Farm & Table's beet salad.
Photo by Sergio Salvador.
New Mexican cuisine is more than chile-smothered plates — although there are plenty of delicious versions of those. The state's noteworthy regional cuisine sprouts in fertile fields along the Río Grande and matures in farm-totable restaurants. Welcome to your culinary journey.
By Ashley M. Biggers
NEW MEXICO'S SPARSE HIGH DESERT MESAS BELIE fertile fields whose bounty overflows restaurant tables across the state. The Pueblo peoples were the first farmers here, raising the "three sisters" (corn, beans, and squash) long before Europeans arrived. When Europeans settled on these lands, they carted wheat, barley, and chile from Mexico along El Camino Real, a historic trading route from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Food goes the way of culture, so as the state's founding societies intermingled so did flavors, creating one of the few distinct regional cuisines in the U.S.
These days, New Mexico cultivates more chile than any other state, but there's more to New Mexican cuisine than the renowned green and red. Food straight from the fields, ranches, and dairy farmers imbue each plate with true New Mexican flavor. It's a terroir formed of culture and diverse geography, grown in the sun-drenched fields from the Mesilla and Río Grande valleys. Chile-laden or not, dishes in these local restaurants can't be found anywhere else.
Pork belly crostini from Farm & Table.
Photo by Sergio Salvador.
FARM & TABLE,
Farm & Table proclaims its mission in its very name. Owner Cherie Montoya's father, David, scooped up the acreage on which the restaurant sits in Albuquerque's North Valley to protect it from development. Today, those acres are farmed much as they have been for generations, with cows grazing on alpha on the back nine and a 2-acre produce farm feeding the restaurant and its farm stand.
Farmer Ric Murphy oversees Sol Harvest farm, while chef Carrie Eagle — a 2017 winner of Food Network's Chopped — helms the kitchen. Beyond their own farm, Eagle draws from regional farms and purveyors, like Heidi's Raspberry Jam and Old Windmill Dairy, for her dishes.
"We're beholden to rough New Mexican seasons for our produce. It constantly changes what's available for us to work with," Montoya says. Even if the dishes change with the day, the quality is consistent, and Eagle gives produce starring spots on the menu with rustic vegetable entrées and elevated salads, along with trout, pork, and beef that often hails from the Montoyas' ranch.
The low-slung adobe offers intimate surrounds, so when the weather's right, diners overflow on the patio for eclectic glasses of wine. (Montoya likes to present under-the-radar selections.) Always, the vegetable rows are within sight. But there's more to these farm fields than food. In summer, during Wellness on the Farm programming, yoga and meditation classes are offered there. Farm & Table also partners with Albuquerque's touring company Tricklock to present Theatre on the Farm, where guests pull up a bale of hay to watch a play.
Shepherd's Lamb braised shanks with Oaxacan red mole and avocado crème fraîche from The Love Apple.
Photo by Gabriella Marks.
THE LOVE APPLE AND MANZANITA MARKET,
Quaint dinner restaurant The Love Apple and its sister breakfast-and-lunch eatery Manzanita give local ingredients northern New Mexico style. Jennifer Hart, owner and founder of The Love Apple, grew up in Taos amid northern New Mexico's culinary scene. She dreamed of opening her own restaurant and resolved to use only the finest ingredients — ones she would eat herself and, later, serve her children. When she happened upon the hundred-year-old Placitas chapel north of the Taos Plaza, she seized the moment and launched The Love Apple in 2009 with Andrea Meyer as chef de cuisine.
A French term for the tomato (pomme d'amour) inspired the restaurant's name. "I like the idea of a culture adoring a food so much that it has a pet name for it," Hart says.
The Love Apple's ingredients are equally lauded. Meat, dairy, produce, and even flour and cornmeal are organic. Meyer and Hart source thoughtfully from within a hundred miles of the restaurant. The choices are transparent: Entering the restaurant means walking through its pantry and kitchen into the candle-lit sanctuary where rustic tables line the walls and dot the altar. It's a house of worship for haute cuisine.
Though the food is elevated, it's not fussy. Reflecting the seasons, the menu often begins with a mixed plate of cornbread (including blue corn, a Native American staple), ruby trout with a quinoa fritter, baked tamale with Oaxacan-style red-chile mole, and braised beef.
The proverbial apple doesn't fall far from the tree with Manzanita Market (the little apple), opened in spring 2017. Operating when The Love Apple isn't, this cozy hall with a grand community table just off the Taos Plaza is similarly farm-to-table. The spare, rustic aesthetic matches the food, where top-shelf ingredients are allowed to shine in their simplicity in salads, sandwiches, and hearty bone broths. There's a full pastry case of delightful — and surprisingly healthy — take-away treats. The house-made ice cream shouldn't be missed.
Chef Matt Yohalem accepts a delivery from the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
Photo by Sergio Salvador.
Il Piatto's dishes may be Italian, but its ingredients are wholeheartedly New Mexican. It's common to see chef Matt Yohalem strolling the aisles of the Santa Fe Farmers Market — or to see a farmer's pick-up truck parked in front of the restaurant unloading heaps of carrots or bags of greens. Yohalem came up in acclaimed kitchens with top-notch chefs, including Commander's Palace with Emeril Lagasse, Le Cirque with Daniel Boulud, and Santa Fe's The Coyote Café with Mark Miller. He opened il Piatto in 1996 as a farm-to-table restaurant and quickly became a local champion for the movement — a role he cemented as a longtime board member for the Santa Fe Farmers Market Institute.
He sources from Romero Farms, Freshies, Kyzer Pork, Native American Beef Consortium, Espanola Valley Farms, and Green Tractor Farms, to name a few. Even the flour comes from Sangre de Cristo Mills, which is grown and ground in New Mexico. That flour goes into pastas like the crowd-pleasing pumpkin ravioli with brown sage butter and the palatetesting squid-ink spaghetti. Entrées feature classics like veal scallopini and pork loin Milanese. The dishes pair with wines from a wide-ranging list curated by sommelier Jamie Taylor.
LOS POBLANOS HISTORIC INN AND
ORGANIC FARM'S CAMPO,
Los Poblanos is built upon generations of agriculture. Pueblo peoples originally inhabited and farmed the lands along the Río Grande floodplain where the 50-room boutique inn is situated. In the 1700s, the Armijo family ranched those grounds, and in the 1930s, New Mexico Congressman Albert Simms and his wife, Ruth, oversaw a dairy on the plot. History buffs will remember it as the birth of Creamland Dairies, a prominent label in the state.
Today, the renovated dairy barns have a second life. Since October 2017, the stalls and milking parlors have become a spacious restaurant, an open kitchen, and an updated farm store. In the lobby, diners belly up to a patterned tile bar beneath vintage bell lights. A wall of windows in the airy dining room opens to Sandia Mountain views and the bucolic setting of 2 acres of lavender fields.
In the open kitchen, James Beard Award semifinalist Jonathan Perno and team prepare dishes cultivated from Los Poblanos' own fields as well as local producers such as Silver Leaf Farms, Sweet Mercy Farm, ARCA Organics, and others. Lamb hails from northern New Mexico's Shepherd's Lamb, while pork comes from the Duke City's own Kyzer Farm. Guests may see the kitchen staff wandering the property to pick from the edible landscaping — grapes from the vines by the pool, jujubes from the trees by the guest rooms, and blackberries from the bushes out back. Of course, menus shift with the season, but guests can expect dinner dishes such as beet salad with local goat cheese, mole negro over braised lamb, or grilled pork tenderloin with caramelized apples and a butter lime emulsion. More space means more meals, and the once dinner-only restaurant is now welcoming the public for breakfast, too. Blue corn French toast, with bread baked in-house, is one of the stars of the menu.
Next door, behind the grain silos, the shop stocks the farm's own products, from honey to its line of lavender body products using essential oils distilled from the Provence-style fields. In keeping with the farmers' ethos, everything is put to use, and heritage is preserved around every turn.
These artisanal products are made to travel.
Heart of the Desert Pistachios,
Retired Air Force officer George Schweers and wife Marianne stayed in the Tularosa Basin after his military service. Through happenstance, they became the owners of 400 seedling pistachio trees, birthing a family farm that now delivers savory-flavored pistachios — and wine, but that's another story — across the state.
Heidi's Raspberry Jam,
Heidi Eleftheriou's hobby crop grew into a several-acre field in Corrales and a thousand-jar-a-day operation in Albuquerque. Heidi's Raspberry Jam, including the red-chile and ginger varieties, is widely available in grocery stores, but the team still turns up at growers' markets in Albuquerque and Corrales with jam and fresh berries in season.
Love + Leche,
Love + Leche's goat's milk and honey soaps and lotion bars have been staples at the Santa Fe Farmers Market for more than a decade.
Purple Adobe Lavender Farm,
Some 2,500 sprightly lavender plants color the landscape Georgia O'Keeffe made famous outside Abiquiu, New Mexico. Farm tours delve into the plant's many uses, but the line of lavender body products, including lotions and body scrubs, soothes far beyond the fields.
Owner Brain Long learned beekeeping as a teenager and now oversees a family business cultivating northern New Mexico honey. The bees are local and the flavors are, too, such as the red chile–infused and high desert wildflower varieties.