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Santa Fe, NM

Best Restaurants in Santa FeOur favorites include some of this destination's best local restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

When it comes to down-home New Mexican cuisine, trust the locals—they insist Tia Sophia's serves the real deal. Breakfast specials include a burrito filled with eggs, bacon and hash browns, topped with lots of melted cheese and served “Christmas” style with red and green chile sauce. Their version of huevos rancheros, that old Mexican morning standby, is also tasty. Meals come with sopaipillas, puffy triangles of fried dough best eaten while they're still warm with a dab of butter and drizzled with honey. The staff is efficient and super friendly. A 5-minute walk (if that) from the downtown plaza, Tia Sophia's is often crowded in the morning and you may have to wait for a table, but the cheery atmosphere makes up for it.

The line at Cafe Pasqual's often spills out onto the street, but there's a good reason—the food is definitely worth the wait. It's small (in fact cozy is an understatement), and you may find yourself seated at the big round table in the middle of the floor if the booths are all taken. Breakfast is served until 3 p.m., and smoked trout hash with two poached eggs and tomatillo salsa is a good choice. For lunch or dinner the yummy quinoa burger, made with minced portabellas, sweet potato and zucchini and topped with house-made tomato chutney, will have you forgetting about meat for the moment. The delightful décor focuses on whimsical ceiling decorations and beautiful murals by Mexican-born artist Leovigildo Martinez.

A morning or afternoon spent browsing Santa Fe shops tends to work up an appetite, and The Shed is a popular and convenient place (it's right across from The Plaza) to satisfy those hunger pangs. Family owned and operated, the restaurant occupies nine charmingly decorated rooms behind a brick and flagstone courtyard radiant with roses in summer. Settle into a booth and start with chips and the house-made guacamole. Ingredients in many of the dishes reflect classic New Mexican cuisine: blue corn tortillas, pinto beans and posole, hominy stewed with lean pork, garlic and oregano. Reservations are advised for dinner. Buen provecho!

The same folks who run The Shed also own La Choza, just off busy Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe's Railyard District. It's off the radar for many tourists, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a try. This ranch-style adobe's tile floors, colorful walls and pretty landscape paintings give it a cool, airy feeling. The northern New Mexican cuisine is some of the best in town, particularly puffy, deep-fried sopaipillas that come with your meal (and should be liberally slathered with honey). The blue corn tortilla enchilada plate or a sopaipilla filled with pinto beans and a choice of spicy ground beef or chicken are both hearty entrees, and vegetarian versions are available as well.

When Maria Sena Marquez opened her restaurant in 1952 it was a fraction of its current size. Even after multiple expansions, locals still pound down the doors at Maria's New Mexican Kitchen. Blue corn enchiladas, the quintessential Santa Fe dinner that turns up on menus all over town, are done well here: a choice of lean ground beef or chicken topped with cheese and red or green chile (or both). Another entree is a petite top sirloin steak with a chile relleno and green chile sauce. Maria's margarita list is extensive—more than 100 varieties incorporating Mexican tequila, triple-sec and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. A blender is verboten; the bartenders properly shake each drink. If you don't have reservations, expect to wait.

Canyon Road is famous for its art galleries, but a trio of restaurants on this winding street also attract hungry diners. Geronimo , housed in an original Santa Fe adobe and tastefully decorated with fine art, doesn't look all that different from its gallery neighbors—but the galleries don't have the benefit of a global, seasonally changing menu. From mesquite-grilled Maine lobster tails to Geronimo's signature charbroiled elk tenderloin with Applewood-smoked bacon and a brandied mushroom sauce, this is exquisite fare. Even starters like a bowl of cauliflower bisque burst with flavor. For dessert, the Meyer lemon crepe is delightful. Yes, dinner here is expensive—but take our advice and splurge.

The Compound Restaurant occupies an adobe hacienda complete with a lovely patio and garden. This is not a casual restaurant; service is elegant and formal, but without being over-the-top stuffy. A meal here is perfect if you’re looking for fun things for couples to do. The menu changes with the seasons; in summer, grilled sourdough crostini topped with heirloom tomatoes, basil and burrata cheese is a perfect starter. Pan-roasted chicken breast with porcini mushrooms and sweet corn is a flavorful entrée; vegetarians can opt for wild mushrooms and stone-ground polenta gussied up with black truffle relish and shaved Parmesan. A cherry tart with a yummy chocolate crust will end the meal nicely. Reservations are advised if you want to dine outside.

More rustic than refined is the—surprise!—adobe that houses El Farol Restaurant. It's a fun place for families and groups, since the menu focuses on small plates of Spanish dishes meant to be shared. Try one of the Spanish cheeses like queso de cabra, baked goat cheese served with roasted garlic and Serrano ham. Other choices include ceviche, patatas bravas (roasted potatoes tossed in a blend of olive oil, garlic and chiles) and tortilla Española (potatoes and eggs baked in a flaky crust). If you don't feel like having dinner, hang out at the bar and listen to live music.

Coyote Cafe masterfully blends Southwestern art and cuisine. Contemporary decor, romantic lighting and careful attention to detail all combine to ensure a memorable dining experience. The chef's tasting menu (including a vegetarian version) consists of three courses, each paired with a suggested wine. The outdoor rooftop cantina, open during the summer months, has a more casual menu: ahi tuna tacos, chicken and cheese enchiladas, pulled pork sliders. Desserts are worth the indulgence and favor chocolate, but there's also banana cream pie.

At the Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe, tucked away in an industrial district south of downtown, the dining area is an extension of the bakery, where you can watch the bakers in action as they turn out a variety of goodies. Marinated tofu sautéed with chiles, spinach, tomatoes and roasted garlic or the gourmet breakfast burrito served with black beans and cotija cheese are both yummy choices. Be sure to pick up some cranberry pecan scones or banana nut muffins for later.

The Cowgirl Bar and Grill is the best barbeque joint in Santa Fe. The tangy barbecue beef sandwich and tender mesquite-smoked ribs are menu mainstays, and regulars who can take the heat rave about the Wings of Fire appetizer, chicken wings tossed with salsa Diablo and topped with chopped habanero chiles. Wash it all down with a margarita or a microbrew. Frazzled parents will appreciate the Kid Corral play area, where they can drop off rambunctious youngsters before heading off to the tree-shaded patio. Don't leave without taking a peek at the photos and memorabilia on display in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

This town serves up more than just Southwestern cuisine. Within walking distance of The Plaza (it's on Old Santa Fe Trail next to the San Miguel Mission Church), Upper Crust Pizza has been a crowd-pleaser since 1979. You'll find it difficult to resist the enticing aroma of fresh-baked pies wafting out the door. Order one of the specialty pizzas, like marinated chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, or go New Mex with chorizo, shredded cheddar and red chile. You can also build your own pie from an array of fresh ingredients. Locals swear by the stuffed calzones and the meatball sub. Either of the restaurant's two patios are nice spots to relax on a warm summer day.

While Santa Fe has plenty of good local restaurants to keep visitors occupied, a couple of places are worth a short drive out of town. At Gabriel's (right off US 285/84, about 7 miles north of the Santa Fe Opera), ripe avocados, fresh tomato, onion and cilantro are whipped into fresh guac tableside and served in a volcanic rock bowl along with a basket of warm chips. A margarita made with Gold tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice is the perfect accompaniment. In addition to New Mexican standards, the menu at this roadside restaurant includes Mexican specialties like pollo en mole poblano, the mole sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. If the weather's warm, dine on the cottonwood tree-shaded patio and take in views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Take a leisurely drive past the rolling, sagebrush-speckled hills north of town to the Tesuque Village Market, a fave tourist stop. The ambience is charmingly ramshackle, and the menu offers no surprises—tortilla soup, green chile stew, huevos rancheros, tamales, jalapeño-spiked mac and cheese, wood-fired pizzas, even Frito pie. But it's all good, and the adjoining market and bakery offers homemade caramel/pecan rolls, local ice creams and cool souvenirs like Day of the Dead T-shirts.

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Santa Fe, NM

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