Santa Fe dining: think small

Tapas are a popular option on the Santa Fe dining scene. Maybe, given the city’s Spanish heritage, that’s not so surprising.

Tapas are small bites, traditionally served in bars in Spain, to accompany wine. There are a few stories of how tapas came about. The one that goes back the farthest is told about King Alfonso X, who ruled over 13th century Castile. Legend has it that the good king was sick and ate small portions of food and wine throughout the day. Supposedly, when he recovered he declared that no tavern in Spain could serve wine without food. Another king story behind the tradition is tied to King Alfonso XII who reigned at the end of the 19th century. The king was having a glass of wine outside a tavern on a windy day. The tavern owner brought a piece of ham and bread to go with the drink. The king reportedly placed them over the top of the goblet to keep the blowing sand out of his wine. Yet another kingly story says that tapas started being served to soldiers with wine in the 16th century reign of King Philip III. The theory behind it: if they ate while they drank, it would help prevent hangovers and the men would be fighting ready the next day.

A less regal story claims that tapas owe their existence to the custom of farm workers eating small bites throughout their day in the fields. There are a few versions of why. One says that eating a big meal in the middle of the day made them too tired to work and affected productivity. Another version says that they weren’t allowed meal breaks and had to eat as they worked.

Originally, tapas were served free with your drink and it was the tavern’s choice.  These days, that tradition is pretty much dead. You order what you want and pay for it. No matter what their origin, tapas are a great way to graze your way through a menu. Here are four Santa Fe dining spots that specialize in tapas.

Santa Fe dining El Farol photo courtesy El Farol

Historic El Farol at the top of Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, photo/courtesy El Farol

El Farol, 808 Canyon Road, is said to be the oldest restaurant in Santa Fe. There’s a tavern on this site since 1835. The current incarnation, El Farol, opened in the mid-1980s. Located at the top of the commercial section of historic Canyon Road, the street famous for its proliferation of galleries, the restaurant serves a combination of traditional tapas and contemporary small plates augmented by an entrée menu. The bar features live music Tuesdays through Sundays and Saturdays they have a flamenco show on the enclosed back patio. The restaurant, featuring a full bar, is open seven days a week.

Santa Fe dining

El Meson, photo Steve Collins

El Meson, 213 Washington Avenue, opened in 1997, specializes in traditional Spanish tapas. Chef/owner David Huertas, born and raised in Cordova, Spain, trained at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. The traditional Spanish tapas served here are from family recipes passed down to Huertas. The simply decorated Santa Fe-style dining is adorned with heirlooms from Huertas’ grandmother’s farm in Cordova. Their adjacent, full service bar, Chispas, features nightly music including flamenco shows. They are open Tuesday through Saturday.  The entertainment schedule is posted weekly on their website.

Santa Fe dining La Boca's James Campbell Caruso photo courtesy La Boca

James Campbell teaching a tapas cooling class at La Boco, photo/courtesy La Boca

La Boca, 72 West Marcy Street, opened in 2007 by former El Farol Executive Chef, James Campbell Caruso, took off right from the start. This talented chef had a following. Campbell Caruso’s take on tapas is more contemporary and his small bites have are pan-Mediterranean inspired. This small, noisy spot is so successful it spawned a new, more moderately-priced clone this summer. Since opening Taberna La Boca  this summer(see below), the focus here has shifted a bit. Campbell Caruso is now working with more complex flavors and “more luxurious” ingredients. He’s creating sauces for his small plates and adding appropriate sides to them. The restaurant’s new tagline is, “Modern Spanish Cuisine.”  The wine list is a tour through Europe. They serve lunch and dinner daily. They have a daily Happy Hour daily from 3 to 5pm offering selected half-priced tapas (check before you go to make sure they are still offering this).

Santa Fe dining Taberna La Boca photo Steve Colins

Cold tapas from the bar at Taberna La Boca, photo/Steve Collins

Taberna La Boca, 125 Lincoln Avenue, is a chic, contemporary and casual tapas spot. Campbell Caruso’s new restaurant sits across an alley from the original. Why open two tapas restaurants in virtually the same place? They are different. Taberna features traditional hot and cold tapas. Offerings are relatively simple with few ingredients and prices are more reasonable.  They are open from mid-morning to late night daily. All the wines on their list are produced in Spain and Portugal. Their nightly Happy Hour from 5 to 6pm features half-price tapas (check before you go to make sure they are still offering this). They are open daily and serve until 11pm. This is a welcome addition to a town with limited late-night dining options.

Both La Boca and Taberna La Boca have wine and beer licenses.

Want a small bite or to sample a lot of dishes, these four tapas spots are waiting to satisfy your appetite and sense of culinary adventure.

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6 Responses to “Santa Fe dining: think small”

  1. Lane
    November 6, 2019 at 7:15 am #

    We vote for El Meson! They often have great Jazz there. :o)
    Lane recently posted..Boulder Festival GuideMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      November 6, 2019 at 8:47 am #

      Yes, they do. It’s interesting that all the tapas places in town have music. We’re lucky!

  2. Traveling Ted
    November 7, 2019 at 7:19 pm #

    I love tapas. Great that there are several options for those that may want to try more than one and compare. I think I would take the one with jazz playing.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Harney Peak in the Black Hills photo essayMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      November 7, 2019 at 7:33 pm #

      They’re all great- that’s the best part. Come out and try them!

  3. City of Santa Fe
    November 8, 2019 at 11:56 am #

    Another great article, Billie. We’re spoiled by all the wonderful and diverse selections here in Santa Fe.

    • Billie Frank
      November 8, 2019 at 12:15 pm #

      We are indeed.It’s what makes living in Santa Fe so wonderful.

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