If you’re new to Santa Fe, be prepared to build up a tolerance to chiles. Otherwise, your mouth will be permanently on fire – or you just won’t eat.
Regional cuisine is varied and constantly evolving, but it wouldn’t be New Mexican without those little red and green chiles. So revered are the powerful peppers, the city even holds festivals in their honor. The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta at the Santa Fe Opera grounds and The Really Chile Festival at Santa Fe Plaza roll around every fall after harvest time, and tickets are a hot item (no pun intended).
To get a taste of New Mexican fare in its natural habitat, brace yourself for a bit of a wait and head to Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen on West Cordova Road. The chile rellenos and the green chile stew are excellent, particularly after a sampler flight of three tequilas for $10 – there are more than a hundred to choose from – or an icy margarita, also with more than 100 varieties.
If you’re feeling cocky, join the line of locals outside Guadalupe Café on Old Santa Fe Trail for a sampler of the blazingly hot red chile. Order two glasses of water and the corn pudding as a side, in case you can’t take it. For Southwestern done a little differently, put on your Sunday shoes and head to The Compound Restaurant on Canyon Road, an elegant spot serving up New Mexico’s finest with a distinctive Mediterranean twist. If tapas are more your style, hop over to El Farol, also on Canyon Road. The restaurant, allegedly Santa Fe’s oldest, serves up creations like pork tenderloin with fig and Moroccan-spiced quail with pomegranate oil.
Wherever you choose to dine in Santa Fe, just make sure they keep jugs of milk in the kitchen. If you’re not too proud, you might find yourself asking a tall glass – that is, if you can speak.