Savoring a Slice of Santa Fe’s Past

- September 6, 2012

"Enjoy authentic regional dishes in a historic building and savor a slice of Santa Fe's rich and storied past"

Santa Fe has a history steeped in food, and nowhere is it more palpably visible than in the historic restaurants around town that have been serving up food to generations of locals and visitors.

From The Pink Adobe, opened by New Orleans transplant Rosalea Murphy in the 1940s, to La Fonda, where diners have gathered for traditional New Mexican food for decades, Santa Fe has a number of longstanding eateries with a fascinating history.

Back in the Roaring Twenties and more sober '30s, a group of artists and writers who established colonies made Santa Fe a vibrant art center, and food was squarely at its center. At annual masquerade balls held in La Fonda's ballroom, banquets were centered on the party's theme and there was always plenty of booze on tap. Famous writers threw countless parties, some lasting for days, and always provided plenty of New Mexican fare to their guests.

The writers also organized an annual Writer's Round Up, where poets wearing bandannas rode down chutes as they recited verse. Readings took place regularly in writers' homes around town, and author Mary Austin hosted so many events  featuring lavish meals that she installed a vomitorium in her back yard where she and her guests could relieve themselves after eating too much.

The Pink Adobe quickly established itself at the heart of the city's dining scene after opening in 1944. It became the favorite haunt for artists Will Shuster (who launched the first Zozobra burning in Santa Fe), John Sloan, Georgia O'Keeffe and Mark Rothko, who stopped by when he was in town. And while Harry Partch was completing his well-known score, "Route 66," he washed dishes at The Pink in exchange for room and board.

An inn has stood on the Plaza since Santa Fe was founded, and during the 19th century, La Fonda was popular with gamblers, trappers, soldiers, gold seekers and politicians. The current inn was built in 1922, on the same site where previous inns once stood and, in 1925, acquired by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway , which leased it to hospitality king Fred Harvey. Under his reign, La Fonda became a famous Harvey House until 1986, when Santa Fe businessman Sam Ballen bought it.

The menus from La Fonda during the '20s and '30s featured elegant fare, including caviar, grilled and sautéed fish, steaks, lamb chops and pain perdu, or Santa Fe French toast. Other items included a Mexican plate with taco, tamale, enchilada, salsa and a fried egg; French fried shrimp with tartar sauce, shirred eggs with homemade sausages, roast larded loin of beef with mushroom sauce and roast spring chicken with giblet gravy and corn on the cob. Dessert, choices included pound cake, pineapple fritter with brandy sauce or cream cheese and guava jelly.

The Plaza Café, in the heart of downtown Santa Fe has been serving popular and authentic traditional dishes since 1918. Dionysi Razatos, a Greek immigrant, bought the diner  in 1947, which iis acclaimed for its New Mexico food as well as Greek fare, including moussaka. Popular items include carne asada enchiladas, chicken fried crispy calamari, fresh halibut ceviche and quinoa fritters. And regular diners know to always leave room for The Plaza’s award-winning desserts, including Apple Cajeta Pie, Red Velvet Cake and Coconut Cream Pie.

So the next time you decide to dine out in Santa Fe, consider dining in a restaurant that has been serving Santa Feans for decades, with food rooted deeply in New Mexico history. You'll not only enjoy authentic regional dishes in a historic building, you'll also be savoring a slice of Santa Fe's rich and storied past.