By Pamela and Gary Baker
What makes the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, so popular? Rated the #2 City in the US by Travel and Leisure, Santa Fe draws visitors for its well-known cuisine, plentiful art, rich history, boutique shopping, Native American culture, wellness spas, and a multitude of outdoor activities.
As food lovers, we came to explore the culinary scene of this high desert city. Home to more than 200 restaurants, dozens of specialty food shops, and the Santa Fe School of Cooking, it’s easy to find plenty of delicious choices. Prepared to take home jars of hatch chiles, bottles of red and green chile hot sauce, and any other goodies we could fit into our wine suitcase, we were also pleasantly surprised to discover Santa Fe’s famed Margarita Trail and delightful New Mexico wines.
During a delicious, indulgent, and immersive week in this place dubbed “The City Different,” Santa Fe worked its magic on us. We think you’ll love it too. Here are our picks for places to shop, eat, taste, drink, and stay.
The Margarita Trail
The margarita is Santa Fe’s signature cocktail and the Santa Fe Margarita Trail sponsored by the Tourism Santa Fe Visitor Center, is the perfect way to sample some of the 45 best “ritas” in the city. Get your passport stamped directly by one of the participating bars and restaurants to earn t-shirts, prizes, and membership in the local Margarita Society.
No matter where you visit, one of Santa Fe’s award-winning mixologists will pour you something special as each location on the trail proudly boasts its own unique Santa Fe vibe and killer, signature margarita recipe. Each recipe is listed in your passport book and we bought a delightful bottle of tequila to bring home safely in our VinGardeValise® so we could make our own margaritas.
66 E. San Francisco Street, Suite 3
The Agoyo Lounge
The Agoyo Lounge, a great place to start, serves gourmet light fare nightly. Adjacent to the Inn on the Alameda, this warm and comfortable cocktail lounge is inviting during the winter. During warmer weather, its outdoor patio provides a lovely space to sip on margaritas. Order their signature Sunset Trail Margarita, made with fresh grapefruit juice grenadine for a unique twist on this popular tequila drink.
303 East Alameda Street
The Thunderbird Bar and Grill
The Thunderbird Bar and Grill is the only restaurant with a deck that overlooks the Santa Fe Plaza. Outdoor seating provides a perfect place to people watch or listen to music in the summer when live concerts take place in the town’s center. The Paparita, a classic margarita made with Patron Anejo, Grand Marnier, fresh squeezed lime juice, and fresh agave, is their signature drink featured in the Margarita Trail Passport.
50 Lincoln Avenue
Did you know that New Mexico’s wine country is older than California’s? Long before Napa, New Mexico laid claim as the first New World wine country. In 1629, Franciscan monks planted grapevine cuttings smuggled out of Spain in the upper Rio Grande Valley near Santa Fe. Floods at the turn of the 20th century, followed by Prohibition, decimated New Mexico’s wine industry until visionary French winemakers in the 1980’s cultivated vineyards and helped re-establish New Mexico’s wine industry.
Originating from Gilbert Gruet’s champagne house in Burgundy, the Gruet Winery of New Mexico makes award-winning sparkling and still wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In their tasting room off the lobby of the historic St. Francis Hotel in Santa Fe, we tasted five of their sparkling wines. The excellent Sauvage, a non-vintage sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, was our favorite. This bone-dry thriller, with a pale straw color, offers a delicate but persistent mousse. The mineraly aromas and flavors of bright citrus pair nicely with oysters, sushi and, cream sauces.
210 Don Gaspar Avenue
Made from 100% New Mexico grapes, hand-harvested and sorted, pressed and aged in French oak barriques, Vivác Winery has been producing classic European styled wines for over 20 years. Jesse and Michele Padberg, along with Jesse’s brother, Chris, and his wife, Liliana, are making a big name for New Mexico wine. Wine Enthusiast, Sunset Magazine, and USA Today all sing their praises. We visited their Santa Fe tasting room in the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market Pavilion in the Railyard District and loved their “fresh, edgy, and sophisticated” wines.
The 2017 Petit Verdot grown in their 6000-foot high estate 1725 Vineyard (the year this land was granted to the Spanish), was a favorite of ours. With a ripe, dark berry color, herbal notes, and floral undertones on the nose, this wine offers a baked dark berry on the palate with bright acidity and velvety tannin on the finish. These new generation wine producers have shown the world that, yes, New Mexico wines really are good!
1607 Paseo de Peralta at Guadalupe Street
Hervé Wine Bar
Hervé Wine Bar, another Santa Fe based French import from Domaine de Perignon Winery in Burgundy, is a family-run affair in operation since planting grapes in Southern New Mexico in 1981. The wine bar, with its long dramatic entrance, opened in May 2018 in honor of the founding father, Hervé Lescombes. The bar serves an elegant selection of mixed platters and charcuterie boards alongside sips of D.H. Lescombes fine wines. We couldn’t leave without purchasing a crisp, clean, and colorful chenin blanc to carry home in our wine suitcase.
139 W. San Francisco Street
Where to Shop for Food Items
The Chile Shop
A former trading post, Santa Fe is definitely a shopper’s paradise. It is home to hundreds of shops, boutiques, and specialty stores selling everything from antique jewelry to custom hats and home goods. Green and red chiles reign supreme in New Mexico and the Chile Shop on East Water Street in Santa Fe is a foodie’s paradise. With chile pequin wreaths and ristras hanging decoratively inside, the shop offers shelves full of southwest seasonings and salsa samplers. Gift boxes are available, but we didn’t need one; we brought our Do-It-Yourself foam inserts with our VinGardeValise® wine suitcase. The bottles of hot sauces and jar of Hatch chiles we purchased fit neatly and securely into the foam spaces we custom created for them in our suitcase.
109 E. Water Street
The Farmer’s Market
One of the oldest, largest markets in the country, the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market, is a feast for the eyes. Stands filled with colorful produce, specialty foods, fresh baked goods, and chiles, make this twice-weekly market worth a wander. If you happen to be there during chile roasting time (from late August to mid-October), the smells of freshly roasting green chiles waft through the air, tempting hungry buyers. At Christmastime, the pequin wreaths made from bright red chiles are too beautiful to pass up.
1607 Paseo de Peralta
Where to Eat
Café Pasqual’s serves organic cuisine drawn from the traditions of Mexico, New Mexico, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Located in one of the oldest free-standing buildings in Santa Fe, the café is decorated by a full-length wall mural painted by a local artist. We dined there for breakfast and found the service and the food to be outstanding. The corned beef hash with eggs and the chile relleno topped with poached eggs were both tasty dishes.
121 Don Gaspar Avenue
Visitors and locals crave the Cowgirl’s handcrafted BBQ, regional American specialties, and phenomenal taproom. Nightly entertainment, weekend musical brunch, patio dining, and billiards are featured in this funky downhome restaurant.
319 S. Guadalupe Street
Where to Stay in Santa Fe
El Dorado Hotel and Spa
Located just two blocks from the historic Plaza, this AAA four-diamond rated hotel offers well-appointed rooms, full-service amenities and valet parking. You can enjoy a margarita cocktail at the Agave Lounge, one of the stops on the Margarita Trail, or engage in a delicious dining experience at the Agave Restaurant. You can also enjoy a relaxing drink at the Cava Santa Fe Lounge in the hotel’s cavernous, wood-beamed lobby.
309 W. San Francisco Street
La Fonda on the Plaza
This historic four-diamond hotel features 180 guestrooms, including 15 luxury terrace rooms and suites with private concierge. You can dine in the festively decorated La Plazuela Restaurant or listen to live music in La Fiesta Lounge or upstairs in the seasonal Bell Tower. The hotel is filled with original artwork and tours are available four days a week.
100 E. San Francisco Street
If You Go
Frequent flights into nearby Albuquerque or Santa Fe’s regional airport make it easy to visit this high desert city. Be sure to bring your wine suitcase with a Do-It-Yourself insert. With so many specialty foods and delicious wines, you’ll want to safely take some favorites home with you.