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Friday, April 28, 2023

Santa Fe Revisited

Restaurant Reviews
Last week I got my ass on an airplane to Dallas, sat in the airport for three hours staring at travelers in their pajamas, then jetted over to Santa Fe for long-awaited visit to see all my wonderful friends who I dearly miss. Where do you meet people in Santa Fe? At restaurants! So for eight days I ate out almost every meal, except when dear friends Quinn and Sharon and fantastic hosts Monica and Bram cooked for me.

It has been eight years since we left the Land of Entrapment, and in some ways nothing has changed. That said, there are some restaurants which were really great, and some which have just gotten worse. Here is my rundown in no specific order:

Ojo Caliente

This place that creeped me out the first time I visited. Too woo-woo! But somehow the hot, healing waters melted away my hostility (cannabis helped) and I have come to love it. They have recently done quite an upgrade and I appreciated the newfound elegance. Of course I was with my BFF which made it extra fun, we stayed overnight, and got great massages. The sheer beauty of the cliffs — especially late at night when there are very few people soaking, with the steam rising from the pools — was magical.

Artesian Restaurant is located in the historic hotel building. In the past, it has been mediocre but they have definitely upped their game. In a true reversal of trend, the service was excellent. Before heading to New Mexico, I reminded myself to lower my expectations of good service. In my opinion, service has always been a problem in Santa Fe. Post pandemic and with staff shortages nationwide, I expected the worst. So I was pleasantly surprised when few mistakes were made and our food was delivered promptly.

I enjoyed an agave margarita at the lovely bar off the lobby, conveniently located down the hall from our room. For dinner, we started with potato-crusted poblano strips. I forgot to ask our server how the potato was incorporated into the crust. Was it potato starch, potato flakes, mashed potato batter? Anyway, they were tasty and came with a spicy-sweet chili dipping sauce. My friend had a Caesar salad with black sesame-crusted ahi tuna, which was prepared perfectly rare. I had a large portion of roast salmon with sweet potato mash (they were happy to make substitutions on the sides to to accommodate my dietary needs). We shared a nice piece of tiramisu for dessert. For breakfast, we ordered very tasty, very trendy avocado toast and an omelette. The omelette was not great but edible. It's hard to make an omelette.

Harry’s Roadhouse

Harry’s is always crowded and I will never understand why. Location, location, location? I guess people live nearby. When we went, it was Kitchen Angels Night Out, so a portion of the evening’s take went to support them. I was glad to be supporting such a great institution. We waited 25 minutes be seated, even with reservations. It’s loud, and noisy, and not that clean. My dining partner ordered the Buddha bowl. She has many dietary constraints and thought that would be a good, healthy choice. Turned out to be mostly dry, hard, chopped kale. She was not pleased. I ordered the southwest chopped salad with grilled chicken. The chopped vegetables tasted like they came out of a pre-chopped Sysco bag of veggies. You know how carrot and broccoli get a slightly white, dried out-look to them, and the edges dry out? Well, that's what my salad looked like. The chicken was so dry I could barely chew it and had to cut it into tiny bits so I could swallow it. On the plus side the dressing was excellent. I should have asked for some extra to lube up the rest of the salad ingredients. They used to have great house-made baked goods, but not anymore. I remember they had an excellent German chocolate cake, but nothing like that was on offer. Someone at another table said they lost their baker. Running a restaurant is not easy.

Plaza Cafe Southside

When we lived in Santa Fe, this was our go-to for a great, easy meal. It still is! Fun room, decent service, local favorites for those craving New Mexican specialties (my friends had huevos rancheros, which they loved), and a skilled kitchen that can make almost anything. Their Middle Eastern dishes and Italian specials are always great. I ordered a very specific breakfast — soft scrambled eggs, sliced avocado, and bacon. Each element was perfect. Truly a restaurant you can count on.


I have been eating at Clafoutis literally since the day it opened, at their old, difficult-to-park-at location. It never disappoints. (Even though they told me on day one that their croissants were house-made, when in reality they were merely house-baked from a high-quality, all-butter frozen product. Sorry to burst your bubble!) Still, I love the French vibe, and the new location — which is now old — is lovely. Once again I ordered eggs. This time an omelette Provençal and it was perfection. Light, fluffy eggs and no shortage of filling. At the moment, I am off sugar so no pastries for me, but they looked gorgeous. Curious that high altitude does not seem to affect their baking at all, I need to look into that. The large parking lot is an asset.

The Betterday

I do not drink coffee but my friends do, so we stopped there at the end of our dog walks many times. I was recommended the chicken mole burrito. It was the bomb! Moist but not messy, well seasoned, spicy but not painful. Great breakfast. I could do without the weirdo hippies, retro-punks, old surfer dudes, and cowboy wannabes that hang outside, but they have to be somewhere, and I admit they gave the place a truly Santa fe vibe. I hear the coffee is good as well.


I know the lovely folks who own this establishment. It's a beautiful place (designed by the owner) and even though it’s in an odd location, it was packed. The use of the outdoor space is fantastic. I went specifically for the empanadas but the menu is huge. Maybe too big. I always say do a few things really well instead of lots of things just okay. The empanadas were excellent. I ordered an assortment of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. They are right on trend. Some worked better than others, the gluten-free pastry crumbled apart but the flavors were decicious. It’s a great place to meet friends and the staff could not be nicer.

Museum Hill Cafe

This is a restaurant I have a bit of history with. It used to be run by Walter Burke Catering, where I was executive chef for 12 years. It was never run right and always had issues. Under new and better management it is thriving. Service is still spotty, but not as bad as I was prepared for. Knowing my tendency to get really annoyed at crappy service, my friend prepared me for the worst by telling me stories of previous dining experiences, which I really appreciated. But after waiting for our server for a few minutes, the three of us all ordered Cobb salads, which arrived swiftly. They were excellent — all ingredients fresh and tasty. A great stop on our visit to Museum Hill, between the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. The museums are always a highlight, especially when visiting with a woman who works behind-the-scenes on the exhibitions and shares inside stories.

Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

The best thing about this meal were the fantastic ladies I lunched with. I know so many great, powerful women in Santa Fe, due to projects I was involved with. One of which was KSFR, where I met the wonderful Noreen and Meredith. Both are incredibly bright, stylish, informed, super fun, and our conversation was fabulous! We ordered the kimchi fried rice, the glass noodle stir fry, and the bison burger. Portions were large, flavorful, and colorful. It was fine, did not rock my world, but the company did! Thank you, my friends — you are inspiring!

Horno Restaurant

This was by far the best meal I had. In the space that used to be Il Piatto (a place I never liked) Chef David Sellars of SantaCafé fame has created a gem. The small, contemporary, eclectic menu means each item is carefully thought out, tested, and perfected. We shared the tuna tartare, which came on a risotto cake (I'm stealing that idea) and Korean-inspired BBQ pork belly which was super yummy. I wished there was more. For mains we ordered the squid ink capellini, the house burger, and the beer-battered fish sandwich. All were excellent. Cocktails, service, and ambience all contributed to a great night out, good friends helped. Rumor has it they do a fried chicken special on every other Wednesday that sells out in the first hour.

So, there you have it. I ate out, I updated everyone on my life, I feel like I told the same stories 15 times, and I enjoyed catching up on everyone else’s life. Looking forward to my next visit. Turns out I like visiting Santa Fe way better than living there!