Capitol April 1999

Linda Burton posting from Santa Fe, New Mexico – I’m in Santa Fe now, my break is over and I’m back on Capital City duty again. I’ll be hard at work exploring this fascinating capital city for the next two weeks. And tasting the tasty cuisine that I’ve read so much about. My plan today was Sunday brunch. According to the internet, Tecolote offered the “best breakfast in town” and it was just down the street from me; after that I would check out the beautiful pink adobe state capitol. I failed to write the Tecolote address on a post-it note; the GPS will know the name, I thought. It did not; alas, I never found it. Onwards toward the capitol; one-way streets round the Plaza; the Sunday leisure crowd. Restaurants everywhere. Parking not. Curving roads. Right-turn only lanes that caught me unaware.

Capitol October 2012

Crosseyed and addlebrained and getting nowhere fast, I finally spotted a sign pointing to the Visitor Center. Ahh. Maps! Brochures! Directions! The capitol was just across the street, I was advised. I crossed, but the beautiful pink adobe I remembered from my visit in 1999 was nowhere to be seen. I remembered the sidewalks and the trees planted between; OMG they’ve grown! Bushy and still in full leaf, they obliterated any street view of the building. Planters have been added; more greenery in the way. And where’s the statue of Earth Mother? I found her over to the left, backed by a mass of trees; not only moved but replaced. The final surprise: the capitol is closed on Sundays.

Good grief! I’m starving now; I gave it up to find the restaurant recommended by my hotel; Mexican, with a distinctive flair; and near my room. At last I’m there; For Lease said the sign out front. Open, said the sign at Long John Silvers, just next door. Day One in Santa Fe: hushpuppies! Back in my room, Visitor Guide in hand, I make up tomorrow’s plan.

Red or green? “Where you choose to give in to the charms of New Mexico’s prized chiles doesn’t matter,” I read in the 2012 Santa Fe Visitor Guide. “New-Mex restaurants abound, and the chile’s good at all of them.” They mention some local favs: Tomasita’s, at the Railyard, and La Choza, just off the tracks. Tia Sophia’s is where Giada De Laurentis from the Food Network got her chili fix; The Shed, just off the Plaza, has a sublime red chile; the fiery green sauce at the southside Horseman’s Haven is a must. Lots of local lingo there; map study will be next. (I must have chili on Halloween – I used to make it for my kids to eat when they’d come home sugared up from Trick or Treat.)

The passion for good food in Santa Fe stems from its rich culinary history, dating back centuries with the coming together of two major cultures: Native American and Mexican. Though many restaurants feature the indigenous ingredients of corn, chiles, squash and beans, almost every major ethnic cuisine is represented in the city’s restaurants – Chinese, French, Hawaiian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Moroccan, and Thai – in bistros and chophouses; in high-end dining rooms and taco carts. Add to that the mountain vistas and the desert topography with the question: do you want to eat in front of a roaring fire, on outdoors on a sun-filled centuries-old plaza?

There are over 200 restaurants in this Foodie Town of 75,764 people; many options to choose from in a town where international attention is focused on its food. So how to choose? Eat where the locals eat. That’s my theory. I read that Café Pasqual’s has been a hometown favorite for more than 30 years; and that Tecolote Café and The Pantry are family favorites. For upscale dining the Santa Fe Visitor Guide mentions Geronimo (soft leather banquettes and eclectic menu), Coyote Café (garners nationwide attention), Restaurant Martin (Chef Martin Rios is inspired), Palace Restaurant and Saloon (newly revamped touch of Italian), and The Compound (Chef Mark Kiffin won a James Beard Award for best chef in the Southwest in 2006.) Fancy places; dress up-date! El Farol, El Meson, and La Boca are hotspots for tapas, if it’s the little plates you want to try.

There’s the variety of Pranzo Italian Grill, Jambo Café’s Caribbean, New York Deli, Harry’s Roadhouse for comfort food. There’s the Bull Ring for steaks, India Palace, Mu Du Noodles, and finally, for singing and dancing the night away, Vanessie Santa Fe, a four-star continental restaurant with live performances, magnificent fireplaces, exciting art, and sensational acoustics. And don’t forget the barbecue: The Cowgirl, The Ranch House, The Whole Hog.

Deliciously Different, the promos for Santa Fe claim. I grew up on hushpuppies and fish. I’m about to expand my repertoire, for sure. And I’m going to find that State Capitol too.