On the Road: Santa Fe

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Storms over Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Santa Fe is one of my favorite places. It helps that it is a (relatively) short drive from where I live (about 9 hours), so we can get there in one day, hang out for a couple days, then drive back. That is exactly what my parents and I did a couple weeks ago. We have been to Santa Fe a few times now but always find new things to do and, of course, new food to try. It is a city filled with great art and food, and all the crappy chain stores and restaurants are conveniently located on the outskirts of the city. When you’re in the downtown area you are in a city that looks and feels like no other city in America that I’ve been to. It’s like the population and money of a big city has somehow combined with or morphed into a small town.

Our first evening there, after checking into our hotel, we walked the short distance to the plaza area and had supper at El Callejon. It is a more old Mexican restaurant and bar that serves amazing street tacos. The flavors were all perfectly subtle and well paired. We shared some Al Pastor tacos, which had pork and pineapple, Carne Asada tacos, marinated and grilled beef, and Pollo Asado, marinated and grilled chicken. Each plate of tacos came with beans, red and green sauces, guacamole sauce, and escabeche. Escabeche is like a slightly pickled vegetable slaw. The beans were a stew-style which I much prefer over refried beans. The sauces were both flavorful with a nice kick but not overly spicy, which is nice in a town where chiles are king and in pretty much everything. The restaurant was cozy and tastefully decorated, and the bar was gorgeous.

Much of day 2 was spent hiking at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The formations here are incredible. There is a loop hike that is about a mile, and then a canyon hike that is another mile that spurs off of the loop hike and continues up one of the slopes. (It is then a mile back to the loop, so 2 miles total.) The beginning of the canyon hike leads you through an amazing slot canyon to an area where there are more tent rock formations. This portion of the hike, though narrow at some point, is pretty easy and should definitely be done. The trail then continues up the slope to some great viewpoints above. This portion is steep and more strenuous. The views are amazing, but I felt the lower portion was more more spectacular so don’t worry if you don’t want to conquer the mountain.

We returned to the city for a late lunch at Second Street Brewery. It was the middle of the afternoon, but this fun place in the Railyard district was continuously busy while we were there. And for good reason. The beers were great and they gave you all the information and description necessary for you to choose one you would really like. The food, while typically beer-pub in style, was creative, well-made, and very tasty. I had a “Southwest Philly” which had beef, grilled onions and mushrooms (I forgot to ask for no mushrooms, which I hate, but survived), beer cheese sauce, and your choice of red or green chile. I chose “Christmas-style,” which is a New Mexico saying for half red, half green. I usually prefer green chile, but on this philly I liked the red chile better. The philly could have had a bit more cheese sauce, but it was very good. The chips it came with were awesome and locally sourced.

Southwest Philly

Later that day we spent some time at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum that is just off the plaza in downtown Santa Fe. It is an excellent collection of her works and information about her life. I don’t take pictures in museums because it seems rude, and they never look as good as the real thing, but this is definitely a great place to visit.

The plaza area has many restaurants to choose from. Many of them are quite expensive. A few of them are much more reasonably priced. After checking out some other restaurants that all ended up having very long wait times, we ended up at an old favorite, Blue Corn Cafe. Blue Corn Cafe has a very pleasant atmosphere (although they tried to seat us in the very loud bar area, but were not at all put out when we requested the normal dining room), has great food, and also makes their own beer. For some reason, while every other restaurant was packed, we walked right in to Blue Corn Cafe. It is a bigger space and more traditional/less trendy than some of the other plaza restaurants. Here the basics shine: enchiladas, tamlaes, and great chile rellenos. My dad had a very good “Southwest shepherd’s pie.” Don’t forget to ask for sopapillas, they’re free on request!

Combo plate with tamale, enchilada, and chile relleno
The Miraculous Staircase at the Loretto Chapel is an architectural wonder

After a quick stop in the morning of day 3 at the Loretto Chapel, always a neat place to stop in at, we headed just north of Santa Fe to the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe in Abiquiu. O’Keeffe moved to Abiquiu permanently in 1949 and lived there until her death in 1986. The house is owned by, and tours are given by, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum mentioned above. The hour-long tour was a bit rushed, but gave lots of great information and insights into the artist’s life. The house has been preserved just as she left it at the time of her death, including her rock collections. Artists tend to be a bit eccentric and O’Keeffe was not an exception. It is very interesting to look out her windows and walk around her house to see the views which inspired her and objects that she painted over and over again. Even the road that runs along the valley below the cliff her house is perched upon was painted by her several times. Tickets are required for the tour and limited, so plan ahead.

We had lunch at the quaint little Abiquiu Inn, which is down on the main road, right next door to the O’Keeffe Welcome Center where you catch the shuttle to go to the house. We happened to hit a little rush, but the staff was so friendly and we sat on the patio and watched the hummingbirds so we didn’t mind the wait. The food was surprisingly good for a very out-of-the-way cafe. As it caters mostly to the tourists that come to get a glimpse into an artist’s life, the food is a bit more upscale than you would usually find at this sort of roadside inn. I had trout tacos. I’m not a huge fish fan, but they sounded so different and unique that I had to go for it. I was not disappointed. We also tried some masa cakes that were excellent. My parents shared the enchiladas, which were stacked and also very good.

Trout tacos, masa cakes, and enchiladas at Abiquiu Inn

After lunch we headed a bit further north to Ghost Ranch. Georgia O’Keeffe owned a house at Ghost Ranch before she bought her house in Abiquiu, but it is not currently open for tours and even the location is kept a secret. Ghost Ranch is an operating education and retreat center and very openly welcomes visitors. you can stay the night, go horseback riding, visit the two museums on site, or just spend some time hiking as we did. There was even a wedding about to happen the day we were there with what seemed to be a very large amount of alcohol for the number of chairs set up. We considered crashing it but were not dressed appropriately. Many movies have also filmed at Ghost Ranch and you pass the cabin built for “City Slickers” as you drive in.

There are many natural landmarks around Ghost Ranch that O’Keeffe painted several times. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Cerro Pedernal, or just the Perdernal to the locals, a commanding mesa to the south. O’Keeffe proclaimed that if she painted this mountain enough times that God would give it to her. Her ashes were scattered on the top of the mesa.

Back in Santa Fe for the evening we decided to ditch the traditional New Mexican flavors and try a little Italian restaurant we had passed by the day before. It is a very small place called Trattoria A Mano. We were able to make a reservation through OpenTable as we headed back to the city. Before we get to how amazing the food was It is worth saying that they didn’t have a table immediately open for us when we arrived. We were waiting just outside the door, something you can easily do even in the summer in Santa Fe because the evening cool off quite nicely, for about 15 minutes when the hostess brought us each a small glass of prosecco and set up chairs for us to wait inside in hopes that it would convince somebody to leave. She said there were several tables that had paid and were just hanging out, and her plan worked almost immediately.

The food at Trattoria A Mano was absolutely amazing. Granted, it was the most expensive place we dined during the trip, and I love Italian food more than any other type of food. I had the Spinach Pappardelle with duck ragu. The vegetables in the ragu were cut super small but gave it so much flavor. The duck was excellently roasted and shredded so it wasn’t at all greasy. The richness of the duck and and the sweet savoriness of the sauce were perfect together. My dad had the Eggplant Parmigiana. The eggplant was not at all mushy and the sauce had a wonderful roast-y sweetness to it. My mom had the special which, if I remember correctly, was a ravioli with ricotta and nutmeg in a brown butter sauce with pancetta. It was also super delicioso. I was so excited I did not take a picture at the beginning to show how beautiful it was, but here is a picture of my partially eaten pappardelle (a little fuzzy, it was dark in there and I didn’t want to use flash in a fancy restaurant):

Spinach Pappardelle with Duck Ragu

After a quick stop Sunday morning at the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens, a small but very well done garden, we headed back. Santa Fe is a beautiful place with much to offer. There is much there I haven’t done, many things I would gladly do again, and always more food to try, so I’m sure I will be back.


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