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Best Santa Fe Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
Santa Fe prides itself on its vibrant restaurant scene—and rightly so. The city’s diversity of high quality restaurants have placed it on the gastronomic map, and in recent years innovative chefs have driven Santa Fe’s culinary creativity forward by combining traditional regional foods with global cuisine. Some of these fusions feature in our best Santa Fe restaurant picks. Many restaurants serve New Mexico wines, and Gruet sparkling wines are especially good. Chile is a New Mexico passion—not the chili con carne meat and beans dish, but the chile pepper itself. It’s the official state vegetable, and it sparks up everything from breads to beer. Red or green chile sauce is smothered over burritos and enchiladas, and hard core chile-heads don’t break a sweat mopping up a bowl of chile stew. Not all chile is fiery though. Flavor varies by chile batch and the chef’s preparation, so ask a server for the temperature report and try some—you can always ask for it on the side, and if you can’t decide when asked the state question “red or green?”, we recommend asking for “Christmas” to get a bit of both. Santa Feans dine earlier than in some cities, and some restaurants roll up the rugs by about 9PM, especially on quiet nights. Sunday and Monday opening hours vary, so call ahead.

Geronimo

Neighborhood: Canyon Road Price: Expensive
Geronimo is a—special night out’ destination for many Santa Feans and it sets the bar high for the city’s fine dining restaurants. Occupying a restored adobe house on Canyon Road, Geronimo is ultra elegant in its (expensive) simplicity. Inside, you could believe you’re in Milan, until you spot a kiva fireplace and antlers on the wall. Distinguished Executive Chef Eric DiStefano first put Geronimo on the map with cuisine he describes as—global French Asian’. After a stint away he returned in 2009 to continue working his magic as a partner in the business; Chef de Cuisine is Charles Thompson. Our favorite is DiStefano’s signature dish, peppery elk tenderloin and applewood smoked bacon. It’s a Santa Fe legend. Dinner only, and reservations are recommended.

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Restaurant Martin

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Plaza/Downtown Price: Expensive
As a 2010 James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant, Restaurant Martin Chef Martín Rios opened his own restaurant in 2009 after earning Santa Fe culinary stardom at several Santa Fe’s fine dining establishments (and appearing in Iron Chef America). His leap was rewarded and Restaurant Martín was a 2010 James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant. For you non culinary connoisseurs, this means that the joint is in the Crème de la Crème of dining. The place is still evolving, and the exterior so understated you have to look hard to know it’s a restaurant, but Rios’ brand of progressive American cuisine and bright flavor combinations hit a home run. The menu changes a couple of times a season, and dollar-conscious foodies go for lunch, when dishes top out at $15.

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Santacafe

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Plaza/Downtown Price: Expensive
The epitome of Santa Fe style since 1983, Santacafé serves consistently good food in an only-in-Santa-Fe setting. The New American cuisine combines southwestern and Asian flavors, with changing seasonal menus. We recommend starting off with the popular appetizer of crispy calamari with four-chile dipping sauce or one of Santacafé’s super gourmet soups. Décor is Georgia O’Keeffe spare in the mid-19th century adobe house, with deer antlers on white walls. The courtyard patio is a prime spot in summer. It’s best to reserve ahead and if you want to eat here but don’t have the big bucks, stop by for lunch or Sunday brunch when it’s cheaper.

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The Shed

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Plaza/Downtown Price: Moderate
If you’re looking to try some New Mexican chile creations, The Shed is the place. It is always busy but still feels intimate, with several dining rooms tucked into a 1692 adobe hacienda a few steps away from the Plaza. The house chile is grown in Hatch, New Mexico exclusively for the restaurant. Try it in carne adovada (hot!) or red chile enchilada with a fried egg on top. Green chile stew is a favorite, and their flavorful soups. Order mocha cake for dessert—you won’t be sorry. In summer, there’s competition for tables on the brick patio, especially at lunch when they don’t take reservations—a wait is likely. Sister restaurant La Choza is equally popular but less touristy, due to its off-the-beaten-track location near the Railyard (905 Alarid Street).

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Zia Diner

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Railyard / Guadalupe Street Price: Moderate
Named for the Zia sun symbol seen on the New Mexico state flag, Zia Diner on busy Guadalupe Street is a social hub. You’ll find great comfort food here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We can’t get enough of the yummy corn, green chile, and asiago pie with its flakey pastry crust. Or try the meatloaf with green chile and pine nuts. The nostalgic and the sweet-toothed enjoy the malt and milkshake fountain. The building was built in 1880 and was once a coal warehouse for the rail yard. Today’s, the joint now has an impressive Art Deco dining room, although many customers head straight to the parge patio out back. Breakfast entrees give change from $10, same goes for small plates and some sandwiches.

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Cafe Pasqual's

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Plaza/Downtown Price: Moderate
Café Pasqual’s Chef Katharine Kagel is a darling of the Santa Fe dining scene, with fresh twists on New Mexican, Old Mexican, and Asian cuisine. Why should every visitor eat here at least once? The immediate sense of bonhomie in the Mexican tiled and muraled dining room, hung with festive paper picado banners. Waitstaff are charmers and the mainly organic food never disappoints. Legendary breakfasts range from smoked trout hash to eggs barbacoa and chile d'arbol, and lunch and dinner put the holy into mole with chicken or veggie mole enchiladas. The chef’s dessert sampler plate is ample and wicked. We love the breakfast and lunch which appeal to budget-conscious travelers. Dinner entrees, while good value, hike the tab into the expensive category, and wines bump it up too. Reservations accepted for dinner only. Earlier in the day expect lines in peak hours.

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Tune-up Cafe

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Plaza/Downtown Price: Budget
This colorful neighborhood joint zipped up the popularity polls since opening a couple of years ago on the site of a former Santa Fe favorite, Dave’s Not Here. Chef Jesus Rivera, who runs the café with his baker wife, is a native of El Salvador, and his El Salvadoran dishes such as pupusas are a welcome addition to the city’s bill of fare. New Mexican classics and good ol’ American burgers—albeit served on a brioche bun with garlic mayo—add to the mix. It’s a budget-friendly breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot, with a small front patio. Only a few dinner entrees tip over the $10 mark. Tune-Up Café is slightly off the beaten path—a few minutes west of the Railyard and 4 blocks west of St Francis Drive.

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Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe

Neighborhood: Cerrillos Road Price: Budget
It’s easy to pass Chocolate Maven without noticing it set back in a warehouse complex. But that would be a pity because inside a fragrant and refined white linen café and bakery awaits. Breakfast or weekend brunch is a prime time to maven—try the substantial meat and eggs country breakfast, inventive omelets, and custardy cottage cheese pancakes packing a lemon zing. It is also worth ordering any dish with their super-savory skillet potatoes. On the way out, buy coconut macaroons or chocolate brownies. They also serve weekday lunch (some entrees veer a little over $10) and high tea. You'll pay more for dinner served Tuesday to Saturday.  Chocolate Maven is between Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive. Take 2nd Street off Cerrillos, it becomes San Mateo.

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Flying Star Cafe

Neighborhood: Santa Fe Railyard / Guadalupe Street Price: Budget
When you’ve seen one too many historic adobes, Flying Star’s cool and colorful urban café vibe refreshes the palate. It’s part of a local chain from Albuquerque but we think it’s a great option for eating on a budget. Casual is the word here—drop in for dinner with wine, or just a latte and a flirt with a strawberry blonde cupcake from the bakery. Breakfast is served all day, and classic American favorites (chicken pot pie), mix it up with New Mexican and Asian dishes. The lemongrass and ginger Buddha Bowl with chicken, shrimp, or tofu is stellar. Most entrees are under $10, some dinner entrees a little more. Flying Star is big, bright, and combines city hip with family friendly—there’s a children’s menu. 

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Harry's Roadhouse

Neighborhood: Greater Santa Fe Price: Budget
Locals love Harry’s and it’s worth the drive to the south end of town for the views, cheerful atmosphere, and the pies! Grab a stool at the 1950s pastel counter for a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie and a refreshing watermelon juice (or a watermelon margarita). Turkey meatloaf with all the trimmings hits the spot, but the eclectic menu ranges from buffalo burger and pizza (including gluten-free) to Thai curry. The downside is that there’s usually a wait, sometimes 40 to 90 minutes to be seated in the colorful dining room or pretty patio. Reservations are only for parties over six. You can pass the time watching the sunset with a cocktail out front—although you look over a noisy road. Or go for breakfast or lunch. Most entrees are under $10, some dinner specials are more. Wine prices are so low they’re almost retro.

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