At one point or another, everyone’s mother or grandmother probably admonished them not to eat between meals. Perhaps because of this time-honored advice, most restaurants observe distinct mealtimes, serving lunch and dinner with a doors-locked, lights-down-low break in between. What’s a girl to do, then, when she finds herself starving at 3 p.m.? Where do you turn if your airport rideshare deposits you downtown before the dinner hour has arrived? Better yet, what if you’re eating solo or simply don’t want to commit to a full, formal dining experience? Some Santa Fe establishments keep us oddballs in mind, offering menus that are sometimes abbreviated, sometimes extensive, and often available only in the lounge area or at the bar — but almost always satisfying. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
The Bull Ring (150 Washington Ave. #108,505-983-3328, santafebullring.com), opened next to the New Mexico State Capitol in 1971. A move to the courtyard of a downtown office building diminished neither its popularity nor its old-time steakhouse vibe. It remains a drinking and dining destination for locals, legislators, and lobbyists well into its fourth decade. The restaurant’s eclectic bar menu, served daily from 11:30 a.m. to close, includes the usual steakhouse suspects but reaches far beyond the beef. Choices range from coconut shrimp ($17) to onion rings ($9) and from green chile stew ($7/$10) to fish and chips ($15) and chicken-fried steak ($14.50). Add in some unexpected items — escargot ($18) and mussels ($15) — and there is something here to satisfy every taste, mood, and budget.
On a recent visit, we went with the justly famous Bull Wings ($14), which are marinated in a chipotle dressing, then flash-fried with no batter, breadcrumbs, or other coatings. The result: crisp, grease-free, full-flavored wings. It takes about 20 minutes for the large basket of cooked-to-order wings to reach the table, and they are totally worth the wait. And the hand-cut, freshly cooked potato chips ($8) are hot, salty, perfectly crunchy — and totally addictive.
The substantial wine list is heavy on reds, as you would expect, with a larger-than-usual selection of wines by the glass priced from $9.95 to $14.75. There are a few beers on tap, supplemented by more than a dozen imported and domestic bottled brews. Margaritas and martinis dominate the cocktail menu. The classic Negroni ($11) was both potent and perfectly balanced. — Patricia West-Barker
At the handsome, squarish bar at The Compound (653-A Canyon Road, 505-982-4353, compoundrestaurant.com), you can bask in the rarefied environs of one of Santa Fe’s finest restaurants without committing to a four-course undertaking or breaking the bank (although opening your wallet at this address could never be considered a frugal decision). While you can order anything off the dining room menu, the flip side isn’t true, so take advantage of your opportunity to enjoy bar food as seen through the lens of James Beard Award-winning chef Mark Kiffin. To wit: a Pisa-rivaling leaning tower of onion rings ($9) — thin-but-not-shoestring slices of pungent purple onion in a crumbly buttermilk-based crust. Fish and chips ($20) get a cute, tongue-in-cheek treatment: piping hot, remarkably flaky white cod in a cloudlike batter and meaty (if somewhat utilitarian) finger-sized fries are served on red-and-white checkered paper more commonly seen cradling deli sandwiches. Not surprisingly, the Caesar salad ($8) that’s de rigueur on bar menus nationwide gets downsized and upscaled at The Compound, but it’ll still satisfy your desire for roughage and cleanse your post-fried-food palate. On the swankier end of the spectrum is a Compound classic: bronzed triangles of rich golden polenta ($15) strewn with wild mushrooms, emerald leaves of peppery arugula, and a tissue-thin confetti of Parmesan, all of which feel perfectly fitting for the season. When it comes to wine, The Compound’s reputation precedes it, but the beverage choices now include a short but respectable selection of cocktails that range from an expected roster of margaritas — the blood orange variety ($16) is lovely to look at, well-balanced, and refreshing — and other classics, as well as a few eye-catching newcomers, like the Uva Amara ($18) made with Campari, the mildly sweet and gently bitter grappa-based Amaro Nonino, Grand Marnier, and Chianti. The bar offers only 12 highly coveted seats, so call to reserve yours or arrive when the doors open. — Laurel Gladden
Tucked along a back wall of the Drury Plaza Hotel’s Eloisa (228 E. Palace Ave., 505-982-0883, eloisasantafe.com) is a small, sleek, well-stocked bar with large glass doors that open onto the dining room’s patio. Distinct from Bar Alto, the hotel’s seasonal rooftop bar, Eloisa features a small but well-curated selection of dishes served only in the bar from 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly.
While the restaurant has built its brand around contemporary takes on traditional Southwestern fare under the direction of award-winning chef John Rivera Sedlar, the dedicated bar menu skews as much Asian as Latin fusion. The menu’s five items include the calamari fria Japonesa ($12), which may be the best calamari we’ve found in Santa Fe. Tender, sweet, perfectly cooked squid rings and tentacles are robed in a soft, light, well-seasoned tempura batter and served with slivers of red, green, and yellow bell peppers. The same batter coats Tempura Shrimp Festival ($18), six juicy, jumbo crustaceans that are strikingly presented, tails up, in glasses of Thai chile, mango-habanero, and lemon aioli dipping sauces.
If the bar-only menu does not tempt you, you can also order from the restaurant’s “small plates” list, which includes ribs, tamales, tacos, salads, and a savory flan, inspired by Pueblo, Spanish colonial, Western territorial, and mestizo/mixta influences.
The full bar offers a number of wines, draft and bottled beers, and classic or craft cocktails prepared with or without alcohol. — P.W.B.
Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo reportedly once insisted, “While living, I want to live well,” and that may well be the inspiration for what goes on inside the walls of the Canyon Road restaurant that takes his name (724 Canyon Road, 505-982-1500, geronimo restaurant.com). Dining room seating is plentiful here, but most tables are reserved well ahead of time, especially at busy times of year. Seats in the small, cozy bar are also fervidly sought-after, and once the doors open, they’re quickly claimed. (No reservations in the bar — sorry!) As you might expect, you can avail yourself of anything on the regular menu here, and some items do cross over, like an ahi sashimi and tartare plate ($20) that’s practically too pretty to eat and a sprightly salad of arugula, watercress, cashews, and pears with grin-inducing “grilled cheese” croutons made with Bleu d’Auvergne ($14).
Fancified versions of more typical bar items make appearances, too, such as a luxurious mac and cheese studded with ham-like bacon and completely heat-free green chile ($12); pomme frites ($12); and a $20 flat-iron steak with snap peas and potatoes. But the lounge menu also offers some singular unexpected delights, like the perfectly fried lobster tempura ($22) with an ideally crisp and russet-gold crust, a yuzu sweet-and-sour sauce, and a sesame-chile aioli tagging along for dipping. Geronimo’s wine list is comprehensive and impressive, but head mixologist Shaun Adams and his staff craft some of the most creative, well-balanced cocktails in town — many true “garden to glass” undertakings infused and garnished with local flowers and herbs. — L.G.
Although the Secreto Lounge at Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar Ave., 505-983-5700, hotelstfrancis.com/secreto-lounge) will prepare any classic cocktail of your choosing, the house specializes in “garden-to-glass” concoctions based on locally distilled spirits and bitters. Steam rising from the bar could signal an order for the smoked sage margarita ($13) featured on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail or, for our choice, the barrel-aged Boulevardier ($14), built with bourbon infused with thyme in-house and served in a wood-smoked glass. Garnished with a sprig of thyme, it’s a fragrant and potent take on the drink originally created for ex-pats in Paris in the 1920s. The lively, upbeat lounge is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, from noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday — but the bar menu, which is sourced from the Market Steer Steakhouse also housed in the historic hotel, is only available between Tuesday and Saturday, when the restaurant is open. The lounge serves no food of any kind on Sunday or Monday.
Some of the appetizers and starters on the restaurant menu also appear on the lounge menu; others are available only at the bar. Spreads and Dips ($15) include a ramekin of sweet-savory tomato-bacon jam, a seasonal hummus, and an excellent house-made pimento cheese, all that richness set off by a small bowl of lightly pickled veggies. The steak sandwich ($19) — seven ounces of prime New York strip cooked to order, thinly sliced, and topped with caramelized onions, horseradish cream, and fried pickled peppers — is more a meal than a snack, and large enough to share.
But the buttery roasted bone marrow ($14) is the prize we came for. Once served primarily at nose-to-tail establishments that break down their own beef, Market Steer’s cross-cut version is posed atop a pool of savory tomato-bacon-bourbon jam, and topped with pickled red onions and a cornbread crumble that complement the unctuous marrow. — P.W.B.
When you crave classic New Mexican food, nothing else will do. In those off hours, you can depend on Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen (555 Cordova Road, 505-983-7929, marias-santafe.com) and Tomasita’s (500 S. Guadalupe St., 505-983-5721, tomasitas.com). At Maria’s — which, thanks to the recent expansion, now has two bar areas and a courtyard patio — this means chips with salsa, guac, or creamy-picante queso ($7.50); nachos ($6.95); a hefty quesadilla ($6.75); or ribs ($7.95) in an oddly irresistible sticky sweet-and-spicy sauce, any or all washed down with one of a slew of Maria’s world-famous margaritas.
At Tomasita’s, dip your chips in salsa, guac, or queso ($3.25-$6.50), or lean on bar classics like nachos ($6.95-$10.95), chicken wings ($6.95), or chile-cheese fries ($5.95). Barflies I know, though, prefer to break from the norm with fried mushroom caps ($4.95) or dolmas stuffed with spiced ground beef and rice ($5.95). If you dare to chase your chile with a doubly boozy sugar rush, try the Swirl ($7.75) — a frozen margarita with an eddy of sangria. Midafternoon can be an ideal time to get your Tomasita’s fix. During these hours, the tourist throngs typically thin, and seats are more easily secured. Among the hungriest of us, Maria’s earns extra points for being open on Sundays, when so many other traditional New Mexican joints are shuttered. — L.G.
• • •
315 Restaurant & Wine Bar
315 Old Santa Fe Trail
5 p.m.-close daily
Agave Lounge at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa
309 W. San Francisco St.
2 p.m.-close daily
Anasazi Bar & Lounge
113 Washington Ave.
2:30 p.m.-close daily in the bar and lounge
The Dragon Room at the Pink Adobe
406 Old Santa Fe Trail
4 p.m.-close Tuesdays-Sundays
72 W. Marcy St.
11:30 a.m.-close daily
The Living Room at the Inn and Spa at Loretto
211 Old Santa Fe Trail
2 p.m.-close daily
El Mesón Restaurant & Tapas Bar
213 Washington Ave.
5-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays in the bar
229 Galisteo St.
5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays at the indoor and outdoor bar counters
Low ‘n Slow Lowrider Bar at Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe
125 Washington Ave.
4-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, noon-11 p.m. Fridays-Sundays
Terra at Encantado
198 N.M. 592
Noon-10:30 p.m. daily in the bar
— Laurel Gladden