Exploring Taos: An Unforgettable Food-Focused New Mexico Adventure
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As much as we love living in Santa Fe - the history, the architecture, the mountainous backdrop, and especially, the food - we're pretty into Taos, too! The dramatic setting and quirky and diverse mix of people and cultures make it a favorite weekend getaway. If you are visiting New Mexico, we highly recommend spending at least two days in Taos. If you don't have at least two days, don't worry! Taos makes a great day trip from Santa Fe.
The beauty of the drive to Taos, like many drives in New Mexico, makes the journey half the fun. While the famous High Road is undeniably scenic, we equally enjoy the Low Road (NM 68) which hugs the Rio Grande for much of the route, passes through green valleys, and drops you into Taos with jaw-dropping views of the Taos Gorge in the foreground and the Sangre de Cristos looming in the distance.
And because we love to eat, we often plan the drive - and our time in Taos - around stops at some our favorite eating and drinking establishments. Here are our recommendations for where to eat and drink along the way and in town.
Where To Eat & Drink Along The Way
Rancho de Chimayo: A Northern New Mexico institution. If you leave Santa Fe hungry and are craving chile, a stop at Rancho de Chimayo is a must. This place is an institution. It was established in 1965 by the Jaramillo family, whose family history in the area dates to the late 1600s. In 2016, the restaurant received a James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award, which recognizes America's diverse culinary heritage. Since it was founded, Rancho de Chimayo has continued to serve up some of the area's best and most traditional New Mexican food. The portions are big, the prices are reasonable, and the chile is hot. You can't go wrong here - but a stuffed sopaipilla with beef or chicken and your choice of red or green chile (we like Christmas!) is always satisfying.
If you have some extra time, make sure to visit the nearby Santuario de Chimayo, a famous Catholic pilgrimage site centered around an abode church from 1816. Pilgrims from near and far come for the holy dirt, gathered from the surrounding red hills, that is said to cure many ailments.
Homestyle cooking and wine tasting in Dixon. Continuing north on NM 68, you'll reach the farming community of Dixon, which is worth a stop to eat at Zuly's Café, which serves up homey New Mexican fare, as well as an eclectic mix of salads, soups, burgers, and a changing list of specials. Both the red and green chile are excellent. If it's a nice day, grab a seat on their tree-shaded patio and linger over a cold drink (they serve beer and wine).
Another reason to make a stop in Dixon is the wine. Yes, this is (one of) New Mexico's wine-growing regions, and there are several wineries in and around Dixon where you can taste. Black Mesa, La Chiripada and Vivác are all within minutes of each other and all are worth a stop. Check out our post on wine tasting in the area for more details.
Continuing up the low road to Taos, you'll hug the Rio Grande, hemmed in by rocky bluffs. It's beautiful any time of year, but especially in the autumn, when the cottonwoods turn a brilliant yellow. As you approach Taos, the landscape suddenly opens up, and you'll get a glimpse of Taos Gorge off to your left, which makes a dramatic gash through the landscape.
Where To Eat & Drink In Taos
The Love Apple: Creative, inspired regional dining. Of the many great meals we've eaten in New Mexico, the Love Apple is one of the most memorable. The location alone stands out - the restaurant is housed in a 100 year-old adobe church building. The simple, whitewashed interior is cozy and candlelit, which gives the space a seriously romantic feel.
The food, New American with local influences, relies heavily on ingredients from nearby farms. The chefs create familiar dishes with unusual twists, like grilled ruby rainbow trout with quinoa-pinon fritter and cilantro lime relish, or wild quail stuffed with green chile, feta, and quinoa. This is the place to come for a special occasion.
Orlando's: A colorful local favorite. If you can't get enough chile, Orlando's is the place to go. Located just north of town, its popularity is evidenced by its perennially full parking lot. Try "Los Colores," which features three blue corn enchiladas (chicken with green chile, beef with red chile, and cheese with chile caribe), along with beans and posole. It's a great way to sample three different and delicious variations on a classic New Mexican enchilada. Or try the shrimp - not traditionally New Mexican, of course, but cooked to perfection in blue corn enchilada.
Chokola: Bean to bar chocolate treats. For dessert (or anytime, really), a visit to Chokola is a must. This isn't just the best chocolate we've had in New Mexico, but probably the best we've had anywhere. It's a "bean to bar" chocolate maker, which means that they produce chocolate from whole cocoa beans in-house (most chocolate makers buy pre-made chocolate from other manufacturers, and then melt it down and add flavoring). The café - a beautifully designed space located just off Taos plaza - always smells heavenly. It can be pretty hard to decide which of the incredible looking chocolate delicacies to choose. Luckily, the friendly staff is always willing to provide explanations and samples. We usually get the tasting trio, which offers the opportunity to choose three different concoctions, such as mousse (flavors like lemon ginger and coffee), drinking chocolate with cinnamon and chili, and truffles (the goat cheese is addictive). Chokola is also a great place to pick up edible gifts or souvenirs to take home.
Taos Mesa Brewing: Beer, tacos, and live music at the Mothership. To cap off your Taos adventure, head to Taos Mesa Brewing for local brews and live music. They have two locations - the so-called "Mothership" on the namesake mesa, and a taproom in town. The Mothership hosts live music most nights and attracts a diverse range of great bands - from bluegrass to funk to country western to West African. TMB's commitment to sustainability can be seen in their use of locally grown hops, as well as the brewery itself, which uses passive solar to heat the building and water for brewing, and draws heavily on reclaimed and refurbished materials. Apart from the excellent beer, they also serve creative bar food like smoked pork mole tacos and nachos with cheddar ale sauce.
What to know:
The low road to Taos (Route 285 to Route 68) takes approximately an hour and a half, with no stops. You'll want to leave plenty of time for food & wine stops, not to mention photo stops!
Along the way:
- Zuly's Café // 234 NM-75, Dixon, NM // No website //
- Black Mesa Winery // 1502 NM-68, Velarde, NM // // Website
- La Chiripada Winery // Highway 75 Rd 1119 #8, Dixon, NM // // Website
- Vivác Winery // 2075 State Highway 68, Dixon, NM // // Website
- Rancho de Chimayo // 300 Juan Medina Rd, Chimayo, NM // // Website