Taste-test remarkable culinary offerings in this wandering course through beloved locals spots and restaurants run by nationally recognized chefs. Just a glance at the menus and the promise of carne adovada, hand-rolled tamales, and sopaipillas could compel you to steer this way. Personalized takes on traditional mainstays mean no two red chiles will be the same—but that assertion should definitely be put to the test on this tour. Between meals, sip locally made apple brandy, single malt whiskey, beer, and tequila. Reluctant to leave all trace of these dishes behind? Take a cooking class to bring them back to your own kitchen.
A. Cooking Studio Taos
James Beard-recognized chef Christopher Maher, who has also received six 4-Diamond Culinary Awards and has cooked for the Dalai Lama and former President Bill Clinton, now runs cooking classes to impart some of that wisdom. His varied background—born in Egypt, a childhood in Canada, studied acting in New York, and eventually worked as a restaurateur in Beverly Hills—means he’s often taking a twist on classics and improvising alternatives to recipes. Classes focus on French, Spanish, Mediterranean and Italian cuisine.
B & C. High Road to Rancho de Chimayó or Sugar Nymphs in Peñasco
Take the High Road, not a moral imperative in this case but a scenic alternative route that uses state highways to skirt the western edge of the Sangre de Cristos on the way to the village of Chimayó. There, find the Rancho de Chimayó, 2016 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award-winner, where the Jaramillo family runs a restaurant out of their ancestral home. Chile and pinto beans form cornerstones of this menu laced with family recipes.
Or, stop at Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Peñasco, which uses local ingredients to create high-caliber cuisine in a comfortable, bohemian-chic setting. Varied menus for brunch, lunch, and dinner include ratatouille, pulled pork, burgers, pork loin, and pasta. The cozy restaurant occupies a still-running vintage theatre blanketed in murals.
D. Santa Fe Spirits
Colin Keegan started brewing cider with apples from his backyard orchard, and one distilling led to another, eventually leading him to found an artisan distillery with a taproom in Santa Fe. Taste their apple brandy, still made from local apples, or vodka, whiskey, smoked gin liqueur, and atapiño liqueur, made from local piñon nuts and ponderosa pine resin. Take it straight or try one of the in-house recipe cocktails, and if you’re particularly interested take the distillery tour and volunteer to help with the bottling process.
E. Santa Fe School of Cooking
Can’t bear to leave the treasures of New Mexican, Native American, Mexican, Spanish, and contemporary Southwestern cuisine behind? Take a cooking course focused on green chile or tamales, the recipes of Southwestern art icon Georgia O’Keeffe, or the craft of sauce-making or mole. Instructing chefs bring decades of experience to the table, and send students home with recipes as well as a full belly.
F. San Marcos Feed Store
A classic adobe covered in murals houses this locals’ favorite, which started as an actual feed store and now houses a beloved brunch spot known for its enormous cinnamon rolls and the flock of poultry greeting visitors. Peacocks, turkeys, ducks and others roam the 5-acre property located just off Highway 14 and the Turquoise Trail scenic route.
G. Chile or Craft Beer Bike Tour
Albuquerque’s a nationally acknowledged “beer city,” known for brewing seriously good beer, and Albuquerque Bike and Brew Tours from Routes Rentals taps into that scene. As of the 2017 season, the booming microbrew industry has pushed this tour up from one to two options. Hop out of the car to pedal to three stops, tasting a dozen beers along the way and sampling appetizers as you go. Or dive deeper into the local spice of choice and cycle to six stops to taste chile in its various forms.
H. Farm & Table
This restaurant takes farm to table to heart, with a two-acre garden just out the back door and even the occasional set of cows. Executive Chef Carrie Eagle—a recent winner on the Food Network’s Chopped—sources 80 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients from local providers. Brunch is beloved for options like eggs and enchiladas, and dinner charms with beef filets from their own farm.
A wall of color-coded taps for regional breweries backs up the bar of this craft beer kitchen with a hundred beers to sample. Located in Albuquerque’s hip Nob Hill neighborhood, the menu twists classic New Mexican flavors. Think: fries in duck confit adovado and black olive queso blanco; flatbreads topped with green chile, chorizo and toasted piñon nuts; and blue corn enchiladas with jalapeño goat cheese.
J & K. Owl vs. Buckhorn
Pit these two classic San Antonio landmarks against one another for the best green chile cheeseburger around. The Owl Bar & Café’s timeless appeal and family tradition makes it an enduring classic, serving hand-formed patties from beef ground on premises with a special blend of hot green chile from Albuquerque Tortilla Company. Bobby Olguin at The Buckhorn Tavern makes his patties from 80 percent lean beef, and sources some of his chile from a nearby farm stand. He’s received accolades from GQ, The Food Network and The New York Times.
L. Tequila Tasting at La Posta
More than 100 tequilas line the tequileria at La Posta, which has been in business since 1939. The restaurant has seen its fourth barrel of signature Herradura Private Reserve Double Barrel Reposado, each bottle signed and numbered, its contents hand-harvested and roasted in clay ovens. At least two barrels from the House of Patron, made from agave “pinas” ground in mule-driven stones and aged in whiskey barrels, have also been tasted solely on site.
The story goes, a stranded traveler started selling the pies for which this town was named in the 1920s, and the tradition was revived with the re-opening of Pie-o-neer Pies in 1995, then run by a mother-daughter team. Signature options include the chocolate chess with red chile, New Mexico apple with green chile and pine nuts, and peach green chile. Set up for dueling slices by stopping by The Pie Town Café as well. For a menu that goes beyond—but still includes—this classic American dessert, check The Gathering Place for barbeque, quesadillas, and burgers.
Tapas Tree Grill
A world of influence comes to rest in these street food specialists in downtown Silver City. Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches, Thai noodle bowls, crepes, empanadas, burgers and, as the name promises, Mediterranean tapas of ground lamb served with mint and tzasiki stack the menu at this lunch spot.