Foodies + Farmers
Do you care where your food comes from? Do you like to eat local and have your food be grounded in a sense of place? In New Mexico, the Rio Grande river has brought life to our lands for thousands of years, and to the Native and Spanish peoples who’ve farmed these fields for generations. Their produce—green and red chile, piñon, maize, squash, anise, cumin, coriander, garlic, and more—form the foundation of the singular cuisine known as New Mexican food. Different than Mexican, it has long been revered by chefs from across the world. Today, Santa Fe’s food scene is a combination of our farm-to-table history and its fusion with the new flavors that young chefs now bring to the city’s culinary table.
The three sisters—corn, beans and squash—have been the foundation of indigenous cuisine in New Mexico for millennia, sustaining native peoples. Then came the Spaniards, bringing along with them what was to become New Mexico’s other signature food: chile peppers, that they had found as a staple of the diets of indigenous peoples of South and Central America. Specifically, a variety of green chile took to the land here, growing beautifully in our dry, rocky soil.
We’re known around the world for this unique and spicy—and some say addictive—pepper, which gets harvested from the town of Hatch, among other farming communities, and roasted every autumn in metal drums, creating a heavenly smell all around town. You may even smell it as far up as on campus! Green chile forms the basis of so many dishes here, from smothered burritos to green chile cheeseburgers, that it’s sometimes hard to find menu items in Santa Fe that come without it. You’ll sound like a true New Mexican if, in answer to the eternal question, “red or green,” you answer “Christmas!”—our way of saying “half and half.”
For a taste of true New Mexican food, La Choza, The Shed, Café Castro, Maria’s, Tomasita’s, and Tia Sophia’s are some of the best-known standards in town. From honey-drizzled sopaipillas to enchiladas to chile rellenos and tamales and posole, they’ll fill you full of cheese-and-chile-smothered goodness and send you home rapturous.
Food for thought: New Mexican cuisine really isn’t the same as Mexican or “Tex Mex,” as many people assume. Aside from our unique chile, another standout of New Mexican food is blue corn, which was originally developed by the Hopi and Pueblo Indians who live around the Rio Grande. A blue corn enchilada or burrito smothered in green chile is not to be missed.
The Railyard District, with its iconic water tower, plays host to a bustling farmers market twice a week, and locals can’t get enough of the fresh produce, flowers, soaps, and salves on offer from the various purveyors who populate the market.
With fresh-baked breads, ranch-sourced grass-fed meats, eggs, jams, local honey, and—of course—fresh-roasted green chile in season, root vegetables, tomatoes, lettuces, peaches, apples, and more, Santa Feans never have to go without sustainable, locally sourced food. Plus, there’s usually music and other types of entertainment to liven the mood as you shop. Get there early for the best produce.
By the way, our Railyard Market is one of the oldest farmers markets in the country, having been established in the 1960s and growing (forgive the pun) ever since, with more than 150 farmers and producers from all over Northern New Mexico coming to share their wares and promoting sustainable agriculture on a small but robust scale. The market is open Saturdays all year round, with Tuesday and Wednesday hours seasonally.
When you’ve had your fill of traditional New Mexican dishes (assuming that can ever happen), Santa Fe has a lot more to explore in its world-class food scene. The City Different, as we’re known, attracts talent from around the globe as well as local up-and-comers, vying to innovate and create taste sensations that can go toe-to-toe with restaurants in any major city.
When your parents are in town or you’re celebrating submitting your annual essay, a pilgrimage to Geronimo, perhaps the best-known fine dining restaurant in Santa Fe, is in order. Named for Geronimo Lopez, whose historic Canyon Road adobe house the restaurant occupies, Geronimo has earned more accolades than we can recount here. Chef Sllin Cruz keeps the restaurant’s stellar reputation alive with signature dishes such as Tellicherry Rubbed Elk Tenderloin and New Mexico Four Corners Grilled Rack of Lamb, which fuse New Mexican traditions with New American flair.
An exciting newcomer on the Santa Fe scene is Radish and Rye—another great spot for your parents or a special date. Here, farm-inspired, locally sourced meals are dished up by innovative Executive Chef Dru Ruebush. From small plates to share with your friends (think labneh, green goddess dip, fried green tomatoes, and smoked brisket), to hearty entrées of ribeye with duck fat potatoes or pan-fried trout, and of course delectably sweet desserts, this contemporary American restaurant is a fantastic option that leans in to the history, traditions, and tastes of New Mexico. And if you’re 21 and older, their selection of wines and bourbon cocktails are heady additions to your meal.
Fact is, the chefs in Santa Fe aren’t just foodies, they’re deeply rooted in their culture and community. Take Chef Ahmed Obo of Jambo Café, a hearty and authentic Afro-Caribbean restaurant beloved by locals here. In addition to dishing up meals like savory Caribbean goat stew or coconut chicken curry, Ahmed also runs a charity on his home island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, helping children and families there.
Then there’s Chef Roland Richter of the casual-yet-stylish Joe’s Dining, an avid farm-to-table fanatic who’s deeply ingrained in the Santa Fe Farmers Market culture, purchasing a significant proportion of his ingredients from local growers. The restaurant takes comfort food and a diner vibe and gives it a dash of panache, always committed to freshness and sustainability in a relaxed atmosphere that makes you want to stay a while. Park yourself in a booth with your seminar book and slurp a milkshake or enjoy a personal pizza with locally grown roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
For French food, try L’Olivier, run by Chef Xavier Grenet, or head over to the hot brunch spot Clafoutis. When you’re craving ramen, we’ve got a hip joint called Mampuku to hit the spot, or if it’s authentic Chinese dumplings you’ve simply got to have, head on over to Dumpling, Tea and Dim Sum in the Arcade building at the Santa Fe Plaza. For Persian small plates, try Milad on Canyon Road. If it’s got to be Indian, Paper Dosa is our choice, helmed by Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy, who serves up delicious South Indian cuisine off Cordova Road, not far from campus.
But when you’ve really got to have a burger, and we mean BURGER, you want Santa Fe Bite, that offers green chile cheeseburgers that have had New Mexicans’ mouths watering for decades and Food Network stars road-tripping for a taste of these unbeatable belly-busters. A little farther afield, but just as juicy, is the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, a funky former mining village a half hour from Santa Fe on the Turquoise Trail. Grab a Mad Chile Burger and hang with the hippie and biker crowd, or head across the street to The Holler for some savory southern fare with a side of live music to wash it down.
These are just a few of the myriad dining options at your fingertips in Santa Fe, spanning the gamut of world cuisine and local tradition. When you and your friends want to venture off campus for some new flavors, you can have a different culinary adventure practically any night you choose.