New Mexico’s artsy enclave in the sky is heaven for vegetarians.
One of the best parts of traveling is experiencing the personality of a new place. What does a city have to say when you take the time to listen?
This notion struck me on a recent visit to New Mexico. First up was Albuquerque, a fairly large city, but one that might also be described as mellow and mild-mannered. By comparison, the Land of Enchantment’s stylish capital city is bold and boisterous.
Santa Fe’s distinctive bravado is especially discernible through its art and history. Established in 1610 as a Spanish colony, the town – by edict of city officials in the 1950s – requires that all new buildings in the city center be crafted in the Pueblo Revival style. Meanwhile, Sante Fe retains its stunning Victorian, Italian and Spanish structures, and is also highly regarded as a hub for the creative arts, with an abundance of galleries, museums and public art permeating its limits.
Its vibrant personality is also present in the dining and drinking department, where healthy, plant-based enterprises hang tough with old-world institutions.
Eating & Learning
For a delicious hands-on foray into these cultural traditions and culinary techniques, sign up for a class at Santa Fe School of Cooking (santafeschoolofcooking.com) where workshops and demos led by top chefs take a deep dive into the flavors of Mexico, Spain and the Southwest. Learn to make tacos, tamales, chiles rellenos, soups, sauces and more in an intimate, relaxed setting with a handful of other novice cooks – and sit down after the class to relish the flavorful fruits of your labor with new friends.
Speaking of new friends, I made one in Manon Pierme, the spunky young owner of Manolla Café (manollacafe.com), a bite-size bistro on Canyon Road. This half-mile strip houses dozens of world-famous fine art galleries, plus folksy boutiques and some of the best eating establishments in Santa Fe.
As I sat on Manolla’s petite patio, Pierme beguiled me with her backstory. Born and raised in France, she has harnessed a background in nutrition and wellness to bring a completely organic and locally sourced menu to the masses, making salads, sandwiches and baked goods that are good for your gut and terrific for your taste buds. The Manolla brand started as a granola company, which made its way into Whole Foods across the country. Now, Pierme is content in her little corner of Canyon Road, creating nourishing noshes like the Mamacitas Plate – a delightful mélange of spinach, brown rice, roasted carrots, hard-boiled egg, hemp and sesame seeds. Soon, Pierme will serve beer and wine in her little health haven, including non-alcoholic rosé from French Bloom.
I soon learned that it’s easy to forge friendships over the shared love of food, a fact that was solidified after a gourmet vegan and gluten-free feast with Soma Franks, co-owner of Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen (sweetwatersf.com). Franks makes everyone feel welcome at Sweetwater, which focuses on food that is beneficial to the body and soul – and the planet. Franks and her team source and prepare ingredients for menu items like stuffed mushrooms, plant-based flatbreads, vegan chile relleno and heavenly carrot cake (with walnuts and without gluten) from local makers and markets.
Santa Fe in Fall: The Sweet spot
For a comprehensive glimpse into the city’s gastronomic growth over the last three decades, time your trip around the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta (santafewineandchile.org). What started as a modest one-day event showcasing 20 local restaurants and wineries has transformed into an annual five-day festival featuring more than 60 food vendors and 100 winery partners.
Now in its 31st year, the celebration will take place from September 21-25, spotlighting sommelier-hosted luncheons, live auctions, culinary seminars, brunch parties and more throughout the week. The fiesta will return to its roots on Saturday, September 24, when an expected 3,000 attendees can sip and sample the best of Santa Fe food and wine.
To get an even broader sense of the City Different’s cultural and culinary cache, stay for the Santa Fe Harvest Festival at El Rancho de las Golondrinas (golondrinas.org) on October 1-2. On a 200-acre farm and ranch, attendees can master the art of making ristras, those ubiquitous clusters of dried chiles that festoon the fronts of homes and businesses, thought to bring health and fortune to their inhabitants. Other hands-on activities at the Harvest Festival – a tradition that has been taking place in Santa Fe for half a century – include pumpkin-picking, grape-stomping, corn husk crafts, cider-making, tortilla-rolling and more. It’s a singular celebration of Santa Fe’s living history.
Liquid Sante Fe
Of course, no culinary adventure would be complete without libations now and then – and Santa Fe has them in spades. A must-stop for a roaming reveler is Santa Fe’s up-and-coming Railyard Arts District, which is home to Altar Spirits (altarspirits.com). The new distillery specializes in vodka and gin and serves up inspired cocktails in warehouse-esque environs with a cozy edge – think a lounge-like atmosphere with velvet-lined couches and vintage armchairs for lingering. Handcrafted in copper stills and blended with foraged botanicals from the high desert, Altar’s signature spirits, Ritual vodka and Sigil gin, are an homage to ancient alchemy.
For a nightcap (or several), there’s Sazón (sazonsantafe.com), which offers sotol, mezcal and tequila tastings every Wednesday and Friday evening. Enjoy a flight of five selections, paired with house-made sangrita and mole – deftly crafted by celebrated chef Fernando Olea, who just snagged a James Beard Award this year – for good measure. Learn about these ancient agave spirits in a plush dining area that speaks to the history and art of Santa Fe.
It may be brimming with old-world mystique, but it’s the healthy, veg-centric dining scene that’s breathing new life into Santa Fe’s dynamic personality. I’m all ears.
3 Places to Stay
Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi
Located in the heart of the city, Rosewood Inn is a luxury boutique option where Santa Fe’s ever-present pillars of art and history are apparent throughout the property. Think adobe décor, hand-carved wooden doors and Aztec print galore. Health and wellness are also core values here – in-room massages and aromatherapy treatments are available, and a state-of-the-art fitness center is open 24/7. Rosewood encourages its guests to go green with complimentary beach cruisers and a partnership with Moke, an open-air electric vehicle rental company. rosewoodhotels.com
Recently renovated, this rustic 300-acre resort borders Santa Fe National Forest, where guests can embark on fly fishing excursions, partake in outdoor mindfulness sessions or learn ancient pottery techniques on the property, which has bragging rights as one of Travel + Leisure’s best new hotels in the world. On-site eatery SkyFire is the ideal place to sip a cocktail and soak in views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that surround Santa Fe. General manager Walter Espinosa made me a sneak peek of a new mezcal-based beverage with the working title Italian Lobo, which might show up on the drink menu later this summer. aubergeresorts.com/bishopslodge
Humming with offbeat character and just steps from historic Santa Fe Plaza, this 1930s-era boutique hotel boasts enormously spacious suites, local artwork adorning its hacienda-like interior and a lowrider-themed cocktail bar called Low ’n Slow. Charmed yet? hotelchimayo.com
To honor nature and the pueblo culture of Santa Fe, head to the Nambé Recreation Area (nambepueblo.org) about 30 miles north of the city center to witness a stunning double waterfall. Two moderate hiking trails lead to the falls – one winds up a hill for prime waterfall peeping from above, while the other requires trekking through the river to the lowest natural pool.