“With soft Exotica tunes lilting in the background, tasty rum potions can send the land-locked sailor on a journey to exotic ports of call, wh…
The end of May’s unpredictable weather means the best time of year in Santa Fe is just around the bend: patio season. During the relatively mild summers of the City Different, it seems there’s a patio to fit every mood. Whether you’re in need of a sunset view, a place to stash the kids, or a monsoon hideout, these places have you covered (though some are out in the open). This week, we found a few superlatives for some of the city’s most appealing outdoor dining spaces.
Best patio for people-watching
“All the good people are here, right?” said a man in black Ray-Bans and a navy blue suit to a woman standing underneath a tree on the crowded patio at The Shed (113½ Palace Ave., 505-982-9030, sfshed.com).
He had a point. At that very moment, five nuns were trailing out of the restaurant. A wide orange outdoor canopy lent the lunchtime diners a tangerine tint. Two babies named Madeleine and Roma stared into each other’s eyes from neighboring tables, an elderly Italian woman in a wild ensemble of clashing plaids smiled down at her plate of red chile, and a black-and-white pit bull stretched out contentedly on the flagstones. Trumpet vines ran up the sides of the roof, lending an eclectic harmony to the turquoise-trimmed hacienda.
A seat on The Shed’s modest patio is perfect for viewing the endless parade of people passing through the historic café six days a week. At the entrance, one woman said to another, “¿Cómo estás?” to which the other replied, “Bien, bien. I’m excited to be here.” T-shirts broadcast affiliations that ranged from the Los Angeles Dodgers to Chicano Batman to Dirty Duck. A passing tray of golden margaritas ($9 for a Shed Gold house margarita, the best in Santa Fe) caused a young mother to recount “the most epic night at The Shed” to her companion. And every table was most likely gearing up to answer The Question: “Red or green?”
The Shed is famous for its massive chile-soaked enchiladas and burritos, but the menu also presents a few more warm-weather-friendly options. There’s the tasty grilled shrimp skewer ($8), the kale salad with piñon and feta cheese ($7.50), the creamy crimini mushroom soup ($5 for a cup), or the old-fashioned Italian green-bean salad ($7). Whatever you order, it’s practically guaranteed that your attention will be divided between the excellent food and the entertaining array of humanity on display. — Molly Boyle
Honorable mention: Cowgirl BBQ, La Casa Sena, Paloma Restaurant, Coyote Cantina, Bar Alto, Counter Culture, Opuntia.
Most pup-friendly patio
Rowley Farmhouse Ales
Peggy is a pit bull visiting from northern California. Moby’s a Great Dane who recently moved to Santa Fe. And Ripley is a four-month-old rescue with big doe eyes.
Over the past month or so, each of these doggies had its picture taken on the gravel patio at Rowley Farmhouse Ales (1405 Maclovia St., 505-428-0719, rowleyfarmhouse.com). They were posted on the brewery’s Facebook page with the hashtag #RowleyFarmDog. “We like to share our canine family members with the rest of our friends and family,” explained chef and co-owner Jeffrey Kaplan, who owns Rhodesian Ridgebacks. He and brewer-owner John Rowley, who has French bulldogs, love to talk with visiting owners about their canines — and with their charity initiative, Pulls for Pups, the owners also walk the walk. A dollar from every pour on one of the taps (the beer changes periodically) is donated to an animal-friendly organization. Kaplan said the beneficiary of the proceeds changes quarterly, and that the eatery has worked with organizations that range from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter to Española Humane to Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary to the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas. Thus far, the nearly three-year-old brewpub has raised close to $20,000 for animal welfare.
Besides the plethora of adorable pups at Rowley, there’s plenty to recommend its spacious patio. Surrounded by a slatted-wood fence, the al fresco area offers a mix of seating from shaded picnic benches to sunny café tables, as well as outdoor heaters. Kaplan’s wide-ranging menu is heavy on comfort food — we’re fond of accompanying the Agent Scully IPA ($6 for 16 ounces) with the wild Gulf shrimp po’ boy ($16) — and new spring options include a moussaka with ground lamb ($15) from El Rito, green chile cheese fries ($7), a falafel hoagie ($12), and a mortadella sandwich with local pork and house-made spicy pimento cheese ($14). We’re pretty sure they’ll give you a doggie bag if you’ve got any leftovers. — M.B.
Honorable mention: Second Street Brewery’s Rufina Taproom, Café Fina, Loyal Hound Pub, The Teahouse, Tune-Up Café.
Best patio for watching the sunset
Bell Tower Bar
Open from 3 p.m. to twilight Monday through Friday and noon to twilight on Saturdays and Sundays, La Fonda’s spacious fifth-floor open-air bar (100 E. San Francisco St., 505-982-5511, lafondasantafe.com) is the premier spot for watching the sun set over the city.
You can raise a glass to the rooftops and nearby neighborhoods of Santa Fe while the Manzano and Manzanita Mountains glow in the distance. Fill that glass with a small but nicely curated selection of wines, or try one of the season’s new tiki-inspired cocktails. Tiki bars are making a major comeback, and La Fonda beverage manager Carla Gilfillan is in the moment and on the money with her Southwest interpretations of the classics (think tequila and gin rather than rum). The Mana Margarita ($19) arrives in a pineapple-shaped mug; Ethel’s Blue Margarita ($12) sports an equally blue umbrella. Our Bell Tower sour ($15) was perfectly balanced, with grapefruit (rather than lemon) setting the tone and enough whiskey to give it some structure — which is not always the case with hotel bar drinks.
The six snacks on the bar menu range from such local favorites as chips, salsa, and guacamole ($15); chile con queso ($12); and a trio of Southwest sliders ($14) to a cheese and charcuterie plate. We are partial to the spiced pulled-chicken quesadillas ($13). The bright plate is sided with a very fresh tomato-and-onion salsa and a smooth mound of guac — but it’s the small bowl of bright green tomatillo salsa, blended with more avocado for a creamy texture, that lifts the dish up a notch.
A stop at the Bell Tower Bar is the perfect end to a lovely day — or a savory start to a summer night.
— Patricia West-Barker
Honorable mention: The Bar at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, Bar Alto on the roof of the Drury Hotel, the deck at Second Street Brewery Rufina Taproom.
Best patio during a monsoon
The glass-enclosed patio at Amaya (Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta, 505-955-7805, hotelsantafe.com/amaya) will keep you safe from a storm no matter how hard the wind blows or what time the rains come: the large dining room is open every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. When it’s not raining, the glass doors slide open to an enclosed garden and teepee that can be reserved for private dining. It’s an attractive and comfortable space. Well-cushioned chairs, Native art, a large kiva fireplace in the corner, and sunset colors all help take the edge off a gloomy day.
You can have a full breakfast, lunch, or dinner here or choose from the small plates and apps meant to share: Chips and salsa ($8) and guacamole ($4) are always available, along with more substantial or exotic fare like baby lamb chops ($17) and blue lump crab fritters served with green chile hush puppies ($17). The plate of nachos ($14) is enormous, piled high with chips, green chile, beans, asadero cheese and a choice of either grilled chicken or small, chipotle-flavored shrimp. The roasted jalapeños that crowned it all lacked heat — perhaps a nod to the hotel’s many out-of-town guests.
If the rain lasts longer than you want to sit, check out the Native American art gallery and Picuris Pueblo gift shop on the premises. The Hotel Santa Fe is the only Native-owned hotel close to the Plaza. — P.W.B.
Honorable mention: Luminaria Restaurant & Patio at the Inn & Spa at Loretto, Tesuque Village Market, Jimmy D’s.
Best patio for people with kids
At the end of a long day or week, most of us just want to unwind with friends and perhaps enjoy an adult beverage — and when Santa Fe’s weather is glorious, preferably do so outside. Lest any of us forget, parents want those things, too, which is why the Kiddie Corral at Cowgirl BBQ (319 S. Guadalupe St., 505-982-2565, cowgirlsantafe.com) has almost legendary status among moms and dads (not to mention aunties and uncles) all over town.
Several large tables nestled under the covered part of the patio — with ceiling fans and heaters to help maintain a pleasant environment nearly year-round — accommodate large groups or clusters of small ones in community-table fashion. Parents can park it there and engage in grownup conversation while the under-10 set gets their ya-yas out on the Cowgirl’s AstroTurf playground. Santa Fe short stacks can avail themselves of a bean bag toss, wall-mounted chalkboards, a slide, a climbing wall, and other tyke-sized equipment that encourages gymnastics and other hopefully exhausting activities. The menu runs a wide gamut from wings ($8.50) and nachos ($9.50) to seared scallops ($17), the popular Harvest Salad ($8.50 and $10.50), and petit sirloin ($17.50), with chicken strips ($6), mac and cheese ($5.50), and other options for kiddos in between. — Laurel Gladden
Honorable mention: Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery, Café Fina, Beer Creek Brewing Co.
Best brewery patio
Second Street Brewery, aka “the Oldery”
Not much is fancy about the patio at the original, eponymously located Second Street Brewery (1814 Second St., 505-982-3030, secondstreetbrewery.com), and that’s exactly as it should be. In this quiet spot tucked back away from the road, the vibe is hippie-idyllic. The metal tables and no-frills plastic chairs were chosen not to inspire design envy but to endure wind, rain, and sunshine and rebuff snow, sleet, and pollen. Without décor distractions, you’re more likely to pay attention to the beer — perennial faves like the Boneshaker special bitter ($5, although, like all the beers here, prices and availability vary) or newer offerings like the steam-style Cologne Common ($5) or the Brutalism IPA ($6) — and the relaxing green canopy of tree branches overhead. When the Rail Runner chugs by en route to or from Albuquerque, you and your patio pals can wave to the passengers, many of whom will delightedly wave back. — L.G.
Honorable mentions: Second Street Brewery Rufina Taproom (“the Rufinery”), Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Draft Station, Beer Creek Brewing Co.