Santa Fe Trip Report - long!
I just returned from Santa Fe and was blessed with glorious weather and great meals! Of course, I didn't get to everything on my list and I am already looking forward to a return visit. A few overall notes - we stayed at a vacation rental casita outside of Santa Fe. This gave us the flexibility to stock up at Trader Joe's but also meant that any restaurant meal meant a drive. Also, we focused on restaurants with a casual atmosphere. Of course we like fine dining but for this holiday, we were looking for more casual New Mexican flavours.
Blake's Lotaburger: We arrived late on Monday night and my traveling companion has some difficulty walking for extended periods. Once we settled into our casita, it wasn't ideal for him to head out again. In hindsight, we could have stopped somewhere along the way. Ah well, as I was driving along Airport Road I remembered finlero's post about Blake's, and went in for green chile cheeseburgers and fries. The wait was long but the food was worth it. Okay, I was famished by that point and I snacked on the fries as I drove back. Wished I hadn't though - they were perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and I wished I had more left when I got back! The meat and the bun of the burger were both fresh. I even saw them bring out more raw ground meat while I waited for mine to be cooked. As someone unfamiliar with green chiles, it wasn't overwhelming and I actually could have used a few more. I also would have liked some additional condiments, such as mayonnaise, as I found the overall taste to be a bit dry.
Tune Up Cafe: I could come here every week. Or more! I liked the communal and friendly atmosphere. We sat ourselves at a long indoor table and perused the menu. This was our first restaurant meal and it was difficult to choose. Service was exceptional. Even though the restaurant was busy and the outdoor patio completely full, I felt very welcomed and everyone was friendly. I couldn't decide between the pupusa and the fish taco, and the server agreed it was a difficult choice, but recommended the fish tacos as they were more decadent. I would have liked to go back for the pupusa, but there were just too many other restaurants to go to! My companion had the chicken enchilada and we shared the chips and guacamole to start. The chips were crispy and flaky. I could actually see the tiny layers. The guacamole was fresh and flavourful. The chicken enchilada was full of seasoned meat and the fish tacos had large chunks of fish that were full of lime and cilantro flavouring. The beans accompanying the dish were tender and not overcooked, though the rice was rather dry - it was easy to overlook with everything else so good. We also ordered a piece of carrot cake and chocolate chip pecan pie to go which we enjoyed after a light dinner in our casita. I'm a huge fan of carrot cake, and this was one of the best. The cake was moist and just the right comination of sweet and savoury. I found the pie to be overly sweet, but then, I usally do. My companion loved it!
El Paragua: We stopped here on our way back from Los Alamos and I liked the rustic atmosphere and smell of wood burning ovens. Service was friendly but uneven. I had the combination plate and the beef in the taco was so flavourful, obviously well seasoned and perhaps marinated. The burrito or enchilada (honestly, I get them mixed up - sorry!) seemed to have very little filling. The rice and beans were both tasty. My companion had the chimichanga and I would go back for that - the meat was delicious and the sauce had a smoky flavour. We were given a complimentary salad, which was essentially lettuce and a few cucumbers - but ah, the dressing! There was a wonderful combination of spices that my companion asked about but the server neatly diverted to a story about who made the dressing, never quite answering what was in it! We also had margaritas which were very strong and tasted a bit too much of cointreau.
Counter Culture: my least favourite meal of the week, primarily due to the service rather than the food itself, though we did have our least flavourful dish here. While Tune Up has a friendly welcoming version of the communal atmosphere, Counter Culture is rather disinterested. Even though the server noted that we hadn't been there before and advised it was cash only (which I knew thanks to this forum!) there was no mention that we would need to pick up utensils or napkins. We ordered spring rolls to start, which was essentially a rice roll with rice noodles. There were a few specs of meat or something in there, but that's it. The only saving grace was the dipping sauce which was incredibly tasty, but honestly, if I wanted noodles I would have ordered noodles! The entrees were better. I had the salmon which was nicely done with a lemon, caper and dill sauce. The roast potatoes were not memorable but the cucumbers on the salad were amazing. I'm not sure what they did with them - perhaps they were lightly pickled. The crispy bits on the topping were an interesting combination of textures. My companion had the chicken and spinach enchiladas, which had large chunks of flavourful and freshly cooked chicken. The chile sauce was quite hot and he appreciated some of my cucumbers!
Los Potrillos: Fantastic meal and friendly, helpful service. As noted, my companion has difficulty walking, and this is one of the few restaurants that provided us with a particularly easy and close table and also went a bit extra in holding doors open as we left. I ordered the pork and pineapple in a molcajete, though I don't recall the proper name. Of course, the presentation was great and the meat was incredibly tasty with assorted spices which were beautifully complemented by the pineapple. This was served with flour tortillas, beans and pork (which were a little soupy) and a great fresh pineapple salsa. I really enjoyed this "make my own" meal. My companion had the tostada plate, which was also delicious - but he was a little disappointed in comparison to my molcajete - though I had a lot to share!
Cafe Cafe: This would be another weekly haunt if I lived in Santa Fe! The most attentive and yet unobtrusive service. Gorgeous interior of muted yellow hues. It feels like an upscale neighbourhood trattoria. We shared the calamartichokes to start. Lightly battered with a trio of delicious dipping sauces. I had to stop eating or I knew I wouldn't finish my main course. I ordered the gnocchi special, with a light marinara sauce, prosciutto and spinach. The gnocchi were light and tasty, but the real hit was my companion's pizza. We ordered it way too large - knowing I'd want to try some - and I was glad! We did our own combination of pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and green chile. The crust was perfect, thin with a crispy bottom, but still a slight bit of doughiness so I knew I wasn't eating a cracker crust. I enjoyed it just as much the next morning cold for breakfast! I had a glass of chianti which went well with our meal. My companion had the best iced tea of our trip - it had just a slight rose flavour that was delicious. We barely shared a single scoop of vanilla bean gelato that was so creamy I wished I could have ordered more! As I mentioned, I would be back here weekly and would easily have a salad, pizza, wine and gelato every time. I noted that Monday to Saturday from 4 - 6 p.m. they have a combination special that would be perfect for me - 2 salads, 2 glasses of wine and a 12 inch pizza for $25. Great deal. Though I'd pass on coffee the next time - one of the worst cups I've had recently.
Harry's Roadhouse: Mornings are difficult for my companion, so we only had one breakfast out. I liked the blue corn waffle with a slightly grittiness and a sweet fruity butter. The homemade turkey sausages tasted like little well seasoned burger patties! My companion was delighted to find the scrapple of his childhood, though it scared me! The coffee was strong and refills didn't come quite as quickly as I'd like initially, but more frequently once my consumption was noticed! A fun and tasty stop, but not entirely memorable. I would have liked to go to Tecolate's, but it was closed Monday and our plans to go on Sunday didn't materialize.
I enjoyed a great piece of coconut cream pie and coffee at the Plaza Cafe. It was a great break between museum visits and tours of shops along the plaza while my companion rested. The crust was a spectacular macaroon and it was huge - it was definitely my lunch for the day. I enjoyed the experience of sitting at the counter and those beside me were friendly and had just the right amount of chattiness. This could easily be a stop for dessert and coffee anytime.
I went to Sage Bakehouse a couple of times and would regularly buy their 1.5 lb sourdough bread if I could. I liked the even slices of the 1.5 loaf, while the 1 lb. had just a bit too many smaller slices. We had quite a few light sandwich suppers of Trader Joe's rosemary ham and havarti cheese. The pain au chocolat were flaky, buttery and huge. I could pull off the top few layers and then get to the goodness of the chocolate below. The currant scones were delicious but a bit overpriced, but heck, it was our vacation! I couldn't justify buying these on a regular basis though.
We also went to Taos and had a wonderful meal at Orlando's. I hadn't had chile rellenos yet, and was delighted to get just one to sample it. It was fine, but I wouldn't order it again - not likely because of the restaurant but due to my own preferences. The Los Colores combination was fantastic and I liked each of the sauces. The hit this time was my companion's - who had the best nachos I have ever had. I would order anything at Orlando's that had the beef in it. It was well seasoned, tender, moist and just incredibly tasty. We also bought a couple of the biscochitos to take home. These had a great combination of cinnamon and anise - I could have a dozen of them! Service was friendly, very attentive and I would come back here anytime.
So ... my thanks to those who have taken the time to provide recommendations on chowhound. We had a week of wonderful meals with a number of places we would go back to and many more we would like to try. Santa Fe and New Mexico in general have so much to offer with landscape, history and culture that I know there will be a return visit - and many more delicious meals to sample. Thanks again!