. A version of the app available for $3.99 allows you to acquire a virtual Margarita Trail Passport, rate your favorite margaritas, collect stamps, and win prizes. You can pick up a printed copy of the Margarita Trail Passport for $3 at any Santa Fe visitor center. Bring the passport to participating restaurants to get a stamp. You’ll receive $1 off your signature Margarita Trail margarita at each location. Five stamps will get you a T-shirt, 20 stamps will get you a signed copy of The Great Margarita Book by Al Lucero, and completing the entire trail will get you a margarita bartender kit.
New Mexico, and Santa Fe in particular, is also known for its chocolate. Try a chocolate elixir at the Kakawa Chocolate House, which offers eight different flavors of drinking chocolate daily. The bittersweet chile chocolate features fruit overtones and chocolate, agave nectar, ancho chiles, and vanilla. Then pop into Art of Chocolate, New Mexico’s first -- and Santa Fe’s only -- authentic New Mexico-certified bean-to-bar chocolatier. While you’re there, take a tour of the factory and learn about the history of chocolate. There’s also a Santa Fe Chocolate Trail, so you can sample sweets to your heart’s content.
If sampling all these delights only makes you hungry for more, try your hand at a cooking class or take a food tour. In the traditional New Mexican cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, you’ll make corn tortillas, enchiladas, red and green chile sauces, posole, and other New Mexican treats. After the lesson, you’ll get to sit down and enjoy the feast you helped create.
Wander New Mexico offers a variety of culinary tours, including the Railyard Arts District Food Tour, a 3-hour-and-30-minute, fully immersive cultural experience focused on the Railyard District and what's new and exciting on the Santa Fe food scene; the Sip and Savor Historic Plaza Food Tour, a tour of the best Santa Fe food and beverages in the historic Plaza neighborhood; the Taste of Canyon Road Food and History Tour, a four-hour progressive dinner tour (with wine pairings!) focused on the art, architecture, history, and food of Santa Fe's famous Canyon Road neighborhood; and the Santa Fe Street Eats Tour, a more casual, 2-hour-and-30-minute food tour focused on the best food carts, taco shops, and hidden culinary gems in downtown Santa Fe. On all of the Wander New Mexico tours, you’ll get a chance to meet the chefs and restaurant owners and hear the stories behind their dishes.
Planning a trip to Santa Fe? Check out these six cool things to do in the city.