Tourists visiting world destinations often choose from a list of traveler-approved and well-known cafés and restaurants, while the locals have their own hidden spots deemed favorites for everyday eating. Santa Fe, the de facto destination on nearly every Southwest travel itinerary, bucks this practice. Here locals shop and dine at the very same spots they have lauded to visitors, eager to share their city’s unique take on good taste.
When it comes to the resident cheese, New Mexican farms favor the goat for quick turnaround and a bracing flavor that pairs well with local produce and the abundance of nearby ranch-raised meats, from beef to buffalo. Within an hour of Santa Fe are several goat cheese producers, taking liberties with the light yet funky flavors inherent in the creamy milk. Many have online stores, allowing you to savor New Mexico no matter where you call home.
Beyond picking up local and specialty cheese at a market or store, the visitor to Santa Fe will find an abundance of restaurants and cafés that feature cheese in glorious ways, from traditional Mexican dishes to gorgeous cheese plates worthy of skipping dessert.
La Montanita Co-op
The co-op is a favorite store in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque for local products and produce and is open as long as any chain grocery store—kudos for that. La Montanita stocks cheeses from all over the world, including a temptations basket with cuts of cheese in the one- to two-ounce range that are perfect for tasting a new variety or just having a little snack.
La Montanita 913 West Alameda Santa Fe, NM 505.984.2852
There’s much to love besides the cheese at Kaune’s, the local go-to spot for ingredients when the megamart has lost all interest. The back of the store is focused on two animal products—the meat counter and the stretch of chilly shelves for all the cheeses on offer. My personal favorite, blue cheese, is well represented, with a dozen variations from all over the world. Fetas come in at least a half-dozen pedigrees, from local goats to Greek sheep, many kept safe and salty in their brine.
Kuane’s 511 Old Santa Fe Trail Santa Fe, NM 505.982.2629
Santa Fe Farmers’ Market
Year-round the offerings will change, but you can be assured that even in the coldest months the hardy staples, such as farm-raised meat, textiles, and cheeses, are in abundant supply. Here you’ll find a few local dairies represented, such as the Old Windmill Dairy, South Mountain Dairy, and Sweetwoods Farmstead, as well as pastries featuring many a New Mexican’s beloved flavor pairing: cheese and green chile. Visit the market year-round, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Railyard.
Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Corner of Paseo de Peralta and S. Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, NM 505.983.4098
The Amavi offers a local artisan cheese plate, which changes with availability and the chef’s whim. In winter the focus moves away from fresh and younger cheeses and over to something truly phenomenal, such as the Tazon de Lanto sheep/goat blend from Sweetwoods Dairy. It is aged gently into a Pecorino-like hard cheese with a taste like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s delicate in that goat way, but almost chewy on the tongue. Chef Megan Tucker says that it does not melt at all, making it perfect just as she serves it, in wafer-thin shavings next to the creamy dollop of chèvre and the smooth wedges of goat Camembert, with a pool of local honey in the middle, cleansing and tickling your palate.
Amavi Restaurant 221 Shelby Street Santa Fe, NM 505.988.2355
Housemade cheeses are still rare but gaining ground. When you’ve had a warm, salty chunk of mozzarella out of the hands of the person stretching and pulling it before your eyes, any other “fresh” store mozzarella suddenly becomes boring. Roland Richter cannot stop talking about Santa Fe’s farm-to-restaurant movement, nor his fondness for the mozzarella he makes for his diner. Joe’s was a “finer diner” long before the phrase became buzz around the state, topping pizza with housemade mozzarella that starts with curds from a New Mexico farm, Old Windmill Dairy, which also supplies several other cheeses on the menu.
Joe’s 2801 Rodeo Road Santa Fe, NM 505.471.3800
The Pink Adobe and The Dragon Room
Beloved for over 60 years, “The Pink” is devoted to comfort food, like cheesy French Onion soup—a local treasure. Next door at the cozy yet hipster-studded Dragon Room, touches of the past still remain: possibly the most famous tree in Santa Fe grows through the bar area and out the roof. Some variations on the Pink’s menu give the Dragon Room a gypsy stew with a molten bomb of Jack-cheese like treasure at the bottom, proof that warm cheese doesn’t have to be draped on a plate to have a delicious impact on the dish. At either location burger fanatics will sate the deepest cravings for meat and cheese with the Pink Adobe Burger: cheese, bacon, adobe sauce, and green chiles deliver a genuine two-fisted mess of umami pleasure.
The Pink Adobe and The Dragon Room 406 Old Santa Fe Trail Santa Fe, NM 505.983.7712
Kakawa Chocolate House
There is always room for dessert when you are walking all over such a gorgeous city. Tucked just blocks away from the plaza is a tiny destination where the focus is everything cacao, from ancient drinking elixirs to truffles and cakes. Cheese does indeed make its way into the aromatic concoctions. If you’re lucky, the other fanatics haven’t eaten the last of the goat cheese chile truffles in the lineup. Even if they have, that’s all the more reason to plan a return trip.
Kakawa Chocolate House 1050 E. Paseo de Peralta Santa Fe, NM 505.982.0388
Mexico loves its cheese, from young mozzarella-like queso fresco to the salty tang of crumbly cotija. Hidden away in an indoor shopping plaza, Santa Luna’s space is both vibrant and cozy, its Brie-colored walls flanked by brick and tiled tables. The menu focuses on traditional Mexican favorites, from wheat tortilla quesadillas with asadero to the almost feta-like aged cotija crumbled over a traditional rolled enchilada.
Santa Luna 227 Don Gaspar Avenue Santa Fe, NM 505.204.4449
Secreto Bar in the Hotel St. Francis
While you are enjoying a spiked hot cider on a cool winter evening, an inventive Three Cheese Bruschetta is the perfect accompaniment, invoking the passage of Franciscans from Italy and Spain to New Mexico through cheese—Asiago, Cabrales, and fresh New Mexico goat cheese. Each is served on chewy garlic bread in a portion perfect to enjoy without overwhelming your appetite.
Hotel St. Francis 210 Don Gaspar Avenue Santa Fe, NM 800.529.5700
Reposo Afternoon Tea in the Hotel St. Francis
Also in the Hotel St. Francis, take an afternoon for a full tea and sherry service that showcases both traditional finger foods from sweet to savory and a cheese plate from local farmers’ market producers. Tea service: 3 p.m.–5 p.m. Thursday–Saturday; reservations requested.
Hotel St. Francis 210 Don Gaspar Avenue Santa Fe, NM 800.529.5700
Not long after I moved to New Mexico in the late 1990s, a friend helped further my chile education by plopping me in front of one of the best items on the menu at the local legend Zia Diner. A monumental slice of Corn, Green Chile, and Asiago Pie was the dish, something that is not-quite-quiche but much more than a casserole. It is decadent. It is massive. And it is just a little bit spicy—a perfect introduction to a cuisine that can knock you off your chair if you haven’t acclimated yet. Gooey cheese can even be had on Zia Diner’s breakfast menu with their twist on the quesadilla, stuffing a tortilla with Jack cheese and eggs—and chile, of course.
Zia Diner 326 Guadalupe Street Santa Fe, NM 505.988.7008