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Santa Fe: Cheap Eats on the Plaza

The Plaza is the heart of Santa Fe, with the historic district surrounding it. To the north lies the Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, making it the oldest public building in the U.S. Currently, it is the home of the New Mexico History Museum.

Every morning Native American vendors lay out their wares under the portal (covered porch). It’s a regulated spacing and certification process, ensuring that these are authentic Native American arts and crafts.

When it was first established by Don Pedro de Peralta, the square was much larger but it has shrunk due to encroaching shops and restaurants. There remains a gazebo – where Mariachi bands often play in the summer – and several memorials. At the southeast corner rests a stone marker indicating the end of the old Santa Fe Trail.

Near the marker is Roque Garcia, the famous carnitas maker and his tiny food cart. He’s been on that corner for over 25 years selling juices, soda, tamales and a few types of carnitas or ‘little meats,’ marinated and grilled along with onions and peppers. It’s all wrapped inside a flour tortilla.

As you can see from the photo, they are juicy! And sooo tasty. At just $6, they’re the perfect handheld snack.

If you’re not full, head to the southwest corner and look for the old Five and Dime, which opened in 1935. It’s full of tourist items and bric-a-brac. But, in the very back, is a small lunch counter offering snacks – from hot dogs to green chile stew.

What you’re here for is the Frito Pie. They simply open a bag of the corn chips, and top it with a ladle of spicy bean chili, with onion and shredded cheeses. It costs $4.

There are many stories about who invented the dish but it’s been around the Southwest – primarily in Texas and New Mexico – since the 1930s. One of the stories claims that the snack was invented right at this little counter and, based on an unofficial poll, this is the best Frito Pie you can get in Santa Fe.

Find a bench on the Plaza and people watch as you nosh. Sometimes the fanciest restaurants cannot compare with the simplest of pleasures – you’re sitting amongst 400 years of history for just a few dollars.

Lane & Juliet

The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.


The Duo

We tried to make it at home also. We didn’t get the chile quite right. Good luck and let us know how you did it!

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