There are a few things you should know about New Mexico. First off, it is part of the United States. The license plates helpfully point this out: “New Mexico, USA”. Second, it is one of the few states with an Official State Cookie (the biscochito—or is that bizcochito?). Third, it's a fantastic place to get fat, or, as I told one diner manager who looked at me funny when I ordered a sopaipilla and a slice of tres leches cake (no dinner to go with it, thankyouverymuch) a great place “to carb-o-load for a marathon you're never going to run.”
Here's where I've carb-o-loaded and sugar-rushed, and I think you should, too.
Donut Stop Believin'. Santa Fe is not, strictly speaking, a donut town. In fact, there's only one non-chain donut shop in town. But one is all they need, because clearly, Whoo's Donuts are the best. This is where you'd get flavors such as blue corn with strawberry-jalapeno glaze, white chocolate lemon pistachio (pictured above) or salted caramel. You'll pay for them—most doughnuts are $2 or more—but they are so. Freaking. Good.
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Time for Chocolate. If chocolate is more your speed, you're in luck. Check out the "Chocolate Trail of Santa Fe" for a self-guided tour, or just read on. I'd start right after visiting Whoo's Donuts and go next door to ChocolateSmith and get something sweet like a mendiant, some bark, or a truffle. It's owned by the same people who own Whoo's Donuts, and everything, from the salted caramel truffle to the spicy chocolate bark, is made with love and care and is completely tasty.
Not too far away, Kakawa Chocolate House is also a fantastic spot for chocolate, most notably drinking chocolate. They actually create historically accurate drinking chocolates there, in case you've ever been curious what Aztec chocolate tasted like, or what flavor of cocoa Jefferson might have favored. Oh, they also make a nice array of sweets on site, such as this delightful (and large) lemon pistachio macaroon.
C.G. Higgins also does truffles and chocolates, including some unusual flavors.This is more like the old-fashioned confectionery shop in town, but with some more updated flavors. Intrigued by the blue cheese and cherries jubilee truffles, I stuck kind of safe and tried the himalayan sea salt. Sweet. Salty. Yum. They also have a respectable hot chocolate (though in my opinion, that's something you look for at Kakawa). Also, just FYI, you could get some Chile Pecan Brittle here, too.
At Todos Santos Fine Chocolates, you'll find silver, gold, and...chocolate? Believe it. This small-batch chocolatier is noted for making chocolates that resemble milagros, small charm-like offerings to saints in Hispanic folk culture. These are done with edible gold and silver leaf, though, making them tasty offerings to your mouth!
Finally, don't forget CocoPelli: It's off the beaten path, in a mall, but the chocolate is all made by hand. Nice choco-covered fruit and nuts and truffles...and they make cakes and pastries, too! A sweet spot.
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French Connection. For a small city, Santa Fe has a surprisingly large amount of French bakeries. Le yum!
Probably the most famous is Clafoutis, which is always, always crowded. Go there for breakfast, brunch, or lunch for a delightful Croque Monsieur (i'd tell you to get something else, but that's what I've gotten every time and I can't bear to order differently). Or just go to the bakery case and get one of everything. They are somehow able to make macarons at the high altitude, which is a bit of a miracle, and they're good--so are the croissants, the Opera cake, et cetera.
The French Pastry Shop and Creperie makes crepes both sweet and savory, and they also have a counter case full of Frenchie stuff to go. On past expeditions here I have tried their delectable sables and their blissful Montmartre pastry.
Chez Mamou is another French spot in town, and they boast a beautiful array of French pastries. You'll find single-serve mont blancs or almond paste stuffed chocolate cakes, as well as croissants, brioche, and tarts. According to one of the handsome French-speaking gentlemen who work there, however, the best of the bunch are the lemon and apricot tarts. I haven't tried those yet, but have tried the clafoutis, studded with dark cherries and marzipan, and a chocolate almond thing that I'm not 100% sure of the name, but know it was delightful.
The Swiss Bakery might not sound French, but, after all, aren't fancy French pastries referred to as Viennoiserie? So yeah, it's going to come off as French. The best item in the case, according to one of the employees, is the Napoleon. I would tend to agree, although I haven't tried everything there. Just look at that thing. This particular one was stuffed with strawberry and kiwi. I know that might not sound amazing, but it really was.
Also equipped with French pastries is Le Chantilly, a cafe with bakery offerings such as croissants, eclairs, and Napoleons.
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Ice Cream and Frozen Treats After enjoying some of the local spicy and chile-rich dishes, you're probably going to need something cool. I hope someone will challenge this statement with proof of delicious ice cream around town, but as it stands...there really aren't any notable local ice cream shops. At The Station coffee house, they have ice cream from Taos Cow; likewise at CocoPelli (mentioned above).
There is, however, gelato. We'll start with Ecco Coffee and Gelato. A little more milky-icy than some other gelati I've tried, it's nonetheless fantastically flavored stuff. I got the stracciatella and pumpkin, which was serious pumpkin; a friend got the stracciatella with nutella. Yumsies.
Mangiamo Pronto, a casual Italian eatery, also has gelato which is quite good, and they are opening a gelateria next door to expand their currently small but very good offerings.
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Cookies, Cakes, n Pies: For the classic American treats, you have plenty of options too.
Dream Cakes Gourmet Cupcakes has a humble storefront but good gravy are these cupcakes good. Moist , butter-packed cake that makes you want to swoon. If they have it, please try the "Southern Belle". It's a rich pecan cake with cream cheese frosting--pictured above. You will not regret it.
The Chocolate Maven has it all, from cookies, cakes, and pies , to breads. They have a restaurant too, actually, but I've never gotten past the pastries. I've known and loved their Russian Teacake cookies and tarts, cupcakes, have ogled (but I will confess, not tried) their pies, and have truly enjoyed their croissants, which are crispy, light, buttery, and when filled (for instance, with almond paste), they are filled generously.
CocoPelli, mentioned above, specializes in chocolate but they also bake their own cupcakes. And my oh my, was the Tres Leches Cupcake nom-worthy.
Dulce, in spite of the name, offers little dulce de leche and mainly, pretty standard American bakery fare. Not that this is a bad thing! Scones, cookies, a very nice Red Velvet cake.
For carb-rich treats and wonderful breads, visit Sage Bakehouse. Dudes, dudettes, this place is pricey. But their bread is pretty amazing, and their cookies and pastries are made with love, care, good flour, and the taste reflects it.
You'll also find some very tasty stuff at Treehouse Pastry and Cafe. It's in an unlikely spot—the mall, across from an abandoned allstate insurance agent, but damn, do they have a fine pastry case. The shortbread cookies were solid, and I hear the cupcakes are a great, but really, the highlight was the chocolate tart. It's both vegan and gluten free, but you don't suffer at all for its lack of ingredients. It has so much to offer flavorwise that you don't really care what's in it—it just tastes SO good. The secret may lie in the crust, which is made of crumbled crushed candied walnuts. It really reminded me of a sweet treat I love from Chaco Canyon raw and vegan cafe in Seattle.
Which leads nicely into more Vegan and / or Gluten Free options.
If you're gluten free and/or vegan, Revolution Bakery has all the classics--cookies, cinnamon rolls, scones, and other tasty carbohydrates, but modified to be safe for your belly, heart and soul.
Body Cafe also has a very nice array of house-baked (or, if you're raw, not-baked) vegan, gluten-free, or raw options for their sweets. Raw truffle, or vegan cheesecake? You'll find it here.
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Non-Bakeries that Have Good Stuff
When I'm in Santa Fe, I love Whole Foods. To be specific, though, I like the one on Cerillos Road, not the one on Cordova Road (I specify this because there are two Whole Foods markets like 2 blocks away from each other). I like them as a grocery store, but I also like the fact that their bakery often has a sort of “best of” selection from area shops. You'll see doughnuts from Whoo's, sweets from Sage Bakehouse and Chocolate Maven, and more. They also do a rather respectable job with their in-house baked goods, in particular their Chocolate Decadence cake, which is better than many restaurant versions I have tried!
A visit to the Farmer's Market is a highly good idea. It's on Tuesday and Saturday. Tuesday is smaller and slower but an easier pace, perfect to check out Cloud Cliff Bakery, ogle at pretty produce, buy some peppers which were being roasted while I watched, and buy this slice of prune-filled pie.
It was made by a lady who just had two types—apricot and prune. The “pies” were rather flat, and reminded me of garibaldi biscuits. Apparently, these are sometimes called Pastelitos Indios and are common with Native American cookery.They also have a farmer's market “cafe” which had Whoos doughnuts and other goodies (some of them gluten free, since it's a big concern in Santa Fe).
If you stop nearby the farmer's market, you'll see a restaurant nearby called The Junction. I didn't eat there but when I walked in to try to sneakily use their restroom, I looked at the menu and the hostess told me that their apple pie was--not joking--some of the best in town. She said that on her birthday, she craved that instead of cake. Well, I'll just say that I took note of that.
Also nearby the farmer's market is The Station, a coffee shop where they not only, as previously mentioned, have ice cream from Taos Creamery, but a beautiful array of pastries made on site. Pick up a slice of almond clementine cake? Don't mind if I do. I also enjoyed how they used coffee ice cubes in their iced drinks. Nice touch.
Not to confuse you, but the Santa Fe Baking Company is not actually a bakery--it's a cafe-restaurant. And, you know, a pretty good one. Their breakfast burrito, for instance, is beloved. But luckily they DO have their own selection of baked-on-site goods, including muffins, scones, brownies, cookies, et cetera.
If you do travel all the way to Santa Fe, you must go to Bobcat Bite, a very famous burger place and beloved by locals and travelers. But save room for dessert, because they make their own cookies there!
Cafe Pasqual's is nationally famous, and with good reason: they offer some delicious eating at their restaurant. But you know what's great? Their desserts. They're house baked and Southwest influenced but also rooted in Americana. For instance, a chocolatey pecan nut pie, which combines pecans, native to the area, and a Kentucky classic? Yes please.
And OMG, the banana coconut cream pie from Jambo Cafe. This is a sort of African-Carribean fusion cuisine restaurant, and everything you eat is so freaking good. But save room for this pie. Please.
Harry's Road House is a popular people-pleasing spot, and they have a nice array of house-made desserts. Including chocolate cream pie, chocolate cake, and cookies and other sweets.
Tesuque Village Market is not a bakery, but they do have some fantastic baked goods. Among the sweeter surprises? Sticky buns that would do a midwest potluck proud.
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Let's Carb-o-load for Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you're in Santa Fe, promise me you'll go to Tecolote Cafe at least once. Blue corn pinon pancakes will make your head spin with their awesome amazingness, and they offer a bakery basket or a tortilla with egg dishes. Go for the basket!
You'll need breakfast more than once while you're in Santa Fe, unless you're only staying for a few hours. Why not try the Tune Up Cafe? In addition to delicious pupusas and all sorts of tasty savory fare (including a popular breakfast side of fried bananas with cream), they also make all their own baked goods, so please, for me, try one of their wedding cake cookies. It will make you look like a cocoaine addict after you eat it, and it's apropos, because I suspect they are crack filled. They are really, really good.
The Pantry is a fantastic spot to get breakfast AND sweet treats. Their pancakes are light and fluffy and worth the visit; their sopaipillas are a fine specimen (see below). They also have their own proprietary tres leches cake, which is baked by an employee's wife. Yum!
OMG El Tesoro. Go for breakfast, stay for the muffins. LOOK AT THAT THING.
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An Unexpected Sweet Spot
Who knows what adventures await you after all of that delightful carb-o-loading? Here's what happened for me. All that breakfast worked up an appetite for a trip to the bookstore. Collected Works is a great bookstore, where they carry my book and Judi's and will probably carry my next book, too. They have a fantastic collection of cookbooks, and while reading about desserts from the area, I got intrigued by a writeup about the fantastic carrot cake at a place called Mission Cafe and Sweet Shop. I decided to walk over.
Well, it's been closed for three years, but it so happened that I walked by the Oldest House in the USA. No kidding! And guess what? They sell baked goods there! The caretaker, Evelyn, baked everything herself. Pick up a brownie, scone, and a couple of biscochitos? Well, OK.
Now, as Evelyn told me, when it comes to biscochitos everyone has their own variation and secret ingredient. She wouldn't tell me hers, but she assured me that she used the vital one: lard. When you make these cookies with butter, they are just not the same. Sorry! She also said that when she was young, biscochitos were most commonly baked in a sort of trefoil form. But today, she bakes hers as stars so that people can refer to them easily, and they won't break as quickly.
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To the uninitiated, a sopaipilla is a pillowy piece of fried dough. It's not technically dessert. It's a fried bread, but it's not a doughnut. It's neutral (or should be), and is served with honey. It's used as a side, to sop up soups, stews, or sauces, and it's just delicious. It's typically served as a side dish in New Mexican cuisine. Occasionally it's an automatic side, but often you have to order. They don't break the bank, though—the most expensive ones I came across were $2 for a basket of 2. Though not a comprehensive list, because there are so many restaurants that offer them, here are some that I've known and loved in Santa Fe.
First up, Horseman's Haven. What an oddball spot. It's in a gas station and kind of looks forbidding from the outside, like a place where bar brawls break out. But inside it's not a dive bar, but instead a family friendly restaurant. And every day at three pm, they start up their fryers to make sopaipillas. Now, it's odd that they only start making them at three. Why? I asked the waiter. It was 2:58 and I had time—there were no exceptions to the rule, apparently. He didn't know. “that's just how it's done here” was the basic response. The sopaipilla here was fresh. A little greasy. With a nice thread of honey served on top, it was a pleasing side to a meal. It definitely made me hungry for more.
The next sopaipilla stop was Tia Sophia's, where the sopaipillas are one of the specialties. Theirs was wonderful: soft but chewy, chewy but not tough. It was like biting into a cloud. If clouds were made of fried dough that you could pour honey on and eat.
Time to continue carb-o-loading, so off to The Pantry Restaurant I went. Here, I tried their sopaipilla, which was very yeasty and slightly sweet. Very different from the other ones I'd tried so far, lighter and less evident that it was fried, but very good.
I was starting to feel a serious sopaipilla jones by this point, so hit up a place called Maria's with my friend Judi, who is a famous author and also has a passion for pastry. In fact, we met in a case involving a pastry. The sopaipillas at Maria's were respectable, but (in my opinion) slightly inferior to the ones at Tia Sophia's. I enjoyed the crispiness of this variety, however. BTW, Maria's specializes in Margaritas. I tried Judi's, but in general margaritas are a one or two sip type of drink for me. Better (for me) was the Margarita cheesecake. We tried that, along with the kahlua cheesecake. It was muy delicious.
When it was time for more sopaipillas, I hit up Tortilla Flats, where they make a yeasted sopaipilla. Nice and lightly crispy, this one was airy on the inside. They only begin frying at 11 am. The manager informed me that this is because the quality is superior when they have ample time to rise, and “we are not making them in the middle of the night!”.
Finally (for now), I have also wholeheartedly enjoyed the sopaipillas on offer at Gabriel's, a restaurant famous for making guacamole tableside. Their sopaipilla was like a delicious pillow, more substantial than some others but perfect for sopping up honey and sauces. I loved it.
Now. I can't say I have been to every single place in Santa Fe, but I firmly believe I've visited a lot of the good ones. And if this writeup doesn't make you hungry for some sweet Southwest adventure, I don't know what's gonna give you an appetite!