This is the question I’m asked most by strangers and friends of friends who are coming to Santa Fe. It’s always a hard question to answer because first of all, I live out of town and don’t often go into town to eat, and second, because I like to cook at home with produce from the farmers market or my garden. But here are six places I like a lot. They are not the fanciest restaurants in Santa Fe, Aqua Santa excepted, but the most friendly and most wholesome in every sense. That’s not to say there aren’t a few hundred other places to eat that are also delightful. New restaurants come along regularly that are worth noting as well, so I will update this list as that happens. If you come to Santa Fe, get a free copy of “Local Flavors” magazine or “THE Magazine”. Both have restaurant listings.
If you like the curries of coastal Kenya, this is your place. Jambo in a lackluster mall (Universiry Mall). The chef-owner, who is from Kenya, has been cooking in Santa Fe for over a decade, and now has his own place. It’s lively and friendly, the food is delicious and inexpensive. Chef uses local goat and lamb are used in the curries. Jambo is open for lunch and dinner every day but Sunday. It’s very popular so expect to wait if you’re there at prime times, like 7 PM or noon.
Real Food Nation
Located in an old gas station and now drive through, café and supper club, Real Food Nation (RFN) is out of town a bit on the intersection of Old Las Vegas highway and Highway 285. There is a very talented baker (Andrew MacLaughlin) and equally talented chef (Kim Muller) here and a commitment to using organic and local food when possible, that goes beyond that of most restaurants that claim to do the same. RFN has an extensive garden on its grounds and Kim has long been committed to buy the best of produce and meats. The morning pastries are scrumptious as is the cappuccino with soft, perfect foam. The food is wholesome and utterly appealing in all its applications, whether you’re taking it home or sitting down to a fine dinner at the supper club. The café asks that you order then they’ll bring it to you, but there are plans to change that to a more conventional approach. There’s a play area for kids, thoughtfully provided by the owners who have small children themselves.
A Salvadorian café that resides in the Sambusco shopping center, El Tesoro (“the treasure”) is not great on atmosphere, but the food is always good and it’s a relaxed place to eat, alone or with others. If I’m in town that’s where I go for a quick lunch Evenings can feel a bit bleak because stores are closed, but the busy daytime it’s fine. I’ve been eating their tostada for years – I can’t seem to switch – but what other people order looks might appealing, too.
This is my favorite more expensive place to eat. It’s a beautiful room, not large, with the cook and kitchen at one end, a big table covered with bottles of wine and rustic breads in the middle, then the seating area. There is a patio for summer dining, a fireplace inside for winter. If I want a leisurely elegant lunch (with good wine selections) with a friend, Aqua Santa is where I’ll go. And I’d never turn down a dinner there, either.
I always recommend Pasqual’s for breakfast and lunch: it’s a must. It’s downtown, it’s funky, friendly, Santa Fe’s first organic restaurant and the food is super good. It’s not inexpensive. The service is always extremely gracious and the food never disappoints. There’s a community table where lone eaters can sit, often without having to wait and often leaving with a new friends and maybe a traveling companion for a day. Pasqual’s serves a lot of Mexican and New Mexican dishes if you’re looking for those and some chile. Not all are necessarily utterly traditional, but in my opinion, they are far better prepared and better tasting due no doubt to the quality of the ingredients and the talent in the kitchen. The atmosphere is festive and happy. There’s often a line, but just go in, put your name down. It’s worth the wait.
The Tune-Up Café
Once called Dave’s Not Here, a hamburger and New Mexican food joint and long a Santa Fe favorite, new owners have cleaned up the room and the food. One owner cooked at Pasqual’s so some of those dishes are carried over; others are new. The prices are right and if you want to have enchiladas Suizas for breakfast, you can. Busy, bustling, friendly and delish.