Eating (Really) Well In Santa Fe

We have just returned from a very enjoyable trip to New Mexico where we stayed at Bishop’s Lodge (which you can read about here). Aside from the delicious food we enjoyed at Bishop’s, there is a bounty of culinary choices to enjoy in both Santa Fe and nearby Taos. Following some preliminary research, it seemed as though The Shed was a good place to start our culinary explorations of Santa Fe. The Shed is family owned and operated since 1953, and has received no less than a James Beard Award for their interpretation of classic Southwestern cuisine. Their menu reads like a hit parade of old-standbys. I chose the Huevos Rancheros, while my husband ordered the Pollo Adobe in their signature Red Chile sauce. Both dishes were excellent! We especially enjoyed the large outdoor patio, and casual atmosphere of The Shed. We did not have a reservation, but we were accommodated as walk-ins.

Aside from the Shed, there was another name that kept coming up as a place we had to try- Santa Fe Bite. It gets a little bit confusing, because previously the owners of Santa Fe Bite , John and Bonnie Eckre were the proprietors of Bobcat Bite, an institution in Santa Fe. It took quite a bit of sleuthing to get this all straight, but it seems as though the world famous Green Chile Cheeseburger that the Eckre’s created can now be enjoyed at Santa Fe Bite. Mind you, Bobcat Bite still exists, and does feature the Green Chile Cheeseburger- but the place to go if you want the REAL DEAL is Santa Fe Bite.

Years ago, in a conversation with Michael Stern, the founder of the classic traveler’s bible RoadFood, he revealed that one of his favorite dishes of all time was the Green Chile Cheeseburger from Bobcat Bite. The combination of flavors just couldn’t be beat. As a long time follower of all the Stern’s recommendations, this raised the bar pretty high.

Sante Fe Bite is located in a nondescript shopping center outside the historical part of town. There is a small outdoor area, and a large indoor dining room that is bright and inviting. We sat ourselves outside and were helped by none other than Bonnie Eckre, the owner. I was excited to see that there was a vegetarian version of the burger (and served on a gluten free bun!!). My husband had it prepared in the original fashion.

We were seated under a red umbrella which leant a pinkish cast to the photos, but hopefully it doesn’t detract from the deliciousness! The veggie burger was actually outstanding- with a healthy portion of beets mixed in to give it the realistic appearance of meat. The flavor of the roasted chiles and the sharpness of the cheese really made it unforgettable. In addition, the homemade chips were excellent.

My husband’s burger (bottom left) was made in the traditional fashion with real meat and a normal bun. The chiles are buried under the blanket of cheese. Although not a fan of thick burgers, he was very pleased with this one. As you can see from the last photo, we didn’t leave too much on our plates. The Eckres also pride themselves on their desserts, which sounded amazing, but we were stuffed. If you are in Santa Fe, I would go out of my way to give this classic spot a try.

Sadly, we didn’t have as much satisfaction with the next “classic” Santa Fe spot we tried, Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe. Coyote Cafe dates back to 1987, when it instantly became an absolute sensation. Perhaps if we had opted to dine in the more formal restaurant we would have had better success, but due to Covid we chose to eat at the more informal Cantina on the rooftop. The Cantina does not take reservations, so we put our name on the list and were lucky to grab a table about 15 minutes later. The rooftop was mobbed, and drinking seemed to be much more of a priority than eating. We remained optimistic that we might get a taste of the Coyote Cafe magic, but alas, the food was one step above (or maybe on par with) bad cafeteria food. It was terrible, bordering on inedible. It was fun to people watch, but if you are interested in getting a good meal, skip the Cantina.

One activity that you shouldn’t skip is the weekly Farmers’ Market held Tuesdays and Saturdays in the Santa Fe Railyard District. I am always a sucker for a good Farmers’ market, and this one is a true winner. We arrived early, and it was buzzing with eager shoppers ready to get their hands on the latest bounty Northern new Mexico had to offer. There are also a large number of Artisans selling their creations, which makes it a great place to spend a couple of hours on a sunny morning.

Another great activity on a Saturday is perusing the many galleries on Canyon Road. There is literally something for everyone. There are more than 100 galleries showcasing every kind of art, and they couldn’t be more receptive to visitors, whether buyers or browsers. Following our rambling exploration, lunch was in order. The concierge at Bishop’s Lodge was adamant that we have lunch at The Teahouse following our gallery hop. I think many others had a similar idea as it was packed; we put our name on the list for an outside table and went off to explore a little longer. The menu of tea and coffee drinks is extensive, and there are many offerings that check the vegetarian /gluten free boxes. Although the temps were in the 90’s, I couldn’t resist a Mexican Mocha (perfect) as well as a Breakfast Bowl complete with farro, avocado, egg and arugula. My husband had Posole Verde which proved to be very satisfying. The Teahouse offers a lovely and tasty place to sit and unwind after a long morning of art appreciation.

There is one iconic dish from Santa Fe that even Anthony Bourdain made it a point to try, Frito Pie which was created at the Five and Dime General Store on the historic Plaza. Many have copied it, but this is the original. The Frito Pie is a simple concept: a take-away bag of Fritos topped with “home-made (?)” chili, onions and shredded cheese. The home-made is questionable, after Anthony Bourdain tasted it, he proclaimed it to be Hormel canned chili, and an uproar ensued. He eventually apologized for calling it canned once it was established that it is an authentically slow cooked recipe, but he didn’t back down on his comment that it felt like a warm bag of poop. I did not try this particular delicacy, but my husband agreed with the initial assertion that it tasted like canned chili. After a few bites, the bag went into the trash. It may be worth a stop just to get a taste of days gone by.

The next outing was set for Taos, about 60 miles from Santa Fe. A well known ski town, there is plenty to explore in the off season as well. Unfortunately the Pueblos are currently not open to visitors due to Covid, which was disappointing but we were happy to explore the rest of the town. Having asked some of the locals where the best spot for lunch was, we were sent directly to Manzanita Market which was right up my alley, with plenty of healthy and vegetarian options. There were tables set up in the small courtyard behind the restaurant as well as communal tables inside. It was packed! I decided to order The Local, a tasty plate of organic beans & rice. I happily could have eaten my way through their entire menu.

Following our lunch we stopped in to Chokola, an artisanal chocolate shop just across the patio from Manzanita Market. The offerings were very tempting, but following our big lunch, we were stuffed. There were loads of people who were getting their fill of chocolate treats though. Before we were set to head for home we stopped at Cici’s Espresso Bar for a caffeine boost.

On the way back to Santa Fe we were lured to the El Pilar Food Truck on the side of the road by the wafting smell of BBQ. Just outside SF, the truck seems to do a very brisk business luring in hungry people. I left the ordering to my husband , while I busied myself appreciating the orange color scheme. He decided to go with the Charcoal Pork Ribs plate for his afternoon snack. I am not sure what kind of pig these ribs were from, but they were gargantuan, and I would not have been surprised to see them served to Fred Flintstone. He deemed them quite tasty, and after he washed them down with some (orange) Fanta we were on our way.

A quick non-food related side note, after El Pilar we headed over to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum back in the Historic Downtown section of Santa Fe. There are very limited tickets available to due Covid spacing, so we were lucky to get two slots at the end of the day. This museum is tiny, but so representative of New Mexico and absolutely worth a visit.

Finally our time in New Mexico was coming to a close, and we were headed to Moab. On the way out of town we stopped at a Blake’s Lotaburger a local chain founded in 1952 and consisting of 75 locations in the Southwest (New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas). My burger loving husband was so enamored there was talk of trying to bring them to the East Coast. These were thin griddled burgers with carmelized edges and local roasted Hatch Chiles on top. Not only was the food delicious, but the staff were exuberantly friendly and upbeat. My husband could not stop talking about these burgers. They also had a special “Shake of the Month” which was a S’mores shake, which was awfully tempting, but I held myself back, though I am now regretting it.

There are so many dining opportunities in Santa Fe, and we barely scratched the surface. Covid most definitely put a damper on where we chose to go, as we really just were sticking with outdoor options. I had mentioned before that the people in New Mexico are astoundingly friendly, and that coupled with the history and beauty of the state will undoubtedly bring us back for another visit.

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