Remember all the foodie buzz Santa Fe generated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when creative southwestern cuisine was the Next Big Thing? Well, things have finally simmered down, which means that Santa Fe's chefs are now able to break out of lockstep and branch out in new directions. The adobe precincts around the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe may look quaintly historic, but its dining scene is anything but stuck in the past.
Among the most romantic spots in town is adobe-arched, tin-ceilinged Trattoria Nostrani (304 Johnson St.; tel. 505/983-3800; www.trattorianostrani.com), where Nelli Maltezos and Eric Stapelman honor northern Italian culinary traditions with specialties such as pumpkin ravioli, roasted quail with sweet Italian sausage and soft polenta, or a grilled rack of lamb with potatoes and artichokes and a black truffle reduction.
At Anasazi Restaurant (113 Washington Ave.; tel. 505/988-3236; www.innoftheanasazi.com), the pueblo-esque contemporary wood-floored dining room of downtown's renowned Inn of the Anasazi, chef Oliver Ridgeway focuses on seasonal ingredients, coming up with imaginative combinations such as Hawaiian tuna with a wasabi-nut crust, or veal medallions glazed in mole sauce with asparagus, morels, and elephant garlic. Local sourcing is a passion for chef Brian Knox, at Aqua Santa (51 W. Alameda St.; tel. 505/982-6297). Working out of an open kitchen in this tiny, sought-after spot, the gregarious Knox changes his menu continually, bringing out the deepest flavors in dishes like Tuscan bean soup with white-truffle oil, or a slow-braised lamb ragout flavored with hazelnuts and pecorino.
A little farther southeast of the Plaza, the restored Borrego House, a low-slung ranch house built in 1756, is the setting for elegant Geronimo (724 Canyon Rd.; tel. 505/982-1500; www.geronimorestaurant.com), which still defines the casual sophistication of Santa Fe-style cuisine at its height. The menu here puts a southwestern spin on dishes like grilled mahimahi pineapple salad, the peppery elk tenderloin, or mesquite-grilled lobster tails.
At jovial Café Pasqual's (121 Don Gaspar Ave.; tel. 505/983-9340; www.pasquals.com), diners tuck into dishes like grilled chipotle prawn tostadas, Thai green curry, or grilled lamb chop with pomegranate molasses, all made with organic ingredients. Colorful folkloric Mexican murals set the festive mood; there's a communal table for those who'd like to meet new people over a meal. Run by the same family since 1953, the Shed (113½ E. Palace Ave.; tel. 505/982-9030; www.sfshed.com) occupies nine tiny rooms around a vine-shaded courtyard; it's famous for its spicy chilies, locally grown exclusively for the Shed. Sample the heat in dishes like chili verde con papas, green chili chicken corn chowder, or the red chili enchilada plate topped with a fried egg.
And when you've had your fill of high-end dining rooms, hike over to Guadalupe Street to the roadside stand Bert's Burger Bowl (235 N. Guadalupe St.; tel. 505/982-0215), in business since 1954. Bert's lays claim to having invented the green chili cheeseburger; they serve a powerfully meaty slab of burger, topped with all the right fresh fixings and delicately golden onion rings on the side. Bert's also does a pretty good job with Santa Fe's other beloved road food, the Fritos pie: a mound of chili with cheese, sour cream, and jalapeños, loaded on top of a bagful of Fritos corn chips.
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