At elegant La Casa Sena (125 E. Palace Ave., 505/988-9232, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m. Sun., $34), the emphasis is on hearty meats: chorizo-stuffed pork tenderloin, for instance, or antelope loin. Even the fish dishes need to be attacked with gusto: The trout baked in adobe gets cracked open at the table, releasing a perfectly moist and tender fish. Sunday brunch is also served (11 a.m.–3 p.m.), with dishes such as lobster ceviche and eggs Benedict with jalapeño hollandaise. There are better-value restaurants of the same caliber in town, but the patio is a dreamy place to dine in the warm months.
As of 2008, Santa Fe’s elite had anointed Coyote Café (132 W. Water St., 505/983-1615, 5:30–9 p.m. Wed., Thurs. and Sun., 5:30–10 p.m. Fri. and Sat., $28) as the new hot joint, after a makeover from chef Eric DiStefano—so the restaurant that started the contemporary Southwestern trend in 1987 no longer has such an obviously local bent, but the food is solid, if not quite as adventurous as it pretends to be, and portions are massive. A long bar along the open kitchen is fun for solo diners or couples. Open summers only, the Rooftop Cantina has a more traditional (and cheaper) Mexican menu.
Set in an 1857 adobe, Santacafé (231 Washington Ave., 505/984-1788, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and 6–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 6–10 p.m. Sun., $24) is an institution—which doesn’t necessarily mean the food is great. But the scene, especially when the legislature is in session, is lively, with politicos seated next to ladies serious about their lunches. Stick to standards and items with a distinct Southwestern flair—the more inventive international dishes often miss the mark—or just grab a snack at the bar, frequented by a good cross-section of the city.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition