by Madeleine Zinn

In considering my first article for Tango Diva, I contemplated writing about my time spent abroad or perhaps in New York, but finally settled on a subject much closer to my heart—my home. I hail from New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment: home to aliens, nuclear test sites, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Growing up in Santa Fe provided a unique environment in which to be raised, and you’ll find that many of those who grew up there aren’t wont to leave it. And while Santa Fe is known to its nonresidents for its art, multicultural heritage, turquoise jewelry and perhaps a famous face or two (big shout out to Shirley McLaine and Dustin Hoffmann!), there are lesser known spots only the locals are privy to. That is, until now. I’m here to give you an insider’s peek into all the spots you won’t read about in any guidebook (and maybe a few that you will).

While the Internet offers enough suggestions to keep you busy for weeks, I will briefly advise my lovely readers in finding a place to stay. First, summer months and the Christmas holiday are busy busy busy! And expensive. Book early, and if you’re looking to stay downtown near the plaza, be prepared to pay. The cheaper hotels (and one lone hostel) can be found on Cerrillos Road, away from all the excitement of downtown, and thus most cost effective. My suggestion, however, would be to rent a house for the duration of your stay.

We begin our tour with places to eat, because not only do I love food in general, but in particular that found in Santa Fe, which rivals any major metropolis. Our specialty, of course, is New Mexican, and no, I’m not talking about Taco Bell. Anyone traveling through New Mexico must make it a point—nay, a mission!—to consume as much chili as possible while visiting.

This is not the “chili” you find in Cincinnati or even Texas. I’m talking the vegetable, red or green, fire roasted and hot. Really hot—some restaurants post signs warning newbies to proceed with caution! Hatch, a green chili native to New Mexico and perhaps the most sought after, can be found throughout the state. And if you’re lucky enough to visit in the early fall months, that pungent aroma you find following you around town is the smell of this miracle plant being freshly roasted and sold everywhere from Whole Foods to the Farmer’s Market. This stuff is like vegetable gold, people. Buy it, freeze it, use it for months to come.

Now, while I could offer an endless list of amazing restaurants, I will share with you only the best of the best. Whether you want to spend $500 or $5, Santa Fe has it all. For those on a budget, may I present the best cheap eats:

Tomasita’s, a Santa Fe staple, runs you about ten bucks a person, and you get big servings smothered in chili of your choice (Insider Tip, and this goes for any New Mexican restaurant, if you want both red and green chili, ask for Christmas. That’s what we locals call this combo). Tomasita’s also makes some of the best sopapillas around. These fried pillows of heavenly goodness are served with honey and butter (and sometimes honey butter) as a dessert. Try not to consider all the weight watchers points you’ll be consuming and indulge yourself, you’ll be glad you did.

Felipe’s Tacos is a favorite of the high school and college crowd located nearby. About five dollars will get you a fabulous quesadilla or two no carne tacos, as well as almost anything else on the menu. They’re fast, they’re fresh, and Felipe himself is often there to oversee it all.

Ready to take a break from all the chili? Head over to Counter Culture or Back Street Bistro. From rockin’ sandwiches and peanut Thai noodles to banana cream pie, these tucked away treasures are most frequented by locals who can actually find them. Feel like pizza? Forego the tired joints you can find in Anywhere USA and instead head to Upper Crust or Il Vicino. Firmly in place for over twenty years, Upper Crust provides fresh, tasty ingredients on thick wheat or regular bread. If you’d prefer thin crust Italian style, head over to Il Vicino and split the Pizza Margarita and calzone.

Brunch, personally my favorite meal, can be best spent at Tecolote. Its breadbasket alone serves as a meal, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t order a breakfast burrito on the side. Also a good spot, for brunch and beyond, is the Guadalupe Café. A hot spot with locals, politicians, and out-of-towners alike, “The Guad” doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait.

And for a cookie the size of your face and bottomless coffee, the Baking Company is the best place to sit for hours, do a crossword puzzle, and mingle with your new best friends seated at a nearby table (everybody who frequents the Baking Co. ends up knowing each other). And while you’re there, pop in next store to Retrospect. With a mix of vintage and new, this stylish store is jam packed with hidden treasures (its sister store, Surrender Dorothy, is far less cluttered, with fab cult designers like Trovata).

Finally, if you’re like me and love both Tom Ford and crème brulee, Santa Café is the place to go. Both the man and the sweet can be found there (the dessert more often than the designer, though both are equally tasty).

Want to hit the town? For those looking to sip their cocktails and admire the other pretty people sipping their cocktails, I suggest you head over to Swig. A multi-room, multi-level dance club, each room has a different theme (and they all include good looking bartenders).

Rather knock back a cold one? In the summer, The Cowgirl Hall of Fame (that’s just The Cowgirl to you savvy visitors) is teeming with a diverse mix of people, live music, pool tables, and food served until 11pm. Their sweet potato fries and ice cream baked potato (a dreamy concoction with cocoa powder, chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, and icing that not only resembles but also kind of tastes like butter, all shaped like a baked potato) are at the top of my list, as well as their apple cider (the hard kind).

Another summer favorite is the Coyote Cantina. Atop Mark Miller’s famed Coyote Café, the Cantina is its casual cousin, perfect for hot afternoons spent savoring watermelon mojitos and chips with guacamole. Try to get a seat on the rail so that you can people watch as you imbibe.

The Dragon Room, which is part of the Pink Adobe Restaurant—we just call it the Pink—, is a favorite among locals. You may catch a politician or two getting drinks after work—the capital is just down the street, or even a celebrity (Val Kilmer has been known to haunt this dark and moody bar).

Want to catch live music and inevitably garner male attention (wanted or otherwise)? You can find local acts, including Santa Fe heartthrob Alex Maryol, at WilLee’s Bar and Lounge and El Farol on any given night.

More into house and techno than blues and jam bands? Café San Estevan, restaurant by day and “club” by night, plays hosts to a variety of DJ’s who take to the turn-table on the weekends. And if you’re hungry at 12am after a night of dancing, the Atomic is open late. I’ve ended many a night with an Atomic pie (their take on the Frito pie) or the Challah French toast.

Ready to work off the five pounds you’ve just put on eating your way through my restaurant guide? Drive up the ski basin road and hike the trails. If you’re lucky enough to be there in the fall, the aspens turn the most brilliant yellow and light up the entire mountain. Nearby Tent Rocks is another good spot to hike.

Rather work your wallet than your glutes? The plaza offers shopperseverything from turquoise and J.Crew to diamonds and Diesel. A fan of funky jewelry myself, I most often head to Maya for unique and inspired pieces. There you’ll find Frida Kahlo’s image gracing everything from earrings and pins to postcards and retablos.

Double Take and Back at the Ranch (same location, different worlds) offer second hand clothing, jewelry, flat wear, cowboy boots…and so much more it would take a page to list (needless to say, they’ve got a lot of stuff). Back at the Ranch provides cool, not tacky, western styles embraced by Santa Feans and tourists alike, and Double Take offers great second hand clothes you know weren’t owned by dead people (and if they were, they were cleaned first).

There are enough galleries and museums in Santa Fe to keep you busy for days. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has the most extensive collection of the artist’s work in the world, and their exhibits are always a unique mix of mediums and artists, thanks in part to the expert curatorial skills of the museum’s head curator, Barbara Buhler Lyons.

If you’re in town on a Friday, stroll down Canyon Road at sunset and hit the various openings that the plethora of galleries are sure to have. And the best place to experience a New Mexico sunset? Head up to the Cross of the Martyrs. The view will take your breath away (no really, it’s a trek up that hill!). Looking over the city of Santa Fe, the Cross is a perfect spot to watch the sun go down.

If you’ve got a car, I advise you drive up to Chimayo. The food at Rancho de Chimayo is divine, and down the street you’ll find another incarnation of the Divine—the Santuario. This little adobe chapel is believed to hold healing dirt (yes, dirt). The dozens of crutches left behind are a testament to its restorative powers. Healing takes another form at Ojo Caliente. These natural hot springs are home to one of the oldest spas in North America, and they’re well worth the drive.

A little closer to Santa Fe, and just as heavenly, is Ten Thousand Waves. At the base of the mountain lies this retreat, complete with outdoor tubs, perfect any time of year for star gazing amidst the trees.

I could wax poetic about Santa (it’s just Santa to us—and that’s “sonta” not “santa” to clarify) for hours, days even. But any more Inside Ttips and I’d have to start charging that town a commission. And now that I’ve relocated to Berkeley, California, I’m discovering a whole new crop of restaurants and locales to frequent. Of course, the Mexican food here doesn’t hold a candle to my hometown cuisine, but don’t tell anyone in Cali I said that. They’re pretty territorial (imagine that!)…

For More Information

Accommodations:– try property #122535, contact Jane Bates, (505) 992-0549


Tomasita’s- 500 South Guadalupe St, (505) 983-5721

Felipe’s Tacos- 1711 Llano Rd, (505) 473-9397

Counter Culture- 930 Baca St, (505) 995-1105

Backstreet Bistro- 513 Camino De Los Marquez, (505) 982-3500

Upper Crust- 329 Old Santa Fe Trail, (505) 982-0000

Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza- 321 W. San Francisco St, (505) 986-8700

Tecolote Café- 1203 Cerrillos Rd, (505) 988-1362

Guadalupe Café- 422 Old Santa Fe Trail, (505) 982-9762

Santa Fe Baking Co- 504 W. Cordova Rd, (505) 988-4292

SantaCafé- 231 Washington Ave, (505) 984-1788

Atomic Grill- 103 E. Water St, (505) 820-2866


Swig- 135 W. Palace Ave, (505) 955-0400

Cowgirl Hall of Fame- 319 S. Guadalupe St, (505) 982-2565

Coyote Café/Cantina- 132 W. Water St, (505) 983-1615

Dragon Room/Pink Adobe- 406 Old Santa Fe Trail, (505) 983-7712

WilLee’s- 401 S. Guadalupe St, (505) 982-0117

El Farol- 808 Canyon Rd, (505) 983-9912

Cafe San Estevan- 428 Agua Fria St, (505)995.1996

See and Do:

Ski Basin- Hyde Park Rd (there’s nowhere to go but up!)

Historic Plaza- West Palace Ave at Lincoln Ave

Maya- 108 Galisteo Ln, (505) 989-7590

Double Take/Back at the Ranch- 320 Aztec St, (505) 989-8886

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum- 217 Johnson St, (505) 946-1000

Cross of the Martyrs- 600 Paseo De Peralta

And a few extras if you’ve got a car…

Check out the town of Chimayo (head about 40 minutes north on US285). The Santuario is believed to be a mystical place of healing…and down the road is Rancho de Chimayo, a fantastic restaurant! Or drive up to Abiquiu (50 miles NW of Santa Fe) and visit Georgia O’Keeffe’s homes. Tours are limited and by appointment only, so it’s best to book in advance. For info call the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation at (505) 685-4539.

Rancho De Chimayo-

Ojo Caliente-

Ten Thousand Waves-

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Everything you need for Santa Fe NM hotel spas from Yahoo Travel, Frommers, Fodors, etc. all in one place