Dining Outdoors in Santa Fe

Summer dining in Santa Fe's great outdoors

Let the Santa Fe Farmers' Market inspire your Memorial Weekend picnic.

Summer unofficially begins this Memorial Day Weekend, and what better way to start things off  than with a look at the best places for outdoor dining in Santa Fe. From the lofty views off La Fonda's Bell Tower, the O'Keeffe Cafe, Rooftop Pizza to the sprawling porch of Tanti Luce,  the city offers plenty of places to enjoy the sunset, the stars and the beautiful weather.

One of my favorite places to take in a sunset along with great food is Harry's Roadhouse on Old Las Vegas Highway. Start with a margarita on the front patio, then ask for a table in the back garden, where hollyhocks and other colorful flowers run riot and kids splash in koi-filled waters as they wait for Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Dry Rubbed, Smoky St. Louis Cut Pork Ribs, Turkey Meatloaf and other Roadhouse classics. 

La Fonda's newly renovated Bell Tower Bar may offer the best views of the city as well as of our famous sunsets. This is the perfect spot to enjoy a signature cocktail as well as inventive fare including Baked Brie drizzled with orange blossom honey and served with apple slices and crackers; Hatch Green Chile-Smoked Cheddar Cheeseburger Sliders on Hawaiian buns with roasted tomato aioli and green onion jicama slaw. Don't miss the signature Bell Ringer Margarita. Check it out for Happy Hour or dinner.

If you like to dine at higher altitudes, Rooftop Pizzeria also offers city views from on high, overlooking the Sandias. Even the pizzas are served at a higher elevation, arriving on platters perched above the tables.  Try the No. 3, a blue corn crust version made with grilled chicken, green chile, cojita and asadero cheese and toasted pinon with Alfredo sauce. Seafood fans will love the No. 10, another blue corn crust creation topped with lobster, shrimp, mushrooms, apple-smoked bacon, caramelized leeks, truffle oil, Alfredo sauce and four cheeses. Have a craving for something specific? You can build your own pizza with an array of ingredients.

The sprawling deck at Tanti Luce 221 is another spot perched high, and it's a great spot for sunset viewing above and people watching below. The restaurant offers small plates of fritto misto, lobster and green chile mac'n'cheese and carpaccio as well as entrees including molasses-glazed pork tenderloin, grilled Texas quail with duck cilantro sausage, paella and more.

You'll find a smorgasbord of outdoor summer dining options at street level as well, including the patio at Santa Fe Bite, the reincarnation of Bobcat Bite which closed last year due to a dispute with the landlord.  This is a great place for people watching as you savor their famous green chile cheeseburger, patty melt,  street tacos, steak or chop and more.  And why not pair your burger with Santa Fe Bite's malts and shakes, a perfect way to end your meal.

Next door to the Bite, 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar downtown has a front patio where you can watch the summer crowds go by and enjoy excellent French bistro-style food, from basil-wrapped shrimp with apricot chutney and madras curry sauce to steak frites, duck breast with morel sauce and pea shoots and chicken confit with exotic mushrooms.

The Cowgirl's patio is another popular gathering spot, with live music, Happy Hours and a menu that includes the Mother of all Green Chile Cheeseburger, a blend of Black Angus and buffalo beef with applewood-smoked bacon on a pretzel bun with melted brie, green chile, heirloom tomato and truffle oil. This is the burger that took the People's Choice award at last year's inaugural Santa Fe Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. But there's much more, including a smoked turkey reuben, bourbon salmon platter, jerked chicken platter and their world famous butternut squash casserole.

Out on Old Las Vegas Highway, Cafe Fina also offers al fresco dining on a shaded patio, where the resident cat Tiger rules the roost. The cafe serves breakfast, brunch and lunch, featuring signature dishes including huevos motulenos, corncakes with chipotle-marinated shrimp, cloud cakes—ricotta pancakes with fresh berries and maple syrup—migas, sandwiches, salads, baked goods and more. There's even a bocci court and a kid's play area, making this an ideal spot for families.

You could also put together your own al fresco meal and head out to some popular picnic spots to enjoy a meal in the great outdoors. Fort Marcy Park, built in 1846 by the U.S. Army to protect the American presence in the city, features the military fort's remnants on a hill overlooking Santa Fe. Or drive out to the Shidoni Foundry and Galleries in Tesuque, where you can enjoy a picnic lunch on the grounds surrounded by a rotating exhibit of outdoor sculpture. Pick up your picnic meal from local eateries, including Kaune's, La Montanita Co-op and the Santa Fe Farmers' Market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays).

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