Notes From the Field

Food and Wine's Top Dining Picks for Santa Fe and La Fonda's New Fiesta Lounge

Food & Wine's Top Picks for Santa Fe

Food and Wine has released its top picks for dining in Santa Fe in the form of its City Guides, and the lists are full of illustrious restaurants for best romantic dining, best breakfast and best local food in Santa Fe. If you want to investigate some of these places for yourself, better get there soon because the summer crowds are coming...

Let's start with romance, because, who doesn't love a romantic table for two? “Santa Fe’s small, intimate and upscale dining scene provides ample restaurants with hushed lighting, tranquil outdoor seating and a unique fold of Southwestern, American and French cuisines,” FxW writes, suggesting that you reserve a romantic table at Bouche Bistro and watch “the culinary theatre unfold at the tall table, facing the open kitchen kitchen or procure a table for tenderloin steak tartare served with a fresh farm egg and black mussels in white wine. Note: a side of pommes frites is absolutely essential.”

Also on the list, Geronimo, “long known for its soft, dim lighting and warm interior and leather banquette.” FxW's praise for “this highly-touted spot along Canyon Road, in an old 1756 adobe home,” includes the signature crab cakes and elk tenderloin as well as a hearty and delicious vegetarian tasting menu, which I didn't even know about.

The outdoor patio of longtime favorite Santacafé is “the spot to sip white wine while dining on bites of shitaake mushrooms and cactus spring rolls,” FxW says. But inside, “four small and more formal dining rooms set the stage for braised osso bucco, green chile country mashed potatoes and sauteed leeks.”

The list also includes The Compound, where Alexander Girard's “murals are sprinkled throughout, this light-filled institution serving chef Mark Kiffin's handmade lobster carbonara and a braised lamb shank served with white beans, fennel and tomatoes.” Yum.

Joseph's Culinary Pub is another romantic pick, described as a “buzzy spot from chef Joseph Wrede” that takes a Farm to Table approach with starters like the lamb tartare and buffalo medallions with a burnt orange sauce. “Don't miss the butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce,” FxW says.

On to the Best Local Food, with an intro that's a bit puzzling: “New Mexico may still be flying under the radar as a culinary destination, but it does have a unique cuisine all its own—a surprising blend of Mexican, Spanish, Mediterranean and Native American influences,” FxW says. Last I checked, we're flying well above that radar with accolades that place us among Travel + Leisure's Best American Cities for Foodies, Conde Nast's Best Food Cities and TripAdvisor's Top Ten Food and Wine Destinations. Still, FxW acknowledges our devotion to local foods with a list of restaurants where “you can dig your forks into earthy dishes like chiles rellenos, green chile cheeseburgers and tamales as well as more modern but equally delicious local creations.”

So who's on this list? Gabriel's of Santa Fe, noted for its fresh guacamole made tableside, preferably while you're seated on the garden patio great views of the Sangre de Cristos, along with stuffed chile rellenos, crab enchiladas and platters of lone star ribs in special barbecue sauce. There's also Maria's New Mexican Kitchen, noted for its “traditional straightforward New Mexican cuisine at its best, including blue corn enchiladas and green chile tamales, “best paired with a selection of over 100 margaritas. Afterwards, a siesta is in order.”

And the Cowgirl BBQ makes the cut, too, described as a “meeting of Texas BBQ, OldWest and New Mexico flavors.” FxW recommends the New Mexico lamb chimichurri with sauteed cabbage and sweet onions paired with a cold beer. "And later, kick up your heels for some live music.”

And because breakfast is such a critical meal, FxW assembled a list of favorites, including The Pantry, of course: “Since 1948, this venerable road stop serves well-priced traditional breakfast items like blue corn cinnamon pancakes, chile relleno omelets and chicken fried steak smothered with country gravy and cups upon cups of Aroma coffee. Trust us, you won’t leave hungry.”

La Fonda's New Fiesta Lounge

La Fonda on the Plaza is one of Santa Fe's historic treasures, a former Harvey House with an interior designed by famed Southwest architect Mary Colter. Now, the Fiesta Lounge resonates with even more history after a recent re-design returned the lounge to the horseshoe-shaped days of yore. With bancos, leather furnishing, stamped tin in the ceilings to accent the decorative wooden vigas, and hand painted Mimbres patterns on the tables all pay homage to Colters original designs. And you can't miss Harvey, the statue of a four-foot bunny who pays tribute to the founder of the Harvey Houses himself, Fred Harvey.

Even the menu is new, and Crispy Fried Oysters appetizer with Smoked Jalapeno Aioli and Shredded Lettuce is something you might have found on the menu in the Harvey House days. Other delicious apps include Beef Tenderloin Cassoulet with Hatch green chile-mushroom cream crustades; Crispy Smoked Pork Belly with sweet corn pudding tamal, guajillo honey and spiced pepitas; and Braised Shortrib Tacos with Jicama Slaw, Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa and Corn Tortillas.

For entrees, try the Chile Relleno made with braised shortrib, Torte de Borrego, tender braised lamb shoulder, seasonal tomato avocado, caramelized onion, feta, arugula and lemon-cilantro aioli on a pretzel bun. If you're eating light, salad options include Cilantro Lime Avocado Chicken Salad and Chopped Artisan Lettuces with Red Onions, Red Peppers, Roasted Sweet Corn Jicama and Creamy Poblano Dressing. . But leave room for dessert Crispy Churros with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce.

The Fiesta Lounge continues to serve the famous The La Fiesta New Mexican Buffet Menu, with traditional, regional dishes such as albondigas soup, cheese enchiladas, frijoles refritos, pork posole and natillas. And there's still dancing to live music from local musicians and drinks from the resident mixologist, including signature margaritas and martinis as well as flights of tequila and beer.