As a destination for celebs, art buyers, skiers and those seeking a rich cultural experience, Taos sports a commendable dining scene. Though Tex-Mex abounds, and many affordable versions of it excel, you'll also find general gourmet bistro-type items with all types of international influence at a handful of fine dining establishments.
With the exception of the coffee shop, all of the eateries mentioned below were selected by my host, the town of Taos (which also paid for all the meals).
• Graham's Grille by Lesley B. Fay, 106 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, grahamstaos.com
With the chef's name on the sign, you know this place is serious. But only after you've downed a prickly pear iced tea; Chimayo red chile- and blue corn-dusted calamari; crab, corn, bacon and potato chowder; and the coconut crème brulé tart will you understand just how seriously rock-star Graham's is. Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options abound, and Fay sources local and sustainable ingredients. The eatery won Taos County People's Choice Awards in 2010 for chef, restaurant and customer service.
• Stakeout Restaurant, 101 Stakeout Drive, stakeoutrestaurant.com
Italy native and lively owner Mauro Bettini bought Stakeout in 1991 and changes its menu twice a year, though the great, six-week-aged, hormone-free steaks are a constant. Beyond items like elk carpaccio, the Italian influence is clear in standouts like Mauro's limoncello cocktail and the wild mushroom-, shrimp- and truffle oil-infused risotto. The view from Outlaw Hill, at 7,200 feet, is excellent, which is why real outlaws in the Wild West days used the area as a rest point. (Don't let that inspire you to steal cutlery.)
• The Artesian Restaurant at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, 50 Los Baños Drive, Ojo Caliente, ojospa.com
A wine bar and lounge outside the Artesian is the latest addition from Ojo owners Andy and Jen Scott. Before you hit the dessert menu with a fun chocolate cigar, pumpkin tamale (pictured left) or truly stunning coconut mango tres leches cake, dig on chef Neil Stuart's awesome buffalo pastrami club sandwich or mahi mahi fish tacos with jicama peanut slaw at lunch. Sexy pink prickly pear lemonade balances the green chile "fries" of potato-crusted poblanos with chile vinegar.
• Doc Martin's Restaurant at the Taos Inn, 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, taosinn.com
Many locals swear Doc's serves Taos' best margaritas, and the Cowboy Buddha of Herradura Silver, Cointreau and fresh lime did earn a "Shucks, howdy" from me. Chef Zippy White also uses sustainable and local fare from as close as his own garden in the adjacent hotel courtyard. The rattlesnakes and rabbits in his popular grilled sausage served with an Ancho chile-cherry sauce come from a bit farther away, as does the buffalo (for the short rib plate) raised in partnership with the Taos Pueblo.
• Bent Street Café & Deli, 120 Bent St., johndunnshops.com/BentStreetDeli.html
Though I'm still partial to the Taos Diner (taosdiner.com) for breakfast, Bent Street is a great option near the plaza. Its green chile is tamer than others, but tasty on the house breakfast burrito, huevos rancheros and a nifty Taos-style eggs Benedict. In line with Taos' social consciousness, the café serves organic and fair-trade coffee and espresso.
• Coffee Cats, 124-F Bent St., johndunnshops.com/CoffeeCats.html
Owner Kit Johnston serves "rocktails," organic and fair-trade coffees and teas supposedly infused with various stones' healing energies. You buy those whose properties appeal to you for $1 each or three for $2.50, then plop them in your drink and glug away. I took the Rock Cocktail Challenge, a chakra-balancing combo of smoky quartz, citrine, amethyst, blue lace agate, clear quartz, aventurine and carnelian for $5, which I added to the a $4.50 cinnamon/vanilla latte. Though I enjoyed the drink's novelty and take-home prizes, I can't say I noticed the removal of negative energy and emotional blocks (or other bennies). Guess I should've kept sippin'.