Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of our favorite cities in the United States, and we’ve visited it many times. In our pre-RVing life, it was one of our favorite getaways for a long weekend, and we were also there in the RV a few years ago. But this time, we spent eight full days in “The City Different” on our way to Kansas to pick up our new RV. Over the last year, we helped plan an Escapees Hangout in Santa Fe (coming up in a couple of weeks), so this was our chance to enjoy some of that event’s activities ourselves. We packed a lot into our time in Santa Fe, so I’m splitting it into three posts: Part 1, on the restaurants we visited on our own; Part 2, on two food tours we took; and Part 3, on other tours we took and the museums we visited.
Santa Fe is a foodie heaven–especially (but not exclusively) if you like New Mexican cuisine as I do. We pretty much ate our way through the city and barely scratched the surface of the gastronomic experiences it has to offer.
I began my food journey by doing something I’d never had the chance to do before: take a class at a cooking school. At the Santa Fe School of Cooking, an internationally acclaimed recreational culinary school, I participated in a 3-hour “More Tamales” hands-on class.
Our first step was learning to make masa dough. We prepared two different kinds: a traditional dough made with masa harina, and a sweeter dough with pumpkin puree added to the masa harina. Chef Allen Smith, our instructor, taught us how to tell if the fat-to-flour proportions are correct by dropping a pinch of dough into a glass of water–if the dough ball sinks, the dough needs to be lightened by whipping in some more fat.
We then prepared the fillings and sauces for four different tamales: some traditional Green Chile Chicken Tamales, Green Tamales with Poblano Crema (filled with a mixture of roasted green chiles, grilled onion, sauteed chayote squash, and cilantro), Duck Confit Tamales with Chipotle Cherry BBQ Sauce, and Pumpkin Tamales filled with roasted butternut squash and goat cheese.
With all the components prepared, it was finally time to assemble and steam the tamales! Chef Allen showed us how to make the tamales by pressing some of the masa dough into a corn husk, wrapping the dough around the filling, and folding and/or tying off the ends. It was definitely easier after a little practice!
While the tamales steamed, we enjoyed drinks and biscochitos, buttery shortbread cookies flavored with anise, orange, and cinnamon. Believe it or not, biscochitos are New Mexico’s official State Cookie.
About 30 minutes later, we feasted on all the tamales we’d made. There were enough for everyone to sample plus lots of leftovers to take home.
The next day, between a walking tour of downtown Santa Fe and a visit to the New Mexico History Museum, we had a delicious lunch at the Plaza Cafe, which has been open since 1905–making it Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant–and owned by the same family for the last 75 years.
We started by sharing their famous blue corn & piñon nut pancake with orange butter and cinnamon syrup (fantastic!), and after that nice light “appetizer”, Cheryl had a sopaipilla stuffed with calabacitas (sauteed zucchini, corn and peppers), chile and cheese, while I chowed down on blue corn enchiladas, stacked flat and filled with cheese and ground beef and smothered in red and green chile, “Christmas style”, with a sopaipilla on the side.
After we worked up an appetite the next day exploring Meow Wolf, we had breakfast for lunch at The Pantry, a Santa Fe diner that’s been around since 1948. The Pantry has a few Santa Fe locations, but this was the original “O.G.” location on Cerillos Road.
Serving breakfast all day, The Pantry uses more than 300,000 eggs, more than 26 tons of potatoes, and more than 7 tons of green chile each year! We were craving sweets this time, though, so we both went for their Stuffed French Toast, filled with cream cheese, blueberries, and strawberries, coated with cornflakes and served with a warm mixed berry compote. A nice light, low-carb meal it was not, but oh so good!
After spending the afternoon at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, we walked to the Santa Fe Railyard District for dinner at Second Street Brewery.
As the weather had finally begun to warm up after a very cold start to the week, we sat on their patio with a view out into the heart of the Railyard.
Here, I feasted on The Original Alien Burger (an Angus patty topped with an organic blue corn-dusted relleno, chile-jack cheese, smoked bacon, Second Street Stout queso, Hatch green chile, crispy fried onions, guacamole, and chipotle mayo on a brioche bun), served with Cajun tater tots and washed down with a lingonberry hard seltzer. That burger had a lot going on, but it was awesome!
The warmer weather didn’t last long, though, and we woke up the following morning to a couple inches of snow on the ground. Santa Fe sits at more than 7,200 feet above sea level, so snow in late April and even May isn’t uncommon.
We were supposed to take a walking food tour of the Railyard District with Wander New Mexico that afternoon, but with snow and cold temperatures in the forecast for much of the day we opted to switch to a different tour the next day instead. But Lauren, the managing director and tour guide at Wander New Mexico, shared with us some of her favorite spots in the Railyard, which we visited on our own.
One of these (which was on our “to-taste” list already) was La Choza Restaurant, located in an old adobe building on the edge of what is now the Railyard District. La Choza (a sister restaurant to The Shed on East Palace Avenue, where we’d dined on a previous trip) is famous for their award-winning chile. Note that “chile” and “chili” are two different things: “chili”, like in Texas, is meat-based, while “chile” in New Mexico is a rich sauce made from either dried red chiles or fresh roasted green chiles). I had a combination plate with a chile relleno (green chile stuffed with cheese) and a cheese enchilada, again served “Christmas style” with both red and green chile sauces. It was so good that I forgot to take a photo!
Also in the Railyard District, we visited La Lecheria, a craft ice cream shop where the frozen dessert is hecho con amor–made with love.
Cheryl had a scoop of rich Mexican chocolate ice cream (of course!) with a hint of cinnamon and chile, while I tried a combination that Lauren had suggested: chocolate sea salt and green chile ice creams, served together in a cup. The two flavors complemented each other nicely!
We enjoyed our meal earlier in the week at The O.G. Pantry so much that on Saturday, we decided to have brunch at another location, The Pantry Rio, downtown on the Santa Fe River. Inexplicably, I still had not tried what is arguably Santa Fe’s most well-known New Mexican breakfast dish, the breakfast burrito, so that’s what I ordered. Many restaurants offer their breakfast burritos either sauced on a platter or hand-held without sauce so you can eat it on the run. I went the traditional route, with an enormous flour tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs and chorizo and smothered with red chile. Cheryl had a simpler version filled with eggs, cheese and vegetables, without the chile.
Late that afternoon, after our guided food tour around Santa Fe’s Historic Plaza (more on that in our next post), we ended up at Kakawa Chocolate House.
Kakawa is a specialty craft chocolate company whose chocolatiers draw on chocolate’s long history, from original Mesoamerican recipes (kakawa is an Olmec word meaning cacao or chocolate) to European-style truffles to exciting and unusual contemporary flavors like their signature Goat Cheese & Sage truffle.
I sampled one of their historic drinking chocolate elixirs, a blend of bitter chocolate and chile, but we finally settled on sharing an incredible chocolate brownie sundae–all homemade, of course.
Just in case you weren’t keeping track–yes, that was breakfast burritos for brunch, a four-tasting food tour in the afternoon, and a chocolate brownie sundae for dinner–all in the same day. Don’t judge us! 😜
Next up: two tours–one on foot and the other by bike–through the history and cuisine of Santa Fe.