Outside Santa Fe: Three Restaurants Worth the Drive

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Juliet White

All photos by Juliet White

All photos by Juliet White

It’s easy to find popular restaurants that are located smack-dab in Tourist Central. But what about the places that locals frequent? These three restaurants are situated just outside of Santa Fe proper, but they are definitely worth the drive.

San Marcos Café

3877 State Road 14, Santa Fe


Tourists usually stumble upon San Marcos Café when they’re lost or taking a scenic drive along the Turquoise Trail. A breakfast and lunch spot, this hidden café serves up largely New Mexican cuisine, in a space that feels like a typical Southwest living room — assuming all such homes had windows overlooking chicken, turkeys, and a posse of peacocks strutting their stuff. The café is known for its cinnamon rolls, which are lightly iced and just sweet enough to satisfy. Burritos are also a popular choice. The San Marcos Burrito is topped with browned shredded cheese and stuffed with moist chunks of roast beef and potatoes. Order the accompanying chile sauce Christmas-style, but request it on the side. The heat index of chile batches vary but, on a recent visit, the red sauce had the intensity of a raging inferno! If you want to entirely avoid spice, consider the berry-topped cheese blintzes or the chicken sausage breakfast — the latter is accompanied by “hash browns” which are more like soft yet crispy breakfast potatoes.


4 Banana Lane, Santa Fe. The restaurant is just off Highway 285/84, shortly after the Santa Fe Opera House. (Keep an eye out for Gabriel’s billboard.)

In New Mexico, chips and guacamole are so common that it’s hard for them to leave a strong impression. However, the guacamole at Gabriel’s is different. Since it is prepared tableside, your server can make it according to your specifications. Don’t like cilantro? Want to dial down the heat? No problem. The resulting vat of avocado is served in a lava stone, or molcajete, bowl. Fajitas also appear on many menus but, in the high desert, quality seafood is harder to come by. The restaurant’s seafood fajitas, which feature red snapper, scallops, and tiger shrimp, are seasoned with paprika then grilled until smoky. The beef chimichangas are another stellar option. The restaurant crafts its own tortillas and fries them to a perfectly brown hue, without rendering them heavy or greasy. In the summer months, Gabriel’s courtyard has a romantic feel, making it suitable for a low-key date night.


Café Fina

624 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe


Whether you stop at Café Fina for breakfast, brunch, or lunch, you’ll be glad you did so. Two words: cloud cakes. These are as ethereal as the name implies. Although the lemon and ricotta packed pancakes have an airy feel, the three massive clouds piled onto your plate satisfy even large appetites. Café Fina is a casual place; customers order at the counter. When it’s your turn, be sure to check out the daily dishes up front. These often include wedges of quiche and, if you’re extra lucky, savory bread pudding. Another memorable savory dish is One For David: a panko-crusted fish with a crunchy texture that contrasts well with the soft ciabatta roll upon which it arrives. Pair it with the skin-on fries for a slight twist on fish n’ chips.


"Outside Santa Fe: Three Restaurants Worth the Drive" originally published on The Menuism Dining Blog.