We love good food. We spend a lot of time on the run. Fortunately, this combo results in our eating out at least five times a week in Santa Fe, a city abundant with good restaurants in a range of price points. Off the top of my cranium are five choices that vary substantially in cuisine, price and atmosphere, presented in alphabetical order. Watch for more to come.
Clafouti: The owners hail from Dijon, so it’s only right that they should make the transcendentally best French bread in town. My taste in pastries runs away from the sugared, so I can’t speak to the quality of the many visually luscious offerings in the case by the cash register but the mildly sweet brioche are meltingly soft. The Salad Charlotte is my lunch preference; Josh favors the Cubano sandwich but the Croque Monsieur merits attention as a far grander, more voluptuous version of the classic sandwich than any I ever sampled across the pond. For breakfast, I like Le Speciale: 2 eggs, any style, plus bacon or ham and a bread basket. My alternate favorite: the omelette provençale. The waffles and French Toast are well worth a try for their generous amounts of fresh fruit–no stinting on berries. Order the large coffee if you tend to drink your first cup quickly as the refill process can be painfully slow (wait staff must carry your cup up to machine in the front to pour a fresh cup.) Overall, Clafouti is one of our favorite restaurants for food quality, panache and the bright charm of its owners.$-$$ 402 N. Guadalupe * 988.1809
Cowgirl Hall of Fame Restaurant: If you’ve got the hankers for good barbeque in a lively, no fuss atmosphere, Cowgirl’s your ticket. Known for its heaping plates of mesquite smoked ribs, brisket and chicken, the Cowgirl also offers tasty and filing vegetarian fare. The cheesy, butternut squash casserole with its substantial side salad is a standout. Jerk Chicken and bourbon salmon platters are other savory options. As for appetizers, the best value is the nacho plate: a gargantuan nest of color, texture and flavor. The burgers are respectable, but stick with the regular fries as the sweet potato versions are a limp disappointment. For teetotalers, the Texas Sized sodas are two-fisted monsters of abundance. Even Arnold Palmer lovers are generously entitled to refills at no extra charge. For those seeking a stiffer brew, there’s a full bar with a good selection of tasty margaritas and tequilas. Be forewarned that the bar can be slow. Indeed, service can be a weak point, but if you have the time and patience to drop your spurs for a spell, the cowgirl delivers. Kid friendly; nice outdoor patio; live entertainment. $-$$ 319 S. Guadalupe * 982.2565
Pyramid Cafe: The first time we peeked in the windows of this nondescript storefront, we were put off by its emptiness and imagined a meal of stale pita and withering vegetables as the owners attempted to stretch out days of uneaten food. Nothing could be further from the character of this bastion of fresh flavors. We have dug deep ruts towards the same 2-3 offerings: Joshua tends to get the Gyro Sandwich and I am wed to the Roasted Leg of Lamb Salad, but any excursion off the path has been equally rewarding. Meat is nicely seared: juicy with a hint of charing. Salads are crisp and well-seasoned. And while daytime ordering takes place at the counter, the man who usually greets us, takes our order and brings it to the table has a warmth and presence amidst the bustle that make us feel like genuinely honored guests. For good value and reasonable prices, Pyramid is a staple. North African, Mediterranean and Greek Cuisine. $$ 505 Cordova Rd. * 505.989.1378, Open 7 days a week, 11-9 PM continuously
Shoko Cafe: For many years, Shoko was the only Asian restaurant in Santa Fe, and my affection for it runs deep. Over time, its food and atmosphere have become more polished with an attendant rise in prices that sometimes seem a step ahead of its value. Solo diners should sit at the sushi bar to experience the deft artistry and hospitality of the chefs in attendance. The fish is fresh and beautifully presented, Indeed, most plates are a visual delight. The Omakase Chef’s Choice sushi/sashimi special, however, lacked the range and sophistication we might have expected for the price. Vegetarians have strong options with excellent salads and vegetable appetizers (seaweed sesame and spinach sesame are two of our favorites), as well as entrees such as vegetable tempura, udon with vegetables and Tofu steak. Bento boxes are bountiful and beautifully balanced. There’s a good selection of sakes, beer and wine as well as non-alcoholic drinks. Avoid the overpriced lemonade and Arnold Palmers. Sushi and Japanese. $$-$$$ 321 Johnson St. * 982.9708
Upper Crust Pizza: Voted “Best Pizza” in the Santa Fe Reporter’s reader poll from 1995-2010, Upper Crust has competition from purveyors of wood-fired thin crusts, but those who favor a traditional American pizza will be pleased with the quality and value of this local institution. The whole wheat crust with its softly chewy texture and sweet, nutty flavor gets our vote over the perfectly respectable white. Choose your own toppings, or opt for one of the classics. Our favorite, the veggie combo, is loaded with tasty toppings, including a mild-leaning green chile that is as affectionately entwined in my memories of New Mexican pizza as Madelines were in the remembrances of Marcel Proust. Salads are a bit soggy with dressing but don’t lack for flavor. A good selection of brews and a pleasant outdoor patio make this a nice, affordable summer stop. Opt for pickup over delivery, which can be spotty. $-$$ 329 Old Santa Fe Trail * 982.0000