There are state-sanctioned roadmaps for New Mexico’s green chile burgers and breakfast burritos. They are points of pride, and going Christmas-style on the breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s Restaurant, considered the home of the tortilla-wrapped morning behemoth, is proof enough. No such document exists for The Land of Enchantment’s tacos. But they are just as worthy of recognition as any of New Mexico’s signature foods. That’s what I realized during a trip to Santa Fe last week for the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. Indeed, nearly all the Santa Feans I spoke with while visiting the city raved about their city’s tacos. I took their advice and hit the trail for Santa Fe tacos, beginning with the most recommended of the bunch.
Mention tacos, and Santa Feans enthusiastically ask if you’ve been to El Parasol for the chicken guacamole. After tasting it myself, I understand why. Rich stewed chicken is folded into a corn tortilla and then gets crisped up on the flattop until it’s this side of crunchy. A cool dollop of guacamole, lettuce, and tomato are added before the shimmering yellow parcel is wrapped, bagged, and handed over the counter to the customer to go. (There isn’t much in the way of seating at the nearly 60-year-old restaurant.) The chicken guacamole taco is Santa Fe’s tacos. Equally as good is the beef, which, unlike its treatment in the standard crunchy taco, is served shredded. 1833 Cerrillos Road, 505.995.8015
El Chile Toreado
While this taco spot is housed in a trailer, El Chile Toreado isn’t going anywhere. The rig is lacking wheels. Perhaps some happy patron absconded with them because they didn’t want to lose the ability to order mouth-puckering beef barbacoa, served shredded and best topped with ribbons of indigo-hued pickled onions. Their tang balances the richness of the beef.
Also superb is the carnitas, a crunchy yet mellow and juicy assembly of pork that sings with the Christmas salsa, a New Mexico-style pico de gallo heavy on the fiery green and red chiles.
If the special green chile-chicken chipotle taco is available, give it a chance. Its filling starts as traditional chicken tinga, chicken stewed in smoky chipotle chiles, before getting dressed with New Mexico green chiles’ fruity heat. It stunned me — in a good way. 950 W. Cordova Road, 505.500.0033
La Choza Restaurant
La Choza, The Shed’s laid-back, down-home sibling, offers almost the exact menu as its Plaza-located big sister, including fork-and-knife soft blue corn tacos. The trio of blue corn tortillas laid flat bearing mildly seasoned ground beef is served with a coat of melted white and orange cheese and smothered with red or green chile. A standard order is a great example of a New Mexico specialty. But that’s not what you want to request. Instead, ask for the chile sauces on the side. This customization allows you to apply as much chile as you would like without muddling the dish’s flavors. The result is a comforting chorus of punchy chile, salty cheese, and taco meat. 905 Alarid St., 505.982.0909
The Plaza Café
Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant has plenty of nearby competition, namely The Shed and the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi restaurant. Neither offers an Indian fry bread taco. I’m especially keen on this truly American taco, having delved into its history and significance for Cowboys & Indians. So it was with great excitement that I sat down for a third lunch at The Plaza. At the booth across from my table sat an elderly couple. The white bearded gentleman wore the traditional embroidered Latin American shirt known as a guayabera and rested his right hand on his wife’s arm while discussing their afternoon itinerary. She had a shock of red hair and was all jangly Southwestern jewelry and patient smile. Between the two was a platter-sized Indian taco. I couldn’t help but think decades from now that might be my beloved wife and me. I was excited.
The taco was fine. Its golden base could have been lighter, as could have been the touch that applied the cheese. The lettuce was crisp but abundant. Still, the green chile, with its mouth-coating fire, was a delight. 54 Lincoln Ave., 505.982.1664
A full-scale renovation that extended to the menu has rejuvenated the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi’s restaurant. The space retains its Southwestern feel with a contemporary touch. The main dining room has been opened up and is separated from the bar area by an unobtrusive but fetching teak wood divider hundreds of pounds in weight. Buffering the dining room and the bar is the Tequila Table space. At the raised roundtable, aficionados and novices alike can relish the Anasazi’s extensive agave spirit collection alongside executive chef Juan Bochenski’s signature Latin American-influenced Southwestern cuisine. Sharing menu real estate with the must-order red chile buffalo empanadas are the snappy ahi tuna tacos
The pleasantly textured fried wonton wraps are packed with lightly seared tuna that finds a match in peppy black beans and bright mango salsa. Avocado and sour cream keep the heat from overwhelming the palate. The tacos are bar food elevated and pair well with a tequila flight. 113 Washington Ave., 505.988.3030
Hometown boy done good John Rivera Sedlar has proven himself a prominent figure in the New Southwestern cuisine movement, but he did so from Los Angeles until now. Earlier this year, Sedlar returned to his native Santa Fe and opened Eloisa in the Drury Plaza Hotel. If Anasazi’s makeover didn’t eschew a sense of place, Eloisa is appointed as unabashedly modern as modern gets. It’s white and sleek and expansive. But Eloisa — named for Sedlar’s grandmother, whose visage graces plates — serves food with a firm foundation in The City Different without forgetting L.A. The platter of mini pastrami tacos (above) in crispy blue shells, with its roots in the East L.A. Jewish delis of the mid-20th century — where workers were apt to put any kosher meat in a tortilla — is one example. The beef slices, thin and presented atop tangy sauerkraut, are the briny ribbons to the pickled serranos’ kicking bows. The mustard, a required condiment if ever there was one, added the finishing touch to my tour of Santa Fe tacos. 228 E. Palace Ave., 505.982.0883