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Local Experts: Santa Fe, Stephanie Pearson

By Local Expert Stephanie Pearson

Best New Mexican Restaurants in Santa Fe

For native New Mexicans, there’s a fine line between New Mexican and Mexican cuisine. For Scandinavians, it’s sort of like confusing Norwegian lefsa with Swedish lutefisk—a big mistake. Since I’ve only lived in Santa Fe for 15 years and am not a native, I can probably get away with melding the two categories together below, but for future reference, the general difference between the two distinct styles of cooking is that New Mexican food is a mixture of Spanish, Mediterranean, Native American, Mexican, and cowboy and usually comes smothered in green chile and served with a sopapilla, that flaky, puff-pastry that goes so well with honey. Mexican food, on the other hand, often involves the spice of a jalapeño pepper, the meat is often boiled and shredded, and asadero cheese is a common ingredient. No matter what you call it, the Mexican or New Mexican food in Santa Fe is as authentic as it gets north of the border. But don’t even think of confusing it with Texmex. 

Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen

I admit that I love this funky, 62-year-old institution on Cordova Road the most because of its impossibly long margarita menu, which includes more than 100 selections, made only from “real” tequila, which is derived from a Mexican Weber blue agave plant. The food is excellent, too. I can’t stop ordering the chiles rellenos; the stuffed peppers are surprisingly light for being fried.

The Shed

It’s a tourist magnet, but not in a bad way. Whenever I want a delicious silver coin margarita, and to meet people who aren’t from Santa Fe, I head to the Shed on Palace Avenue and order said margarita and the Chicken Enchilada Verde which, of course, is served with green chile.

Tomasita’s

When politicians come to town for a photo op, they gravitate toward Tomasita’s, a cavernous building just a few steps away from where the New Mexico Rail Runner train drops off tourists from Albuquerque. Specializing in classic northern New Mexican cuisine, Tomasita’s makes delicious chile rellenos served with Hatch green chile and New Mexican pinto beans.

La Choza

For the most authentic New Mexican food, head to La Choza, the more hidden and locally favored sister restaurant to the popular downtown spot The Shed. It’s the place for chicken enchiladas with Christmas chile (red and green together), or red chile posole soup. If you want to get really local, try the chile rellenos—local Hatch green chiles stuffed with cheese and then deep-fried—or the slow burn of La Choza’s carne adovada—pork stewed for hours in red chile pods. Make sure to finish each meal with sopapillas, fluffy fried dough pillows eaten with honey.

El Parasol

There is no better place in the world to fuel a dawn ski odyssey than El Parasol, which has at least three locations on the way to Taos Ski Valley—one on Cerillos Road in Santa Fe, one in the village of Pojoaque, and one in a shack in Española. Their green chile and bacon breakfast burrito is northern New Mexican cuisine at its finest.

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