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Jan 16, 2012 05:58 PM

Looking for food and drink in Santa Fe

My wife and I are headed to Santa Fe for five nights to celebrate an anniversary. I’ve been cruising the boards here, I’ve come up with a few things, and I guess I’m looking for validation and a little help. A few things first: We’ll eat just about anything, and we’re not obsessed with finding the absolutely very best meal out there. We’re never pleased if the restaurant is too precious or impressed with itself. A relaxed atmosphere, great service and a good drink are as important as a good meal. We plan to do quite a bit of hiking in the area and we’ll probably be too tired for a fussy meal at the end of a day or two.

So there. Based on recommendations on the board, we’ve booked the Compound for our big meal. I’ve also booked Il Piatto for the last night and we’re committed to hitting Bobcat Bite. We looked at the menu for Max’s because y’all raved about it, but it didn’t grab us. Vinaigrette is out there because I know we can’t eat green chile for every meal. La Boca also sounds interesting. Other than that, we’re flexible. Here’s what else we’re looking for.

-- A good breakfast.

-- New Mexican. La Choza seems to be a consensus pick. Any others? We’re wide open on this because I know almost nothing about New Mexican food. Also, we like spicy.

-- Someplace that’s both good for eating and good for drinking, and in the area of the Plaza, where we’re staying. I’d also like to find someplace that has a wide selection of tequilas, sort of like the Old Seelbach or Brown Hotel in Louisville, that have 60-plus bourbons. And is there any good local beer in Santa Fe?

-- A good lunch restaurant in Los Alamos.

Thanks all. We’re very much looking forward to this trip.

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  1. Your picks are solid. Only one note- I have heard so many terrible things about the service at Vinaigrette. I can't in good conscience tell you not to go, though, since I haven't actually been myself. For an alternative non-New Mexican dinner, consider the Tune-Up Cafe. The food is always solid and sometimes excellent, the atmosphere is as you describe above, and the service is good. I'm surprised to not see it recommended more often on this board.

    For a wide selection of tequilas (and New Mexican food in the passable-very good range, and relaxed atmosphere), try Maria's on West Cordova. Just take care while drinking at this elevation, if you're not used to it!

    I have had wonderful breakfasts at Cafe Pasqual.

    For local beer, and very decent brewpub food, go to 2nd Street Brewery. If you plan to do the Farmers Market (Sat) or Artisans Market (Sun), it's super convenient to immediately follow with a lunch at their Railyard location.

    Enjoy your visit!

    2 Replies
    1. re: BreadandCheesePlease

      I hear you about Vinegrette but the food is really good so what I do is I always eat at the counter which is very lovely. There is always someone behind it making drinks so you get great service.

      1. re: BreadandCheesePlease

        Agreed on 2nd Street Brewery - I'm not even a big beer gal but I can find stuff that is delicious and the folks are friendly. Even the menu is well-done and better-than-your-average-pub.

      2. Here are some ideas:

        --Breakfast - Santa Fe is one of the great breakfast towns in the country. The options are endless (Plaza Cafe Southside, Pantry, Tecolote, Guadalupe Cafe, Atrisco, Harry's, Horseman's Haven, Tesuque Village Market), but given your downtown location I would recommend Tia Sophia's. It's not one of our first choices but it can be pretty good and the atmosphere is quintessential New Mexico. Note that New Mexican and breakfast are not mutually exclusive - we like our chile for breakfast.

        --New Mexican - I think La Choza is a good choice for a New Mexican dinner. You could also kill two birds with one stone and have dinner at Maria's - the food isn't as consistently good as La Choza (tortilla burger and carne adovada are highly recommended) but the tequila selection is unbelievable. Only problem is that it's not downtown so you'll have to drive home afterwards.

        --Good for both eating and drinking around the plaza - since you mentioned beer I'm going to point you toward the Marble Brewery tap room. It's the best local beer in Santa Fe by a wide margin, they have one of only two balconies overlooking the plaza, and the pizza (from neighboring Rooftop Pizza) can be pretty decent.

        --Los Alamos - you're on your own.

        Other comments - by all means make it to Bobcat Bite - there's literally no place like it. I have mixed feelings about the Compound - if I were planning a special dinner in Santa Fe I would probably think about Terra at the Encantado resort north of town before the Compound, but personal preferences play a big part in those decisions. La Boca serves up some of the best food in town in a cramped, uncomfortable atmosphere reminiscent of NYC dining. And unless your hometown has very limited Italian options I would think twice about eating in an Italian restaurant in Santa Fe (with the possible exception of Trattoria Nostrani).

        Enjoy your visit!

        1 Reply
        1. re: rcurtism

          Thanks all. Good information. I'll let you know how we do.

        2. We visit Santa Fe as often as we can. Always stay at La Fonda on the Plaza. Favorite place for breakfast is Tia Sophia's, and we always go to The Shed for our first night there. Bobcat Bite is fantastic - best for lunch because it closes fairly early in the evening. Cafe Pasqual is good for dinner too.

          1. Here’s where we ate in Santa Fe:

            -- Burgers at Bobcat Bite.
            -- Drinks at the Ore House and also the Marble Brewery.
            -- Dinner at La Choza.
            -- Margaritas at Maria’s (twice).
            -- Dinner at the Compound.
            -- A late, light lunch at La Boca.
            -- Dinner at Cafe Pasqual’s
            -- Breakfast at Chocolate Maven.
            -- Dinner at Il Piatto.

            We stayed at Inn of the Governors, which has a pretty good breakfast buffet, so we ate breakfast there most mornings.

            My favorite things for the trip were the margaritas as Maria’s, the grilled squid at Il Piatto, the green chile cheeseburger at Bobcat Bite and the beef tartare appetizer and lemon ricotta fritter dessert at the Compound. Best overall meal was the Compound (outstanding all around). Had the posole, sopapillas and chile relenos at La Choza; I know nothing about New Mexican food but it was great and I’d definitely go back. La Boca was great for lunch, but I could see where it could be a little hectic at dinner because the restaurant was so small and tight. Il Piatto was the best combination of good food and value. The food was great at Chocolate Maven, and I liked that the big windows in the dining room let you watch the action in the bakery. Had a beer at the Marble Brewery; the coffee-infused milk stout was stellar, best milk stout ever, and I wish I could've brought some home. Lastly, I have to put in a good word for Angelo, the bartender at the Ore House, who gave me a pretty good education in tequila.

            Biggest disappointment was Cafe Pasqual’s. We hadn’t planned to go; after checking the menu online the prices seemed excessive, but we talked to several people who raved about it so we went. My initial impression was correct. The food was fine. I had two chicken enchiladas in mole, and they were very good. But $29? Two entrees, a beer, a glass of wine and the tip came to $100. The service was efficient but cool. It’s every bit as expensive as the Compound but not nearly the same experience; I would prefer the Compound any day. Cafe Pasqual's is the one place we went that I wouldn’t return to. By comparison, Il Piatto’s entrees were a third less expensive, and I enjoyed the meal much more.

            Overall we loved Santa Fe. I keep dreaming about the margaritas at Maria's so we'll be back someday.

            3 Replies
            1. re: johnbycz

              Thanks for the follow up report. Interesting comments re Cafe Pasqual's - we moved here 2 1/2 years ago and have eaten there exactly once, a perfectly acceptable breakfast that cost nearly $50 for two people. It was one of our regular stops when we visited Santa Fe as tourists prior to moving here, but it seems like the prices have crept up over the years to the point where there is a major disconnect between the cost and the overall quality of the experience.

              Sounds like you enjoyed the rest of your visit. Come back soon!

              1. re: rcurtism

                I would recommend Chocolate Maven for breakfast. Interesting location, tucked into an industrial building. It's a different world when you enter, and it's plenty crowded so people have no trouble finding it. Interesting menu and everything was made with great care. The friends we went with are regulars, and I can see why they go back.

                Chocolate Maven Bakery & Cafe
                821 W San Mateo Rd Ste C, Santa Fe, NM 87505

              2. re: johnbycz

                Too bad about Cafe Pasqual's. I never really paid attention to the prices, but it looks like I should have! But it's fine since there are plenty of other good cheaper restaurants in the area to try. We definitely will have to try The Compound the next time we're there - it sounds really good. Makes me wish I were there now...