Santa Fe, NM – Then and Now: Chiles, Pinon and Turquoise

posted in: Travel

This past weekend marked my 20th college reunion at St. John’s College in Santa FE, NM and the goal was to bring my husband along and pray that he was as enchanted by Santa Fe’s charm as much as the rest of my family. We are hoping to celebrate the holidays in Santa Fe in the coming years and I need him on board.

Santa Fe, NM was my father’s vacation town when he was growing up. A midwesterner of Comanche descent, he grew up heading to his uncle’s ranch in Santa Fe and riding horses in his full Native American Headdress. My father always celebrated our Native American heritage and I still hold dear my gifts from my Great Aunt, Ruth Cloud Black.


As many of us revisit the places we vacation as a child, my father took us to Santa Fe to return to his childhood escape. What we experienced was such an exotic, remote and different place than where I grew up. Oddly enough, my childhood home in Old Town Alexandria, VA was first lived in by the American General that was assassinated in the La Fonda hotel on the Plaza in Santa Fe. I remember staying in a house on the Turquoise trail near a turquoise mine up a steep incline on a mountainside. We always spent time with my Aunt Tedie (she was actually my cousin, but we thought of her as an Aunt). Tedie lived in Santa Fe over sixty years and while many of us could never imagine her reality, she admitted to me one day over lunch that the love of her life was a Spanish man and she could never have been with him in public, so they never married. What heartache. Even at sixty years single, she was hip and funny and loved to drink a Manhattan and eat a steak at El Nido or burger at Bobcat Bites whenever we were in town. Santa Fe is home to many cultures, Native Americans first and foremost, Spaniards, Mexicans, Tibetan and Franciscan Monks and Americans, it breathes the past of many cultures and the future of many to come.

When I was looking at colleges frustrated that I would not be accepted to my first choices, which were Pomona and Claremont-McKenna in California, because, then, like now, they accept very few applicants from out-of-state–my father suggested I look into schools in Santa Fe. I found St. John’s College, also located in Annapolis, MD which lays claim to being the third oldest college in the USA, circa 1696. I travelled out to the St. John’s with my Dad, sat in a math class, fell in love and was enrolled ahead of my senior year in high school. To describe the impact Santa Fe had on my family up unto this point, consider my sister married her husband of now 24 years in Santa Fe the week I started college. If Charleston, SC was our beach town, Santa Fe was our mountain town. (Of note, I married in Charleston, SC just last year.)

To make a long story shorter, my husband successfully fell under the spell of Santa Fe. From chiles to pinon to mountain views, he will be back for more soon.

Santa Fe was the city much like Charleston has become now when I lived there, continually voted the ‘Best city to visit in the USA’. I enjoyed the popularity then and must say, it has not worn out. Santa Fe has a regional cuisine of its own like the Lowcountry, that focuses on a specific type of red and green chile grown in that region. It is not Mexican food, Tex-Mex or any of the sort. It is New Mexican through and through. Just ask anyone that has lived their long or who moved away, one cannot find chile that tastes the same elsewhere in the rest of the world. In fact, in Paris, while I was at cooking school at Cordon Bleu between years at St. John’s, there was a a hip guy from New Mexico who had opened a restaurant. He shipped the chiles in and after eating and cooking with enough butter to drown myself in, I was so relieved to find his restaurant and eat green chile enchiladas.

My top picks for your chile fix are:

The Shed: A red chile sauce that can’t be beat. The order: Blue Corn Enchiladas, Stacked, Christmas with a Fried Egg. Christmas refers to having both red and green chiles on the same plate of food. This dish comes with their incredible posole which holds a texture no one can beat and beautiful pinto beans. They win best margarita too, this trip.

Cafe Pasqual’s: Breakfast shines here, though dinner is delicious too. Grilled Polenta with Red Chile or my favorite Huevos Rancheros with Green Chile and a side of their own homemade crumbled chorizo and you can’t go wrong. Red Chile is dark and rich here, green chile is light and not as hot.

Horseman’s Haven: Decorated in horses, a restaurant harbored in a gas station I found the first week of college with a fellow classmate who’s car died in the gas station. I raved, he raved and it has since garnered a cult following with Johnnies and foodies alike and definitely serves the hottest chile in NM. They label their chile by levels, beware.

Tecolote Cafe: Decorated in owls, a place where the locals eat breakfast, off the beaten path. The green chile breakfast burrito with bacon and potatoes can’t be beat. Their flour tortillas are thick and fresh and better than any you have ever enjoyed. Carne Asada is also tasty.

10,000 Waves: An incredible Japanese spa nestled in the hills of the ski basin, “where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life.” They now feature a new restaurant that is excellent and the buzz around town.

Todos Santos: For when you want to experience Santa Fe enchantment, head in for a piece of their locally handmade red chile chocolate and whimsical gifts to excite all the senses.

Other notable things to do: Market on the Plaza, Nathalie, La Casa Sena, La Fonda Creperie, Garcia Street Books, Sage Bakery, The Rainbow Man, Site Santa Fe, Meow Wolf, Chimayo, Shidoni, Jackelope’s, Senior Murphy’s Candy, James Reid, The Farmer’s Market, Tsankawi, Santa Clara Pueblo, Ski Basin Overlook, Vinaigrette, Santa Fe Bite (Best green chile cheeseburger) and my personal favorite shop, Doodlet’s.

I am always happy to share with you more about what I know of Santa Fe. For hiking tips and art walks, feel free to contact me for more information.

Have you been to the Land of Enchantment? What’s your favorite place to go? Leave a comment below.



The Epicurean Goddess



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