Santa Fe Favorites
Sure, you can spend a small fortune on dinner at Santa Fe’s justifiably famous high-end restaurants. And really, you should—at least once in a while. But for everyday eating out (well, maybe not every day, but you know what I mean), there are plenty of establishments that won’t put quite such a dent in your wallet. So let’s explore some local eateries where a meal can be had for under $15 per person. Drinks and extras (appetizers, desserts) may put you over at some restaurants, but you’ll still get good value for your dining dollars.
101 W Alameda St
Santa Fe, NM 87501
The best deal in town has got to be Del Charro. At this popular watering hole located in the Inn of the Governors, the offerings start at $3-$4 for appetizers and desserts. For $5-$6 try the salmon wrap with black beans or the stuffed poblano pepper with beans, corn and cheese. Sandwiches and salads are offered, as well as a mean green chile cheeseburger with fries or potato salad. Their margaritas are a great deal too! Full bar. Food served 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. Till 11:00 p.m. Sunday.
341 W. San Francisco Street
Another bargain right in the heart of town is Il Vicino, a casual eatery featuring thin-crust pizza baked in a wood oven. Choose one of their specialty pizzas (my faves are the vegetarian Rustica with artichoke hearts, calamata olives, garlic and capers, and the Da Vinci with capacollo ham, portabello mushrooms and artichoke hearts) or create your own. Split a salad (try the spinach salad with roasted red peppers, pine nuts and gorgonzola cheese) and a pizza with your honey or a friend for a satisfying yet budget-friendly meal. Panini and piadine (folded flatbread) sandwiches are also offered, as well as several pasta dishes. A nice selection of wines and beers are served, including microbrews made at Il Vicino’s Albuquerque location. Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; open till midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
500 S. Guadalupe Street (at the Railyard)
Located in the old station house at the Railyard, Tomasita’s is a local favorite for good old-fashioned northern New Mexican food. Try the enchiladas, tacos, chalupas or the stuffed sopapillas, all under $10 (leaving plenty of cash for a margarita!). Even the fancier items (rib-eye steak, fried shrimp platter) are under $15. Daily Blue Plate Specials include carne adovada (tender pork marinated in red chile) and carnitas Antonio (beef with onions and green chile) for the bargain price of $10.50. Tomasita’s is known for its chile, both red and green. Heed their warning: they serve it HOT. You’ll probably have to wait for a table: it’s worth it! Full bar. Open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. through 10:00 p.m.
326 S. Guadalupe Street
What’s your favorite comfort food? Meatloaf and mashed potatoes? Turkey and cranberry sauce? Fish and chips, pot roast, liver and onions? You’ll find them here at the Zia Diner, one of the popular eateries on Guadalupe Street. Here you’ll also find local favorites (chicken enchiladas, fajitas, and a yummy pie made with corn, green chile and asiago cheese), pizzas, pastas (vegetarian lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs), grilled sandwiches (everything from organic beef and buffalo burgers to ahi tuna, free-range chicken and vegetarian selections) and a nice array of salads. Sweet tooth? This is the place for milkshakes, floats and sundaes. For an extra treat, save room for the decadent black midnight cake. Full bar. Open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
4 Banana Lane at Highway 285/84
Whether you sit inside in their spacious Mexican-themed dining rooms, near the fireplace in the bar area, or outside in the umbrella-strewn courtyard, you’ll love the atmosphere here. Located about 10 minutes north of town on Highway 285/84 (take exit 176), Gabriel’s is totally worth the drive (and is a popular pre-Opera choice). While one or two entrées are over the $15 mark, most are well below that. Try the fajitas, available with chicken, steak, tiger prawns, seafood or grilled veggies, or the popular chiles rellenos. You’ll find my favorite dishes under the “a la Mexicana” heading: arroz con pollo (boneless chicken, vegetables and avocado slices over rice) and the Puerto Vallarta (crab, shrimp and boneless chicken in a white wine tomato sauce, served over rice and topped with melted cheese). But whatever you do, start with the guacamole, made fresh at your table. No kidding: have the guacamole. (You can always box up your entrée to take home!) Full bar, great margaritas. Open 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; till 10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
540 Montezuma Avenue (Sanbusco Center)
While dinner at Pranzo can be well over our $15 budget, the bar here offers a lighter menu at a very light price. $8.95 will get you such treats as pescatore alla griglia (grilled fish in a lemon white wine sauce served over tri-colored pasta), a grilled steak panini topped with a mushroom ragout and gorgonzola cheese with parmesan fries, calzone with either meat (pepperoni, salami, sausage and prosciutto) or grilled vegetables, or a Black Angus burger and fries. Half orders of pasta (still plenty!) are available for $10.95. My favorites: the farfalle con pollo (bow-tie pasta with chicken and veggies in garlic cream sauce) and the linguini con capasante (bay scallops, artichoke hearts, tomato and basil in a lemon white wine sauce). Such classic Italian favorites as spaghetti and meatballs and Fettuccine Alfredo are also offered. Pastas (and some of the light entrées) are served with bread and Pranzo’s delicious flavored olive oils. Pranzo’s also offers bargain dinner specials during the week. Full bar. The bar menu is served from 11:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. and 5:00-late every day (kitchen closes at 10:00 p.m. on Sundays).
301 Jefferson Street (at Guadalupe Street)
3777 Cerrillos Road (at Vegas Verdes) 988-3278
This popular eatery may look like a chain restaurant, but it is, in fact, privately owned with only three locations (the other’s in Albuquerque on Central Avenue in Nob Hill). Don’t mistake the offerings here for fast food: Bumble Bee’s uses fresh ingredients and cooks everything to order. Even their tortillas (available in both white and whole wheat) are made on the premises. Choose your own filling (fish, chicken, shrimp, steak or lamb) or opt for vegetarian when ordering their huge, yummy burritos or tacos. Salads, chicken platters, a trout filet plate, and nachos are also offered. And just about everything comes with unlimited trips to their popular chips-and-salsa bar. While the atmosphere is bright and cheerful rather than intimate, you can still have a nice dinner with a beer or glass of wine. Enjoy the summer patio in warm months, and live jazz on Saturday nights. Summer hours: 11 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
320 South Guadalupe
Another super-casual dinner spot is Café Dominic, a friendly, order-at-the-counter eatery serving local food at great prices. For a real bargain, stick with the burritos, enchiladas, or the Frito pie with carne adovada. Or you can splurge on the camarones al mojo de ajo (shrimp in garlic butter), salmon filet or pollo Monterey (boneless chicken breast topped with cheese and avocado) and still stay under budget. Some pasta dishes are also offered. Live music on Friday and Sunday nights. Wine and beer available. Open Monday through Sunday, 7:00 a.m. through 9:00 p.m. (Bonus: Café Dominic is a wi-fi hotspot.)