From the top of 9,000-foot Atalaya Mountain, it’s nearly impossible for me to make out my old haunts in Santa Fe almost half a mile below, what with all the pink adobe buildings blending together or hiding beneath a canopy of piñons and cottonwoods. The two-hour hike is a good way to reacclimate; it’s been years since I’ve lived in the high desert town, and I’m perpetually nostalgic for the place. Off to the right but not quite visible are the narrow avenues near the Capitol and the Plaza, where tourists and locals buy handcrafted jewelry from old Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi women along the arcade of the Palace of the Governors. Closer to the mountain’s base is the historic Eastside, a hilly neighborhood of twisting streets, many of them unpaved, where the adobe walls and sun-faded front doors look like B-roll from a Peckinpah film. Most visitors don’t explore the Eastside or the almost-as-charming South Capitol area, but I’ll meander through both almost every day I’m here for the same reasons I’m on this peak. I’ll eat the rich duck quesadilla on the patio deck of Coyote Cantina, sip agave margaritas at the Shed, and catch the sunset from the roof deck of the La Fonda hotel. I’ll wander into the Guadalupe District to find the Cowgirl BBQ. Always abuzz with live music, it is a spiritual anchor where locals and bikers and Stetson-wearing Texans are equally represented, and everyone is dining with a dog. To me, that’s as good a reason as any to call it my favorite old haunt.
Where to eat:
At the Drury Plaza Hotel, chef John Sedlar—he of L.A.’s late Rivera—applies his creativity to New Mexican cuisine with dishes like jicama wafer tacos and blue corn-crusted elk with chile sauce. Start by drinking in the view at the hotel’s rooftop bar.
Tesuque Village Market
After hiking the Windsor Trail or peeping at the autumn aspens, stop for croissant French toast, blue corn pancakes, and other Southwestern specialties on the patio of this delightfully ramshackle outpost ten minutes north of town.
First steep in the outdoor tubs at Ten Thousand Waves spa, then hit the property’s mountainside moderne dining room for Japanese small plates. The place bypasses sushi for meat-based dishes. Try the grilled rice ball with house-made pickles and the tempura green beans.
What is believed to be Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant is one of its best. Spanish tapas taste especially authentic with weekend flamenco shows so intimate that you feel like you’re in someone’s living room.
In the adobe maze around the Plaza, this three-decade-old restaurant still gets props—and crowds—for traditional New Mexican cooking inflected with Asian and Mediterranean flavors.