July 22, 2009

Monkey Trip: New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment is a short plane flight away from Los Angeles, but it seems like another planet. The sky goes on forever, adobes dot the landscape and putting green chile on everything is standard. It's wonderful. I left my home state almost 20 years ago, yet somehow it always feels familiar and friendly. Even if you're a first-time visitor, be prepared to be met with a warm New Mexican welcome and a basket of sopapillas. Let me tell you, you'll never forget them. This time around, I headed from Albuquerque through Santa Fe and up to the Taos area. Here's where my summer trip took me:

2400 Central SE
A UNM student hangout complete with handmade tortillas, free chile, and more John Wayne art than you'll ever see again.

524 Romero Street NW
Just as I remembered, this candy shop is filled with hundreds of sweets in every shape and size--including a few naughty chocolates and lollipops. The selection is a bit overwhelming, but certainly try the chocolate-covered raspberries. Divine.

2105 Mountain Road NW
A cross between grandma's kitchen and a diner, Little Anita's is a Albuquerque institution that delivers delicious "christmas" (red and green chile) burritos and blue corn enchiladas in true Northern New Mexican style.

Santa Fe
555 West Cordova Road
A Santa Fe staple, Maria's makes some mean margaritas and delicious blue corn enchiladas in the stacked Northern New Mexico style.

821 Canyon Road
With a menu featuring foods, wines, coffees and over 100 teas, this is a charming stop after walking through the galleries on Canyon Road. Be sure to drink a glass of their free mint-infused water. It's amazing!

422 Old Santa Fe Trail
Perfect for a brunch of migas or huevos rancheros, this cafe is stone's throw from the State Capitol (a.k.a. the Roundhouse) and has a great patio for the warmer months.

712 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
If you need a break from New Mexican fare, find your way the "The Outback" (as locals call it) for pizza that rivals any New York spot. The Shredder keeps the green chiles, but mixes them with smoked mozzarella, tomatoes, mushrooms, any meat and the house dressing. If you can't pick one, you can order up a slice of any of the pizzas with a tall glass of Arrogant Bastard Ale.

125 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
Known as the "living Room of Taos", this bar is a warm place to see live music and get a drink. We happened to catch the flamenco music of Encuentro, but you can see a variety of musicians and singers on any night of the week. If you can, go up the stairs for a better view from the balcony and order the Summer Berry Cobbler with Caramel Ice Cream.

305 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte #C
Michael's Kitchen is a place where both the locals and tourists go for breakfast (served all day) and to visit with owner Mike who often greets every table. The menu offers everything from American classics to New Mexican favorites in a bright atmosphere a few minutes from the Taos Plaza. If you only have a few minutes to spare, stop by and pick out one of Michael's donuts or his famous fruit-filled burritos.

Ojo Caliente
50 Los Banos Drive
Considered the first natural health spa in the United States, this beautiful oasis has been offering up healing waters for hundreds of years. It used to be a simple site with two pools, but has now been turned into a luxury resort and hotel with multiple pools including an iron and lithia spring, cliffside private springs and a variety of spa treatments. If you just want to visit for the day, it's $16 Mon.-Thurs. or $24 Fri.-Sunday and includes use of the outdoor pools, sauna, steamroom, a towel, and best of all, free use of the hammocks.

If you make it up to Pilar from March-November, book a trip down the Rio Grande or the Chama river with Los Rios. We chose the Orilla Verde half-day trip and the views of the gorge, the sky and the wildlife were spectacular. If you're seeking a bit more thrill, dare to brave the Taos Box.

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