New Mexico United States

On the Santa Fe Trail: Things to Do and our Top 10 Restaurants


This past weekend we returned, for the first time in a few years, to one of our favorite spots: Santa Fe, NM.  While hopping and fun and full of festivals and rooftop bars in the summertime, late fall or winter is even better if you’re looking for a sleepier getaway.  The high altitude winter air is crisp with the smell of pinon burning in fireplaces all around town.

The state capitol of New Mexico, Santa Fe is popular for its art galleries (according to the Santa Fe Gallery Association there are more than 200), Georgia O’Keefe museum, Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Loretto Chapel, shopping and tasty New Mexican food.  Our favorite things to do are to visit (and occasionally purchase from) the galleries of Canyon Road and hike up to the top of Palace Road near St. John’s College to the trails nearby.

Its easy to understand why so many artists flock to and are inspired here as you drive to Santa Fe (which, if you’ve not been is not near much else) across beautiful high desert vistas on I-25 or our preferred route when winter storms aren’t leaving the roads icy, I-285.

When we were there last, as parts of the U.S. were starting to pull out of recession, it still seemed like Santa Fe was deep in its clutch.  Without any scientific study of the market, there seemed like there sure were a lot of houses for sale and we wondered if perhaps this was driven by the number of people (famous and not) who have second homes there (again, no market study used to confirm or deny our hunches).  This time, Santa Fe seemed “back”.

Santa Fe translates to “holy faith” and was founded in 1610 and as such is the oldest state capital in the United States.  At 7,199 feet it is also the highest.  So – drink your water while you’re there.  Of course, before the Spanish built the city, there were many indigenous people living around the area.  Native arts and crafts are still aplenty in shops and galleries or along the Plaza marketplace.  If you dig turquoise and silver, this is your place.

Our most favorite thing however, is the food.  These are our favorite restaurants and with due respect, we are likely just scratching the surface:

  1. Café Pasquale.  Probably my favorite breakfast spot, anywhere ever (save for Sneakers in Winooski VT).  Everything is good.  Expect a line.  If you’re by yourself, grab a chair at the large center communal table and meet some new friends.  Try the Huevos Montelenos.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our waiter turned us on to this dish about six years ago and until this time (when we went for breakfast two days in a row) it was the only thing I ever ordered.  Don’t be dissuaded by what sounds like an odd combo of eggs, tortillas, green and red chile, banana and peas.  Its delicious.  Pasquale is moderately priced (inexpensively so, for Santa Fe) and serves dinner as well.  Though we’ve only been for breakfast/brunch.
  2. Palacio Café.  Good, inexpensive eats.  This is a locals joint just steps from the Plaza up Palace.  img_3490We tried the Huevos and the smothered veggie burrito.  The coffee was great too.  Open for breakfast and lunch.
  3. Coyotes Cantina.  Open when warm (I assume not in the winter).  This is an awesome rooftop bar/restaurant.  The margaritas in Santa Fe aren’t the syrupy sweet mixes you get elsewhere.  More fresh lime juice and tequila though I doubt that sparing on the calories.
  4. The Shed.  Traditional New Mexican.  Crazy good and crazy busy.  Expect a long wait regardless of time of year.  The bar is bustling too.  Open since 1953, this place has all sorts of little nook and cranny rooms and a patio in the warm weather.
  5. La Casa Sena.  Steps from the Shed and slightly more upscale.  La Casa Sena has great New Mexican food.  We’ve been for lunch and brunch.  It has a great patio in warm weather and a wine shop on Palace too.
  6. La Boca.  Open for lunch and dinner this Spanish tapas style restaurant is fantastic.  Small and cozy, the food is terrific and, like most tapas, is great for sharing.
  7. The bar at Inn of the Anasazi.  One of our favorite bars anywhere.  Its small and so it can be crowded, but when its not it is super cozy.  Just off the plaza in the Inn of the Anasazi hotel.  We love the hotel (not cheap) and bar and have found ourselves going for a margarita and staying through dessert.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  8. Coyote Café.  Coyote Cantina’s upscale indoor option.  This is not a chips and salsa joint and is not cheap.  Good for a splurge and a possible celebrity siting.  Leave them alone though, or you’ll really come off as a tourist.
  9. Geronimo.  These last two are the most expensive on the list.  Both are up Canyon Road and walkable from town but with the advent of UberX you can also get there pretty easily without driving if you don’t want to walk.  We’ve been to Geronimo several times over the past few years.  Its fancier than many places down in town and has mostly non-New Mexican food.  Like most restaurants, we prefer to sit at the bar.  You’ll probably need a reservation.
  10. The Compound.  This was our first time at the Compound together.  Also up Canyon Road, the Compound is also open for lunch if you are perusing galleries and want a snack.  Like Geronimo, its fine dining and not cheap.  We loved it though and the lunch option gives you a chance to sample it without the same expense.


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