I'll always remember Santa Fe by the red chile scent that stuck to my clothes even after I left. This is a good thing, of course: the chile there is rich and intense, full of fire but also sweet and smoky. It's diverse, like the city, where you'll find Native American art galleries next to a flamenco club; boutiques for high-end turquoise, and men, out front, selling $5 carnitas. You'll see cheese-makers and chile roasters and folk violinists, all at the same open-air market. It's a hodge-podge that totally works for Santa Fe, that gives the city its defining quirk and makes its food so exciting. Here, seven things you can't leave without trying:
1. Green Chile Pesto Focaccia at Intergalactic Bread Company
It's easy to get lost among the stalls at Santa Fe's massive farmers market, where vendors sell everything from soft cheese to dried chiles off the ristras, or bundles, that crown their canopies. Keep an eye out, though, for a stall lined with wooden bins of focaccia—that's Intergalactic Bread Company, and its Green Chile Pesto bread is not to be missed. It comes in great, hand-shaped oblongs, airy and soft like the best focaccias are. The pesto, a slick of mild green chile and Romano cheese, bakes into that base, with sunflower seeds on top for crunch.
Intergalactic Bread Company Santa Fe
Railyard Farmers Market (and other markets in New Mexico)
2. Raspberry-Red Chile-Ginger Jam at Heidi's Raspberry Farm
Another mainstay of the farmers market, Heidi's sells four types of jam, all made with sweet, tangy berries from Heidi Eleftheriou's farm. Eleftheriou's created a pink-red jam that's bodied and chunky; to that she adds ginger, red chile, or both. My favorite was the combo: raspberry-red chile-ginger. It tastes bright and fresh, thanks to the punchy ginger and Eleftheriou's light hand with sugar. Flecks of the chile skin run throughout. Their mild kick surprises and lingers, and goes well with a hunk of hard goat's cheese.
Heidi's Raspberry Farm
Santa Fe Railyard Farmers Market (and other NM locations)
3. "Spat" Piñon Caramels at The Chocolate Smith/Blue Corn Doughnut at Whoo's Donuts
Chile also wends its way into treats at The Chocolate Smith, where co-owners Jeff and Kari Keenan serve up chocolate in a dozen-odd forms: bon bons, bunnies, truffles, pate, bars, caramels, wax-covered ganache. When I visited, the Keenans had out samples of pistachio chile bark. The bark was satisfying, to be sure, salty and smooth and just a little bit spicy—but for a bigger bite, I beelined for the squares of piñon caramel behind the case. Piñones, or pine nuts, are native to the region, and when roasted, they give the chocolate-rimmed caramels a rich, almost buttery roundness. My advice? Buy a fistful of the caramels, then head next door for a follow-up: the crumbly blue corn doughnut at the Keenans' sister shop, Whoo's Donuts.
_The Chocolate Smith
851 Cerrillos Road
851-B Cerrillos Road
4. The Original Breakfast Burrito at Tia Sophia's
Tia Sophia's is a Santa Fe institution, the sort of place that's packed with locals by 10 a.m.,where you might see the mayor or share stories with a waiter who's worked there for twenty-two years. Owner Nick Maryol claims the invention of the breakfast burrito for his father, Jim, who opened Tia Sophia's in the mid-1970s. Jim would wrap potatoes, bacon, and cheese in a flour tortilla, then smother it all with a salsa of red or green chile; customers wanting both red and green would ask for "Christmas" (and they still do). Nowadays, people can get an egg scrambledin their burrito, stuff it with sausage or ham, or make it vegetarian. But there's something special about the original—the soft tortilla; the heft of potato and the crispy fat of bacon; the heat that builds with each slurp of salsa. As with most things so simple and honest, it just works.
210 West San Francisco Street
5. Red Chile Linguine with Mussels and Saffron Crema at Il Piatto
Chefs in Santa Fe like to play around with chile; Matt Yohalem certainly does, and that's resulted in some of the city's most inventive takes on the ingredient. Yohalem heads Il Piatto, where he folds chile into otherwise classic country Italian fare. Consider the linguine: Yohalem makes it by hand from a dough mixed with red chile "mole"—chile, garlic, herbs, tomato, lemonzest, and white wine. The pasta, which turns a pretty orange color, is cut thin and added to a cream sauce spiked with saffron and good olive oil. A ring of mussels rounds out the dish (a sort of stepped-up linguine with clams), joining distinct flavors—the cream, the chile, the tomato—in briny sweetness._
95 West Marcy Street
6. Atole Chocolate Elixir at Kakawa Chocolate House
There's no better way to spend an afternoon than by wandering down Santa Fe's Canyon Road, poking your head in its art galleries and antique shops. And there's no better way to end that walk than with a hot chocolate elixir, and maybe a brownie, at Kakawa Chocolate House just up the street. The elixirs—thick, molten cocoas, often made with almond milk—split two ways: European and Mesoamerican. I went with Atole, in the Mesoamerican category. It gets texture from a grainy blue corn atole base (atole being the same popular, masa-based drink found in Mexico), and verve from bitter chocolate, chile, honey, and salt. It's warm and comforting, and surprisingly rich; the teeny, blue-and-white ceramic cup is all you'll need.
Kakawa Chocolate House
1050 Paseo de Peralta
7. Chimayo Chile in Chimayo, New Mexico
The village of Chimayo sits thirty minutes north of Santa Fe, and it's home to the region's prize crop: the Chimayo chile. It's a smaller, meatier chile, at once spicy and sweet. "It's like the women here," our tour guide, Maria Vigil, explained. Farmers pick some of the chiles green; these are roasted, peeled, and ground into salsa for year-round use. The rest are left on the vine to ripen until red, at which point they're twisted into ristras and dried. Depending on the time of year, you might find fresh, whole chiles at market stalls (we saw a few, in mid-October), or else the ground-up chile molido&emdash;which is great with meats, enchiladas, pozole (white corn stew),and even margaritas, as a spicy addition to the salt-rim._