This week, the Authentic Guide welcomes guest blogger, Billie Frank, of The Santa Fe Traveler, a Santa Fe concierge and travel-planning company. Billie is here with a Santa Fe visitors guide to finding the best places to eat when special diets are in effect. Thanks, Billie!
Eating away from home can be challenging and never more so than when you have dietary restrictions. There are all sorts of special diets; heart-healthy, vegetarian or vegan, gluten and dairy intolerances, food allergies, weight loss plans, religious dietary restrictions; the list goes on and on. Here are some tips to make travel to Santa Fe, or anywhere, easier for the food-challenged.
- Plan ahead: When you have any sort of dietary issues, planning is essential. You can’t just walk into a restaurant and expect them to be able to accommodate special needs unless those needs are really simple (i.e. you need a grilled meat and steamed vegetable). Although more restaurants say they are catering to gluten-free diets on their regular menus, it’s always good to check in advance. If you’re a vegetarian, and there’s one meat-free dish on the menu and it’s not to your liking, you may be able to get something you’ll enjoy if you talk to the restaurant in advance. Vegans should definitely make plans in advance unless the restaurant is known to be vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Any place can steam a vegetable and put it on pasta or rice, but you can do much better if the place is prepared for your needs.
- Research: Speak to someone at the Inn, consult with a travel planner knowledgeable about Santa Fe dining spots for appropriate restaurant recommendations for you or research on the Internet. Once you have recommendations, check the menus and reviews at websites like Open Table and Yelp. Read between the lines. Reviews can be tricky; good ones can be written by the restaurateur or their friends, bad ones by competitors. Open Table, at least, verifies the person writing the review has dined at the establishment they are writing about.
- Contact the restaurant(s) in advance: Once you choose the restaurants that interest you, contact them at least a few days ahead to make sure they can accommodate your special diet; not all can or will.
- Email or fax them your diet: Once you know that the restaurant can meet your needs, send them your dietary dos and don’ts so that there is no confusion in the kitchen. When you make your reservation, make sure it notes that you have special dietary needs and remind them when you arrive at the restaurant. Getting them your food needs in advance gives the chef time to review them and make sure he has the ingredients he needs and perhaps be more creative.
- Breakfast and lunch are easier than dinner: This may not always be the case, depending on your special needs, but if fruit and salads work for you, they are a good fallback. You may want something more elaborate for dinner.
- Pick a more upscale place: You can’t expect any kitchen to cope with really complicated special needs. You want a place that has a chef rather than a cook. The better the chef, the better your dinner
- Bring your own food: If you have highly specialized dietary needs, sometimes it’s easier to avoid restaurants for breakfast and lunch. If you don’t want to travel with your food, Santa Fe has a number of natural grocery stores and a Trader Joe’s which can make eating on your trip a lot simpler unless you really want the restaurant experiences. The Inn on the Alameda provides an ample breakfast. Let them know in advance what your dietary needs are, and they’ll try their best to provide appropriate foods.
You probably know that if you’re on a special diet, depending on how restrictive it is and what the chef has to work with based on your foods, your experience will differ from that of a person eating the menu choices. The truth is that some ingredients simply make food taste better.
Here’s a list of some Santa Fe restaurants that will accommodate special diets and do so gracefully. Unless noted, contact the restaurant in advance and make arrangements.
315 Restaurant and Wine Bar: Owner Louis Moskow says the restaurant is almost totally gluten-free and is willing to work with other special dietary needs. Chef Ryan Mann will rise to the occasion.
Savory Scallops at 315: Photo by Steve Collins
Coyote Café: Sara Chapman, one of the four owners of the restaurant Mark Miller made famous, says that Executive Chef (and her husband and co-owner) Eric DiStefano can accommodate most diets with advance notice.
Galisteo Bistro: Executive Chef and co-owner Rob Chickering and his wife, co-owner and pastry chef, Marge, are very welcoming to people with special dietary needs. Call Rob and let him know what you need; they’ll graciously accommodate you.
Epazote: Chef/Owner Fernando Olea is one of the most accommodating people in Santa Fe and he loves to feed people. He uses the foods of the New World to create a unique Mexican cuisine, but of course, your dietary restrictions will define the meal.
Las Fuentes: This restaurant has an almost gluten-free menu (just skip the crab cakes). Executive Chef, Chris McLean, will work with other special diets with advance notice. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Raaga: This new entry to the Santa Fe Dining scene offers Indian food and does a great job of it. The personable owner, Pramod “Paddy” Rawal, will gladly accommodate your dietary needs, and there are vegetarian entrees galore and vegan options, too.
Mouth-watering Mussels in Coconut Curry at Raaga: Photo by Steve Collins
Restaurant Martin: Owner Jennifer Rios, who runs the front of the house here (her husband and restaurant co-owner Martin is the Executive Chef), says no advance notice is necessary for special diets; just bring your food list. She says they are seeing more and more people who cannot eat off the menu. If you have a very unusual diet, contact them in advance to make sure they have the foods you need.
Terra: Executive Chef Charles Dale is the man who allowed me to think it’s possible to dine out on a very restricted diet. He said any chef should be able to deal with special dietary needs with advance notice. He loves the challenge and he delivers. Terra is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Compound: General Manager, Matias Guillen says that wheat-free, dairy-free and vegetarian diets can be accommodated without notice. If the vegetarian option on the current menu doesn’t speak to you, contact the restaurant, the Beard Award-winning Chef, Mark Kiffen, will create a dish using foods that are more appealing to you. Other diets can be accommodated with advance notice.
Vanessie: This restaurant, popular for its piano bar can accommodate special dietary needs with advanced notice.
If you have special dietary needs, you can travel to Santa Fe with the comfort of knowing that there are restaurants that care and will do their best to create a meal that meets your needs.
As a side note from the Inn’s vegan General Manager, you can also find vegan and gluten-free menus at Annapurna, the Treehouse Cafe and Bakery and Body Cafe of Santa Fe (which has a vegan chocolate ganache that will make you simply swoon with delight!).
It’s a Collard Green Burrito at Body Cafe of Santa Fe!
Billie Frank has over twenty-five years experience in sales, marketing and customer service. In 2004, she began a career in the hospitality industry at a small inn outside of Santa Fe, NM. After leaving that position, she worked as a concierge at two Four-Diamond hotels in Santa Fe for over four years. Billie is co-owner of The Santa Fe Traveler, a travel concierge and trip-planning service. She writes a travel blog, Santa Fe Travelers. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Authors note: As a long-time concierge in Santa Fe, the writer may have dined as a guest of some of the restaurants mentioned. Their generous hospitality has not influenced this post in any way.