Santa Fe, New Mexico
Pretty much everything you love, done the best it can be done
Every day in Santa Fe can be Christmas: Red chile sauce and green chile sauce slathered side-by-side on your enchilada, burrito, or chile relleno like a piquant Yuletide fiesta. Originally sourced during Columbus’ voyages into the Caribbean, chiles arrived in Santa Fe when the Spanish founded the town in 1610, and some of the recipes you’ll find at local landmarks like La Choza and the Shed are almost as old. Because these restaurants -- and other longtime favorites like Tia Sophia’s, Palacio Café, and the Pink Adobe -- serve pretty much the same classic New Mexican fare in comfortably low-key surroundings, they compete by being meticulous in everything they make, slow-braising, fire-roasting, and generally pouring love into every tortilla and refried bean.
Between Santa Fe, Taos, and nearby Albuquerque, Southwestern food culture runs deep, and chefs not only respect the old ways but update them with locally sourced grains and meats. The local booze community, led by Bosque Brewing Co. and Santa Fe Spirits, is producing wonderful stuff, too. Some say the margarita was invented in Santa Fe, and 60-year-old Maria's New Mexican Kitchen holds the flame, with more than 200 varieties listed on their eight-page menu.
If you have just one meal: New-school sensation Eloisa eschews the standard Santa Fe palette of purples and pinks for a sleek black-and-white space inside the Drury Plaza Hotel. Here, local-born, world-traveled chef John Rivera Sedlar modernizes the town’s traditional cuisine with such studied, loving finesse that dinner feels like an evolutionary inevitability. And if you’re in town in the fall, be sure to grab a sack of fresh-roasted pinon nuts from a vendor at Santa Fe Plaza. A snack dating back to prehistoric times, pinon is the true taste (and scent) of Santa Fe. -- Jonathan Zwickel