I keep coming back to Santa Fe. You just can't go wrong in a town with more art galleries per capita than any other city. But Santa Fe also boasts having the largest concentration of fantastic South Western-style restaurants in the region, many of which are at their best at breakfast. Huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, even blue corn pinon pancakes — do not oversleep in Santa Fe or you may miss the day's best meal. After intensive research (involving several eating trips) and consultation with Kathy Barco's and Valerie Nye's informative guide Breakfast Santa Fe Style, I have determined the top three places you must go (preferably before 8 a.m. to avoid lines) for a true New Mexican breakfast.
Like many great breakfast diners around the country, Tia Sophia's was started by Greek immigrants. But this place, located just off the Plaza in Santa Fe, is authentic southwestern. This is the place to get your feet wet if you haven't yet experienced the cuisine. The restaurant caters to novices and the menu disclaims "not responsible for too hot chile." I'd recommend acclimating yourself to the altitude of Santa Fe and the spiciness of its cuisine with huevos rancheros — two eggs with chile, cheese, refried beans, and a flour tortilla to sop up the delicious mess. But then you're faced with a tough decision: are you a red or green chile person? In Santa Fe the population is split evenly between red and green. (Photo courtesy Yelp/Chris r.)
It's the culinary equivalent choice of dry rub or wet in Memphis, tomato or vinegar barbecue sauce in North Carolina, Sally's or Pepe's in New Haven, or Pat's or Geno's in Philly. You define yourself by your preference. Don't know what type of chile-head you are yet? No worries. Just ask for Christmas and they'll paint your egg, cheese, and beans half-red and half-green. I'm fond of saying that everyday I'm in Santa Fe is Christmas, as I've been going back for years and still can't decide.
Cafe Pasquale's in Santa Fe (Photo courtesy Gil Garduño).
Around the corner from Tia Sophia's is Cafe Pasquale's, an unassuming little place which just so happens to be a James Beard award winner with great Mexican themed décor. Start with a Mexican hot chocolate with espresso and you'll soon be in bliss. No Taco Bell breakfast burrito here, Pasquale's humongous burrito is made with whole wheat and stuffed with scrambled eggs, potatoes, and chunks of chorizo. Ready to reply "Christmas" when asked whether I wanted red or green chile on it, I was thrown for a loop when given a third choice: tomatillo sauce. I sheepishly asked if I could get all three and thoroughly enjoyed my tri-colored beauty.
Breakfast at Tecolote Cafe (Photo courtesy Flickr/uberculture).
Guy Fieri's autographed poster greets you as you enter Tecolote Cafe, my favorite go-to for breakfast/brunch in Santa Fe (I was here first). You'll want to sample my favorite dish in New Mexico: carne adovada. Carne adovada are chunks of pork that have been simmered in red chile sauce forever and are the color of a STOP sign except that I can't stop eating it. In a burrito with cheese and more chile or just on a plate with two runny fried eggs on top (if I were an artist I'd paint the psychedelic red, green, and yellow yolk rainbow that this dish inspires).
The potatoes at Tecolote are not your typical hash browns but a unique preparation that I can only inadequately describe as a potato crêpe — light, yet crispy, and shaped like an omelet. Another unique dish is chicken livers Tecolote (Tecolote means "owl" in some Native American language and Tecolote's logo looks a lot like the one at Hooter's). The chicken livers come with a salsa fresca containing the ripest tomatoes I've ever seen or tasted. The green chile stew brought tears to my eyes in terms of both joy and heat and the posole, a pre-Hispanic corn and pork soup, was probably why the Spaniards colonized this area. Their blue corn pinon pancakes and jalapeño bacon are simply indescribably great.
So if you find yourself in Santa Fe, enjoy the mountains that inspired Georgia O'Keefe, appreciate her paintings and those in the 200-plus art galleries, but what ever you do, don't sleep through breakfast!