Habit is a good friend. Habit makes me wake at the same hour bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Habit helps me watch what I eat, keeps me at the gym without fail, and ensures that when the laptop shuts down, everything on the day’s slate has been completed. But there are times when habit’s subconscious navigation makes me miss out on the taste of excitement that comes with a new experience, especially at the table. Lately I’ve felt I’m neglecting the opportunity to enliven my palate, so with the New Year’s roll-out, I’m rolling out a plan to politely decline blind habit and order something new and unfamiliar each and every time I go out to dine in Santa Fe.

Let’s Go Atrisco

Everyone who lives here — and no doubt, anyone who visits Santa Fe on a regular basis — has one chosen spot that is an undisputed favorite for a chile fix. I try to be fair and sample all over town, but I can sense a new addiction to the fresh taste and quick kitchen at Atrisco. I just don’t see how I can get through winter without a stop for the soft, pillowy wheat flour sopapillas that accompany a meal there, since that’s a treat I rarely prepare. Enticing rumors about their lamb burrito have been on my radar for quite some time now, but whenever I go out and a waitperson appears at my side, the same thing always seems to pop out of my mouth: “Chile rellenos with green, please.”

Change came at last when I headed to Atrisco, plopped down with purpose and at last, ordered that mighty burrito, smothered Christmas-style in both green and red chile, no less! Locally-raised at Talus Wind Ranch and slow-roasted to retain the earthy flavor, this is a dish that speaks to the best flavors of Santa Fe and to the deep network of food-sourcing connections formed by owner George Gundry over years spent in a family restaurant dynasty. I’m channeling the Terminator, because, “I’ll be back.”

Try the lamb burrito at Atrisco and sample something new and familiar at the same time.

Try the lamb burrito at Atrisco and sample something new and familiar at the same time.

Making Bodies Happy and Healthy Is a BODY Specialty

My enchilada fixation is a chronic routine, with cheese or chicken. This means a stack of corn tortillas, bathed in either chunky green chile or smooth, spicy red, with a batch of beans on the side. But branching out to raw, vegan and gluten-free means I can enjoy dining in the company of treasured vegan and gluten-free friends, who have conscientiously embraced these health concepts.

Having finally dipped my fork into the raw food at the BODY Café, I believe I’ve created a yummy mandate for boldly going forward into new frontiers. Notions of nutrition have certainly changed since the days when Grandma cooked the green beans until all their health benefits had left the building; eating raw celebrates food made in a minimally-processed manner. The raw enchiladas instantly became a favorite, with a bell pepper wrap encasing a veggie mix of green cabbage, red bell pepper, corn, and pungent red onion, perched on chile Colorado (that means red) sauce with cashew cream. The whole BODY menu is tantalizing, so I foresee embarking beyond enchiladas into an eating raw adventure this year … oh, and did I mention their raw onion rings? I think that’s a pretty perfect prescription for a new way of eating in the new year.

Say Ole! to the raw enchilada plate at BODY Café. Say Ole! to the raw enchilada plate at BODY Café.

Mixing Northeast and Southwest in a Bowl

As I took off in my new fork-and-spoon direction, tossing out expectations about which ingredients get married on the plate seemed like a tasty technique for turning the tables on dining. I often walk through the 10-plus acre Santa Fe Railyard Park on my way to and from the Plaza or the Farmers’ Market, and I’m always entranced by the enticing aromas wafting out of La Choza. My quest to sniff out novel ways for enjoying a hometown meal led me to a dish worth investigating: green chile clam chowder. Never heard of it? Me neither!

Chow down on clam chowder with Santa Fe flair at La Choza.

Chow down on clam chowder with Santa Fe flair at La Choza.

I’ve always been fond of La Choza, one of those homegrown havens lovingly tended for years by the same family — now raising its fourth generation, mind you. This spot also scores high because it’s close-in, but off the beaten path, meaning not as well known as its delicious downtown sister, The Shed. As I settled into a cozy corner at La Choza, I set out to discover whether this distinctive clam chowder offered a convincing case for an innovative kitchen. And yes, I’m convinced! Clams and chile make a winning combo. Melding just the right mix of briny flavor and chile heat, it looks just like … you guessed it, classic clam chowder. But the taste says hometown comfort food, with tender potatoes and carrots perched inside a piquant New England meets Nuevo Mexico partnership.

Say Hello to Shohko

Discovery is integral to New Year’s resolutions, but re-discovery can be just as exciting as virgin territory. Chile shows up all over town, and encountering it tucked in a crispy pile of veggie tempura at Shohko is worth remembering. I intend to satisfy my yen for the foods of the East more often, as I renew my acquaintance with the consistently delicious fare at this venerable family-owned and operated spot. An oasis of calm pervades the quiet, understated location, and I let my meal relax into a second hour; something about chopsticks just says healthy pacing.

Lunches of yester-year always meant the bento box, a thoughtful sampler with good value. But this year, I’ll be working my way item by item through the Izakaya (i.e. tapas) menu, though I’ll find it hard to resist re-ordering the succulent enoki mushrooms sautéed in sake and butter. I felt supremely healthy escorting bites of fresh green seaweed salad to my taste buds; this dish will also continue to tempt. Given Shohko’s pride of place as Santa Fe’s first sushi bar – the entire enterprise opened as a natural food store in 1972; the restaurant and sushi bar followed later – I simply must troll back through the sushi menu. And doesn’t pairing it with a sake flight sound like a tasty intention for the coming year?

Brighten up your dinner plate this year with Fire Rolls from Shohko, an off the menu favorite of insiders in the know.

Brighten up your dinner plate this year with Fire Rolls from Shohko, an off the menu favorite of insiders in the know.

Develop a City Different Dining Plan

So maybe like me, you didn’t know that enchiladas taste wonderful raw, that green chile can hide its essence inside a tempura crust, or that the cool north and the spicy south get along so swimmingly in a bowl. These are just a few tactics by which Santa Fe creates a river of adventurous flavor running through our renowned restaurant scene. If you want to taste it all in one juicy burst, I suggest heading for ArtFeast on February 21-23, when galleries and restaurants pair up to show the artistry of Santa Fe. Or go for broke at Santa Fe Restaurant Week, running from February 23 — March 2, when the only thing better than the food is value that won’t break the bank. I’ll be dipping into both these events with an avowed mission to send my palate to new places. Care to join me in turning your 2014 foodie resolutions into reality?