The Best New Mexican Food

Hail to New Mexican food—a melting pot of Spanish, Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo Native American, and cowboy chuckwagon. The best New Mexican cuisine is earthy and home-style and includes dishes such as tamales, chiles relleños, green chili cheeseburgers, and enchiladas. The official New Mexican state question is “Red or green?” Your answer depends on the kind of chili sauce you want smothered on your dish. Unsurprisingly, the state hosts some of the best New Mexican food you’ll find anywhere.

Highlights
555 W Cordova Rd
A bit of a dive a mile and a half from Santa Fe’s tourist center, Maria’s has been a local favorite since 1952. The food is straightforward and delicious, but the place is at least as beloved for its margaritas—an eight-page menu lists more than 200 choices, all made with 100 percent agave tequila and lemon juice—which routinely win “best of” awards from local publications. Read more about green chilis. This appeared in the January/February 2014 issue.
121 Don Gaspar Ave, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
The Chez Panisse of Santa Fe has been helmed by the same Berkeley-bred chef-owner since the 1970s. While the restaurant isn’t for New Mexican food purists, the local dishes are solid and range from classic renditions to enchiladas gussied up with griddled organic tofu, spinach, and zucchini.
113 E Palace Ave, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
A local institution, situated since 1953 in a 1692 adobe hacienda with brightly colored walls and a pretty courtyard, the Shed is deservedly famous for its smoky chile, just-hefty-enough blue corn tortillas, and classic recipes. Its sister restaurant, La Choza, is another local favorite. “We don’t have ambition to do a lot more,” says co-owner Courtney Carswell. “We just do what we do.” And they do it well.
360 W Hall St, Hatch, NM 87937, USA
If you’re passing through southern New Mexico, the town of Hatch--the chile capital of the world'--merits a stop. Green chile peppers, red chiles, fresh, dried, roasted, jarred--you name it, you’ll find it in this unpretentious hamlet in the Rio Grande valley north of El Paso. And if you want to have a sit-down lunch, pop into the Valley Café: no more than ten tables, and leaving messages on the walls is encouraged. Get a plate of “gorditas"--think crispy cornmeal-'pita'-like pockets ready for stuffing...I ordered ‘al pastor,’ with little chunks of tender beef, garnished, of course, with green chile--it’ll fuel you up for those long stretches of desert highway ahead of you...
300 Juan Medina Rd
In the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe, the village of Chimayó has become famous for its adobe church, “El Santuario,” whose side chapel’s dirt floor is reputed to have healing powers. Every Good Friday, tens of thousands of pilgrims make their way to this “Lourdes of the Southwest.” Others descend upon this valley for more temporal reasons. Just down the road from the Santuario is the century-old adobe home that houses the “Rancho de Chimayó,” a New Mexico institution. Owned by the Jaramillo family, this restaurant is known for its carne adovada--pork that has been stewed to tenderness in red chile. You may or may not believe in the power of the dirt in the Santuario’s floor, but the taste of this valley’s chile will have you convinced that the terroir--the taste of place--deserves its venerable reputation. Get the “combinación picante” so that you can sample a tamal, rolled cheese enchilada, beans and posole along with the carne adovada. And don’t use all of your sopaipilla (the steaming square of puffy frybread) to soak up the chile; save a corner so you can douse it with local honey as a dessert... Chimayó is an easy forty-minute-drive from Santa Fe, on “the high road to Taos.” Across the road from the restaurant is a B&B, run by the same family as well.
406 W Coal Ave, Gallup, NM 87301, USA
Yes, New Mexico actually has an official “state question"--since 1996, referring to the ubiquitous chile sauce, it’s “red or green?” Fortunately you don’t have to choose just one; the local way to say ‘can I have both’ is just one word: “Christmas.” If you’re driving through New Mexico on the way to Arizona and points beyond, the only town of any size on I-40 between Albuquerque and Flagstaff is Gallup. For road-trip food here, get away from the Interstate and its humdrum chain restaurants. Seek out Jerry’s--a block off old Route 66. You can’t miss the retro neon sign, and there’s often a line out the door for its New Mexico-style fare. Gallup is surrounded by Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni lands--you might well be one of the few non-Native-Americans eating here at breakfast or lunch. The restaurant allows local vendors to come in and show their wares--usually jewelry and bracelets--while you eat. (You can request a ‘do not disturb’ sign for your booth if you want.) “Hole in the wall” gets overused, but Jerry’s definitely fits that description. Nothing pretentious here--but the flavor of the chile sauce is as good as you’ll find in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. A recommendation: the flat cheese-and-onion-enchiladas, topped “Christmas” style with a fried egg on top. And don’t forget to sop up the sauce with the sopaipillas, saving some of the frybread to top with honey as a dessert afterwards...
207 W Hall St, Hatch, NM 87937, USA
New Mexico has an official state vegetable: the chile pepper. (In case you’re wondering, only 13 out of the 50 states even have such a designation.) And the self-proclaimed chile capital is the tiny agricultural village of Hatch--population 1600. But every year, on Labor Day weekend, up to thirty thousand people converge here to celebrate the hot pods during the annual Hatch Chile Festival. Climate and soil here converge for optimal pepper-growing. If you can’t make it to the Rio Grande Valley in early September, don’t worry about the flavor running out--roasted then frozen or canned, or dried and powdered, Hatch chiles can be had year-round. At Pepper Pot, a family-owned restaurant on what passes for the village’s main drag, try them stuffed--the chile relleno--or in sauce form, over enchiladas, burritos, huevos...And when it comes to which sauce to choose, New Mexico has an official state question: “red or green?” The local (and tastiest) way to answer is “Christmas,” and you’ll get both. This is down-to-earth terroir... Incidentally, several years ago, Anthony Bourdain passed through here and proclaimed Pepper Pot’s red enchiladas to be the best he’d ever had. Come judge for yourself. Open for breakfast and lunch, this converted home is a cash-only restaurant. The borders of both Texas and Mexico are only an hour away, and it’s a favorite with local farmers and bikers passing through; if you decide to eavesdrop, you’ll be hearing trilled Rs and twangy English.
2711 4th St NW, Albuquerque, NM 87107, USA
A modest, friendly family establishment (serving since 1963) where locals and visitors-in-the-know visit for flavorful James Beard award-winning New Mexican cuisine including carne adovada with warm, marinated roast cubed pork in a brick red chile sauce.
1114 Don Juan Valdez Ln
There’s always a wait at this family-run mainstay which serves a bevy of Southwestern winners a la the shrimp burritos and carne adovada (red chile–marinated pork) and chili. A trip here is best summed up as friendly, prompt and delicious. Park a seat outside on the patio when the weather cooperates.
321 Rio Grande Blvd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104, USA
In Old Town, locals often frequent the inviting, friendly Monica’s El Portal, a 36-year-old institution, housed in an unassuming building. There’s a range of traditional homemade dishes like blue corn chicken and a hearty green-chile stew. The carne adovada (New Mexican pulled pork) chimichanga is immensely satisfying. Arrive hungry and leave full.
905 Alarid St, Santa Fe, NM 87505, USA
Located in the Railyard District, the friendly and efficient La Choza (Spanish for “the shed”) doles out traditional New Mexican fare. Start with the satisfying posole (a hominy). Try the stuffed sopapillas with an earthy red chile, and classic huevos rancheros. Don’t be afraid to sample the hearty, non-traditional green chili clam chowder. The series of dining rooms are peppered with local art, and while you wait for your order, don’t miss the ample tequila list.
319 S Guadalupe St
Check out the rocking, hip and popular Cowgirl, a melding of Texas BBQ and New Mexico flavors and Old West style. Early evening, there’s happy hour including cheap, tasty margaritas. At night, patrons kick up their heels to live music. There’s a big patio outside for plenty of sipping.
211 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA
Come summer, locals flock to the tranquil patio for al fresco dining. The new chef is the likable Marc Quiñones, whose kitchen churns out Southwestern food with molecular gastronomy. Commence your meal with the award-winning tortilla soup or green chili scottish salmon tartare. For dinner, the seasonally changing menu features dishes like organic chicken with goat cheese polenta, and strawberry brined duck breast.
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