Ambling up along the edge of the river, Santa Fe’s Canyon Road is renowned as one of the country’s premier arts destinations. While our world-class museums justifiably draw crowds year-round, there’s nothing quite like taking a stroll through one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods under the strikingly blue sky. Canyon Road has been a haven for artistic types since settlers first parked their wagons by the waters flowing down from the mountains through the canyon. And anywhere people set down roots, restaurants inevitably crop up. Artful wandering on Canyon Road is a memorable must-do for a Santa Fe visit, and dining there becomes an artistic experience in the hands of the fine chefs who answer the creative call.
A Creative Atmosphere Calls for a Cozy Cafe
You’ve probably heard that saying that begins with “Eat breakfast like a king.” So after I settle down to a breakfast burrito filled with green chile, eggs, and cheese, along with a cup of deep, dark Lavazza coffee at Caffe Greco, I leave feeling like a queen for the day. Perched at the base of Canyon Road, this colorful cafe is a great place to spend an hour noshing over a newspaper, surrounded by galleries and unique shopping.
The tree-shaded patio is perfect for an al fresco lunch of tacos, or that ubiquitous signature Santa Fe treat, the green chile cheeseburger. The interior of the cafe is jewel-toned, with quirky sculptures and paintings scattered in nooks and crannies of a space that feels truly Santa Fe, and a small fireplace to guard against winter’s chill. Friendly neighborhood camaraderie flows throughout, as visitors and locals converse convivially on how best to tap into the artistic scene that is Canyon Road.
Adding Beauty Compounds the Pleasure of a Great Meal
Landmark buildings create a lovely setting, and Canyon Road is rich with historic structures. Nowhere is this truer than at The Compound Restaurant, named for the building that was once the centerpiece of a residential family compound. Back in the early part of the 20th century, this quiet edifice, nestled on a verdant swath of land by the river, welcomed the weary movers and shakers of society, before morphing into a restaurant in the mid-1960’s. The wise decision to bring in noted designer Alexander Girard (he whose massive collection of folk art forms the basis of the world-class Museum of International Folk Art) created a memorably elegant space, largely unchanged through the years.
For as long as I have been in Santa Fe, the Compound has always at the top of the list for a celebratory occasion. While chef/owner Mark Kiffin has dispensed with the silver covers once timed to lift exquisitely off diners’ plates at the same moment, the standard has remained high. Kiffin assumed the helm in 2000 and brought to the table a seasonally-tuned menu of contemporary American cuisine fusing Old World flavors of the Mediterranean with the best of New World taste. It’s no wonder that the James Beard Foundation named him "Best Chef in the Southwest” in 2005. That fresh spring pea soup and the rack of lamb definitely get my vote every time.
Celebrity Spotting on the Menu at Geronimo
Santa Fe style is legendary, and Canyon Road has so many examples to prove it. After dining at the Compound, compound your enjoyment of signature architecture and fine food another night by heading further up Canyon Road to Geronimo. The Apache chief of that name is known to anyone who ever watched a Western, but the only fighting at the dinner table will be for the last morsel on the plate. The historic building that houses this elegant dining establishment was built in 1756 by one Geronimo Lopez, for whom the restaurant is named. Known to Santa Fe insiders as a great place for celebrity spotting, a dinner at Geronimo makes its popularity abundantly clear as one delicious dish follows another to the table.
Executive chef Eric de Stefano has a long culinary history in Santa Fe, and his penchant for what he denotes as “global eclectic” cuisine plays out nightly in palate-pleasing perfection. Loyal fans never permit the elk tenderloin to leave the menu, but I can’t pass up the grilled Mexican white prawns – that Yuzu basil aioli just keeps me coming back. Never fear, vegetarians, there’s a four-course tasting menu that takes care of you too. The graceful thick-walled adobe dining room is warm and welcoming, and the lounge in back is a happening place to be on a Saturday night in the City Different. And those signature cocktails are pretty happening too!
Tapas Are the Tune at a Truly Local Locale
Every town – in fact, every neighborhood – has its local cantina, and Canyon Road boasts El Farol. More than just an anchor for a meal, this is a restaurant, blues bar, jazz club, poetry space, art gallery, and a flamenco dance floor rolled up together under yet another historic roof. Built in 1835, with long-time owner David Salazar at the helm, El Farol is said to be the oldest continuously operating dining space in Santa Fe, and whether or not that’s true, there is no doubting its local appeal.
The broad porch on the corner of Canyon Road and Camino del Monte Sol offers great people-watching opportunities during the warmer seasons, and the interior feels archetypically Western, with dark wood chairs that push back easily for nights when feet are tapping. Tapas and a margarita, anyone? Or maybe paella and a glass of sangria is more your style. Either way, if you’re looking for a casual evening of eating and entertainment with a Santa Fe ambiance, look no further than El Farol.
Teatime Is Anytime at the Teahouse
Up at the point where Palace Avenue curves around to end at Canyon Road, you’ll find the hospitable haven of The Teahouse, a tastefully well-kept old home below street level at the end of a row of galleries. At the corner where Canyon Road turns mostly residential, this is an oasis of calm from morning to night. Charming garden seating welcomes you to linger, and the gracious white-walled adobe interior is spacious enough to find serenity with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine or a beer over dinner. Under new ownership since late 2012, the Teahouse has been a tranquil temptation for Santa Feans since it opened its doors 10 years ago.
Knowing that there are 150 different varieties of tea here might mask the fact that a person can get three squares a day here, should she choose. The gluten-free breadbasket is not something you often see on a breakfast menu, and gluten-free bread is available for sandwiches too. And I’m a sucker for wild mushrooms, so thanks, Teahouse, for that panini pick. And oh, the tea! You’ll have to use your own discerning taste to hone in on the one of many that suits you to a T.
Get Your Fill of the Flavors on Canyon Road
It’s a given that a day on Canyon Road really must be part of any Santa Fe getaway. Top to bottom on this historic road, richness, so much depth and discovery abound, that it’s worth visiting more than once. And sculpting three meals a day means you’ll have more than one opportunity to sample the delights for eyes and tummies along the way. Combine your hunger for the visual arts with your appetite for a great meal to create a satisfying Santa Fe art adventure surrounded by history and culture on Canyon Road.