Dining in Santa Fe

Here’s the second installment of our triumphs and travails of dining in Santa Fe from our Christmas trip.

Christmas Eve on Canyon Road.

There won’t be a lot (or any) foodie photos here, but I will sprinkle a few festive pictures from our holiday trip throughout.    I like to enjoy the company of my husband and I usually don’t snap a pic of other people’s cuisine.   But, I do take a lot of mental notes.     I have listed these dining establishments in order of our visits.   Let’s start with dinner upon our arrival to Santa Fe.

Ore House on Milagra (139 West San Francisco Street)
Wow…we were road weary, tired, and needed drink and sustenance.  This was not the place to go.  The hostess was awesome and worked a lot more than our waiter.  Our waiter kept disappearing for long lengths of time.   Hubby’s food was the wrong order—had to send it back.   Mine tasted “off.”   We both agreed the ambiance and atmosphere of the place was fine, even great, but found it over priced and definitely not worth the money.    Our advice:  go elsewhere when you’re in this foodie city.    (You know, I don’t even remember what we had—sad, isn’t it?)

Tune-Up Cafe
Although we seek out “off the beaten path”  places, we were glad that Yelp led us to Tune Up after a morning at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.   It is a small and crowded diner  so you might have to wait (or share a table)  but the food is fantastic and the staff is wonderful.   Definitely worth the trek off the Plaza!    I had the Organic Ginger Chicken Sandwich (which had some luscious basil aioli in it) and hubby had the Cubano, their take on the Cuban sandwich.  He stated that his was definitely better than mine.    On the way out we bought a couple of cookies for are walk back to our vehicle at the FM.   I had the most sublime peanut butter sandwich cookie (sandwiched with nutella).   I am going to try to replicate that!   (Stay tuned for an espresso brownie recipe from this cafe.)

Loved this place!

El Meson
After wandering through Canyon Road and the crowds of people on Christmas Eve, we decided to go look at the lights on the plaza again and try to find a place to eat.   It was sooooo much quieter there as we strolled and gazed at the lights.    We decided to explore off the plaza a bit and came across El Meson.   We were so glad we did.   It was about 8:00 and we were prepared to wait.   After all, it was Christmas Eve.    The hostess said she had one table left in the bar.   We nabbed it.    As we were seated, the party next to us that was just leaving raved and raved about the service.   They were not incorrect.   The tapas were perfect for a leisurely holiday eve and a jazz trio began playing around 8:45.  More perfection!   They even played “Christmas Time is Here,” one of our Charlie Brown holiday favorites.   We supped on all the specials that evening and every single one was awesome.      I have to do my best here to describe these dishes:

  • Padron Peppers sauteed with olive oil, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and served with garlic chips:   According to our waiter, true Padron Peppers must come from a certain region of Spain, “Just like champagne is to France.”   He said they were lucky to get these in.    He warned us that we would be playing roulette with these peppers and some would be extremely mild and some would be hot.   He was also not incorrect; however, even the hottest ones were still delicious.
  • Chickpea stew with chicken, beef, and chorizo:  Yes,  this had a Spanish name but we don’t remember it.   We do remember it being delicious and hubby used all the bread to sop up the broth.
  • Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese and Charcuterie:   Actually, the waiter said this salad came with an aged pork loin.   Well, you know what I was thinking, right?   A couple of slices of nice juicy pork loin on the side or having the salad piled on top.   No, this was cured pork loin—Lomo Iberico de Bellota.   The thin slices of this sausage along with a piece of goat cheese and arugula—-it was heaven on a fork.
  • Sangria:  This wasn’t a special but it was a delicious way to wash this all down!

The Burrito Co. Cafe  (111 Washington Ave)
We walked by here late on Christmas Eve and noticed the sign in the window:   “Will be open Christmas Day.”   We made a mental note.   It was crowded when we arrived for a late lunch.   The staff worked flawlessly to get the food out and I got the impression that this rush was nothing out of the ordinary for them.   The food was good, priced accordingly, and we did not have to wait on a table.   I would, however, charge you to make sure that you listen for your number when it is called.    They seemed to be a bit like the burrito nazis in that area.    We left with some pretty good Mexican hot chocolate too.

The Compound
I was the most excited about this establishment.  I had made reservations here for Christmas night dinner about three weeks prior.    I hate it when I hype stuff up in my head!

The service was exquisite, everyone from the coat check to the bartender to the maître d to our waitress.   But, OMG, the table next to us was sooo annoying.   It was a mother and son who apparently had not spoken to each other since they had gone out last Christmas for dinner.   There was a LOT of talk that needed to be said.    It was not hateful, just trivial small talk and LOUD.   (It was actually a little sad.)    I thought they would never leave.    It was so much quieter in our part of the restaurant after they left and I think the three other tables concurred.

We started with a the Caramelized Pear Salad (Maytag blue cheese, arugula and toasted farm bread with unfiltered cider dressing) and the Fall Salad (Roasted squash, parsnips, fennel and spiced pecans with a smoked bacon vinaigrette).

The were absolutely delicious.   Excellent choices.

For dinner we had Cider Brined Pork Loin and “Crispy Smoked Ham Shank” with cabbage, apple and grain mustard.   The Crispy Smoked Ham Shank was pretty odd.   It was more like a hamloaf fritter.   It actually took us a while to figure out “What the heck?”   We also ordered the Osso Bucco with Porcini and Romano Cheese Polenta with Escarole and Veal Jus.    This was perfectly OK.    That was where we were disappointed.   Just OK.   We were paying a lot more for just OK.

I would put this on our “been there, done that” list—glad we went, but probably will not revisit here.   This is definitely at the top of the price range in Santa Fe.

Coyote Cafe
In 1989, a couple of girl friends and I traveled to Santa Fe for a girls’ weekend.   We went to the fairly new Coyote Cafe.   (If I remember right, Miller had just published his cookbook.)   What I remember is a laid back, very casual Mexican restaurant.   I remember having the best passion fruit tea and we went to the gift shop to buy mugs, chili posters, T-shirts and that great tea.

Gone are those days and perhaps for the better.

Neither of us were prepared for the fine dining experience we had.   (Hubby had seen my coffee mug and assumed it was an uber casual place as well.)   Even though this restaurant is on everyone’s radar, there is a reason for that.   We had a great dinner.    (Again, we walked in with no reservations and still got a pretty good table.)

We started with an Atomic Horseradish Salad (Radishes with a horseradish Parmesan sauce) and Roasted Beet and Chicory Salad.   I did not see that it was accompanied by house made marshmallows, so when it came out, I told hubby, “Look how nicely they toasted that goat cheese.”   Imagine my surprise.   It was surprising good with the sweet beets.

I opted for the vegetarian tasting menu which included the beet salad,  New Mexico Corn Soup with Truffles and Chives (soooo aromatic) and for the entree, Sherry Infused Italian Brown Mushroom Strudel.    It was accompanied by spring onions that were dipped in tempura and fried, a great idea that I am going to use this spring.    I loved this meal (and it was about half price when compared to The Compound.)

Harry’s Roadhouse
This was also on my list of places to go.   I had heard really good things about this casual restaurant so we sought it out for lunch on our last full day in Santa Fe.   (As we left town the next day, we noticed that we had driven right by it on our way into town.  It will be first on our list next time on our way in.)  It was packed!   But, again lucky, I nabbed the last two seats at the bar where it was open seating.   The bartender was a little somber until he realized we were ordering beers too.   We both had the specials.   I apparently was on a vegetarian kick so I ordered a stuffed acorn squash with brown rice, black bean chili, red sauce, and cojita.    Hubby ordered the chicken enchiladas with mole.    We will be back!

It was packed.

Tabla de Los Santos
As we were walking about the Plaza one evening, we walked by Tabla in the Hotel St. Francis.  What caught my eye was the tag on the window stating it was a “Farm to Table” restaurant.   We decided to dine here on our last night in Santa Fe.   Again, I was super excited.    I had made reservations (finally) for 7:30 and when we walked in there were only two other tables of diners.   We were told we could sit anywhere we wanted.   We chose unwisely.   Our waiter, again unfortunately, set the tone for the dinner.   As soon as we were seated, we ordered from the drink menu.  I have to say, these were some of the best cocktails we had in Santa Fe.   I ordered the Smoked Sage Margarita and hubby ordered the “Kickin’ in Dixon” cocktail (in honor of all the produce farmers in Dixon, NM).  Both were great.   We really wanted to order another, but our waiter became fixated on a very demanding family dining at the next table.   I could go on and on about the antics of the father of this bunch, but in the sake of trying to turn over a new leaf for 2012, I will refrain.   Needless to say, I had to run our waiter down when we decided we wanted to order a salad and hubby  had to run him down again after we had asked for the wine list twice.

But, luckily, the food was delicious.   We started with the red cabbage salad.  This was fabulous.  Served warm, this salad featured a Gorgonzola dressing.   I highly recommend it!

Then, I went for the Plato Nativo de San Francisco de Assis, a sopapilla filled with beans, plus a wonderful enchilada and tamale.    My hubby is a chile relleno aficionado and most do not hold up to his high standard.   This one was roasted (not fried) and was filled with rice, locally grown spinach and goat cheese.   He said it was OK.   I thought it was really good.

For dessert, we went with the Pastelle de Tres Leches and the Chocolate Almond Torte (which was more almond than chocolate).

If the service had been good, I would rate this five stars.   But, to play devil’s advocate, the entire dining room only had two wait staff who served as hostess, waiter, and busboy.   Throw in a demanding family and you have a disaster in the making.


We were talking today about our dining experiences.   Hubby would eat every meal at Tune-Up if I let him on our next visit.  I have never been to The Shed so that is on my list for next time.   We also decided that we would ask the very congenial staff at the Inn on Alameda for local recommendations upon our next visit.   We like diners and dives and we really didn’t explore that part of Santa Fe cuisine.

Giant icicle on Canyon Road.

Here’s to good dining in 2012!   Hope you had a great New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day!

What’s on tap for tomorrow?  Find out where to drink brews in Santa Fe (pun intended).   Please subscribe below to keep updated on our Santa Fe antics.


Stay tuned for more Santa Fe tidbits.

5 comments to Dining in Santa Fe

  • Yes, sometimes there are real treasures off the beaten path. When I travel, it is great to know someone that lives there that way you are not just hitting all the tourist places. Your pictures and descriptions do tell me that you had some great dining experiences. Great post.

  • Ann

    it sounds like you went to some cool places – and off the beaten path can yield some treasures ! I’m with Tina – it’s great to know someone who lives there so you can hit the good spots! Thanks for sharing and happy new year!

  • How fun, thanks for sharing, makes me want to go to Sante Fe! Love your descriptions!

  • Isn’t it amazing how service and the, um, atmosphere around you makes a difference in dining. Sure great food speaks for itself, but if you have a sub-par dining experience would you want to go back? I’m making note of everything just in case I ever find myself in Santa Fe.

  • […] the daily special, the Cuban panini.     (He deemed this better than his Cubano sandwich at the Tune Up Cafe in Santa Fe.    That is a tall Texan compliment because he loved this […]