The Best Restaurants in Taos, New Mexico and All You Need to Know About This Unique Regional Cuisine
If you've never been exposed to New Mexican cuisine, food like posole, Christmas style chile, sopapillas, huevos rancheros, enchiladas, and piñon may sound like a foreign language. In fact, every time I mention eating green chile rellenos to my out-of-state coworkers, they tilt their heads, look at me and ask, "what's that?" New Mexican cuisine is not Tex-Mex or Mexican food. It truly is its own cuisine. It is a mix of Native American, Hispano Spanish, and Mexican cuisine.
If you've been following our blog for a while now, you know that my (hi, this is Bre writing) parents were born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Although I was born in Colorado shortly after my parents relocated, New Mexico runs in my blood. Daniel and I find ourselves traveling to New Mexico as often as possible to eat ALL of the food! Of course, we love the culture and landscape as well, but the food alone is enough of a reason to visit.
Before we dive into our Taos restaurant guide, we wanted to give a brief introduction to basic food items that are specific to New Mexico:
Green Chile (note the spelling) - this isn't the classic "chili" that you're used to. Green chile was first grown by Pueblo Native Americans in high altitude dry climates. The pepper has a distinct deep green color and a smoky, spicy flavor. Green chile is roasted once a year, during fall harvest, and the smell of it roasting is my favorite smell in the entire world. During the fall season, it's common to purchase enough chile for the entire year and freeze to consume throughout the year. Our freezer is currently 60% green chile! In New Mexico, green chile is served on everything from pizza to burgers to eggs.
Roasted green chile about to be frozen for the year.
Red Chile - fully ripened green chile that transforms into a red color. Red chile must be dried and blended into a puree in order to consume. Red chile sauce is smothered over most New Mexican entrees. The flavor of red chile is certainly a little bit spicy, complex on the palette, and earthy.
"Christmas" Style Chile - if you request Christmas style chile at a restaurant, you'll look like you know what you're talking about. This means that you'll receive half green chile and half red chile. Trust me, this is usually the way to go!
Posole - corn that is boiled in lime water (called cal) to become more nutrient-dense and easier to digest. Once the corn "pops" it's referred to as hominy. Posole stew, a New Mexican comfort food, is typically a mix of pork, green, and/or red chile.
My mom's pork posole (she also makes vegetarian for us), tamales, and pinto beans.
Tamales - these are common around all of Latin America in many different varieties. Tamales are a masa (cornmeal) outer layer with meat, red chile, cheese, and/or vegetables inside. Tamales are typically wrapped in corn husks and steamed.
Sopapillas - a warm fried bread dessert served with honey. At some restaurants (the best ones), sopapillas are complimentary.
Chile Rellenos - whole green chiles stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg batter, fried, and topped with red or green chile sauce. You may have heard of rellenos before, but note that New Mexican rellenos only use green chile, as opposed to a poblano or other pepper varieties.
Huevos Rancheros - this dish is a common breakfast entree. It consists of an over-easy egg on top of corn tortillas, cheese, pinto beans, chopped green chile, and finally smothered in a red chile sauce. Most people consider this a breakfast item, but I'd happily eat huevos rancheros any time of day!
Enchiladas - another common dish in Latin America, but what makes enchiladas unique in New Mexico are the red and green chile flavors. Enchiladas are also one of the best ways to taste the complex flavor of red and green chile.
Left: homemade chile rellenos, beans, and salad. Right: enchiladas, beans, rice, and green chile.
Piñon - piñon nuts are a traditional food of Native Americans and Hispanics. The nuts are harvested once a year from piñon trees. If you're in New Mexico, you'll notice menu items like piñon coffee, ice cream, and chocolate.
So, now that you know your way around New Mexican cuisine, go enjoy some of the most delicious restaurants in Taos, New Mexico. Also searching for things to do while you're in Taos? Enjoy our full guide here!
Where to Eat In Taos, New Mexico
New Mexican Cuisine
Orlando's New Mexican Cafe - If you only have time to try one New Mexican restaurant in Taos, this is the one! They have all the classic New Mexican dishes and some of the best red and green chile in Taos. We chose to do takeout one night for dinner (mostly because of COVID), but we were wishing we had chosen to eat-in. This casual restaurant has a really nice patio with fire pits and the interior is bright and colorful. Daniel tried their shrimp blue corn enchilada dish and I got the chile relleno plate. The flavors were spot on and it was all spicy, but not so spicy you couldn't eat it. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Taos Diner I & II - On our road trip to Taos, we arrived into town kind of late and stayed in a vintage trailer under the stars just outside of town. Upon waking up, we both agreed that we needed to go find the best breakfast burrito in town immediately. Thanks to a local's recommendation, we ended up at Taos Diner I and we were soon divulging on one of the best breakfast burritos we have ever had. While I enjoyed my burrito, Daniel decided to go with the Huevos Rancheros. For about ~$8 USD a plate, we didn't leave disappointed and even had plenty of leftovers to heat up later. The diner is open for breakfast and lunch. The restaurant isn't anything fancy and feels like a small-town diner, but the prices are right and the food is packed with flavor.
A perfect example of a Christmas burrito.
Rancho de Plaza - We showed up in the area that this restaurant is in, Ranchos de Taos Plaza, just before sunset and got to see the historic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church with pink cotton candy skies. The plaza itself reminds us of some places we have experienced traveling in Latin America. The restaurant itself has a nice large patio and is in an old abode style structure. It seems to be a family-run operation and they have all of the classic New Mexican dishes, including some delicious sopapillas that come with your meal. We enjoyed the food here. Although we didn't think it was the best restaurant in town, we recommend stopping by if you're planning to see the church.
Left: the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church. Right: blue corn enchiladas and sopapillas.
Places We Missed
Doc Martin's Restaurant is a little bit more of an upscale restaurant in the historic Taos Inn but serves New Mexican cuisine and has live jazz music.
Old Martina's Hall is also in the Ranchos de Taos area and we were told to visit here for good cocktails and live music!
La Cueva - Another local recommendation for good New Mexican cuisine. It is right near the town center.
Need A Break From New Mexican Food?
If your stomach isn't used to eating spicy food, you may need a quick break from chile. New Mexican chile is not only spicy, but also very acidic, so take it easy! Below are some non-New Mexican gems that we discovered in town.
Chocola Coffee Chocolate - this chocolate establishment has won awards on the international award circuit. Their most famous item is "drinking chocolate" which is high-quality chocolate melted down and infused with several different flavor options. Daniel got the dark chocolate infused with espresso coffee and I got the dark chocolate infused with lavender. We were so impressed with how delicious this chocolate is, but we were glad we got a size small because it was very rich! They also sell chocolate bars and other baked goods. We recommend grabbing drinking chocolate and sitting outside on the cobblestone alley for some good people watching!
Taos Mesa Brewing - If you have been following us for a little while, you know we are always looking for the best breweries in each and every town we travel to. Taos Mesa Brewing is the only brewery in Taos and has two locations. The main taphouse in the town center has all their craft beer selection on tap and delicious wood-fired pizza. We enjoyed one of their IPA craft beers, a margarita pizza, and a caesar salad. Their "mothership location" is a little bit outside of town near the airport. This location suffered from a fire in early 2020, so it is currently closed. When they are open, they have their typical craft beer selection and live music.
Elevation Coffee - This cash-only coffee shop will meet all of your caffeine cravings. Their chai and lavender lattes are popular. The WiFi is fast, so it's a great place to relax for a few hours and get some work done.
Manzanita Market - If you're craving some healthy food, head to Manzanita Market. This is located just across the alley from Chocola, so it's a great opportunity to pair a healthy sandwich with some drinking chocolate. Daniel and I shared the Mediterranean Vegan sandwich and it was truly one of the tastiest sandwiches I've ever had.
Taos Cow - Outside of Taos in Arroyo Seco is a little roadside ice cream stand called Taos Cow. One afternoon, we were craving something sweet and got wind of their piñon ice cream. They offer other items like bagels and sandwiches, but everyone we saw (and it was packed) was there for the ice cream.
Have you ever eaten New Mexican cuisine? We'd love to hear what your favorite dishes are! We're always looking to expand our cooking skills and come up with creative ideas.
For the love of spicy food,