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Rising to the Occasion

Celebrating New Mexico’s Vibrant Food Scene
— Photos by Daniel Quat

The energy is palpable, simmering like sauce over a low flame. The farmers’s markets are humming, and orders from growers, butchers, and fishmongers, all destined for restaurants, are heating up.

As we began to emerge from more than a year of isolation, the weather was just beginning to turn, adding to our cautious optimism an extra bit of spring fever, a desire to finally be out and about again. For many of us, that first yearning was to gather once more with friends and family, hug them, and share relieved laughter over a really, really good meal. Luckily, those who contribute to our vibrant food culture were just as eager to meet this need.

That’s not to say we haven’t been set back by this difficult pandemic year, which hit the restaurant and food industry and its workers especially hard. Many jobs were lost as restaurants were shuttered. We cooked at home more than ever and ordered takeout from restaurants that barely survived while doing it.

We lost some favorites, but, surprisingly, we have gained some new gems. And a fresh appreciation for outdoor dining has taken hold, with tents or more permanent structures—like Izanami’s outdoor pagoda, complete with fireplace—popping up all over.

Here is a look at our dynamic restaurant scene through a pre-pandemic lens. It’s a tribute to the passion and dedication of all that grow, create, and serve our food and libations. While the scene may be a bit different this year, so are we all. As we enter our new normal, let’s hope our spirits remain as effervescent as bubbles in a glass. Salud!

Rolling Still Distillery offers craft cocktails made from its specialty vodkas at The Lounge in downtown Taos. Co-owners (from left) Dan Irion, Nicole Barady, Liza Barrett, and Scott Barady create premium vodkas infused with the flavors of New Mexico, from green chile to lavender.

Chef Nam Lovato, who owns Thai Bistro with her husband Joe, brings homestyle cooking from her native Thailand to Eldorado with dishes like Pad Kee Mow and Drunken Noodle with Shrimp.

Santa Fe Brewing Company owner Brian Lock serves fresh pours at the brewery’s Eldorado Taphouse, in La Tienda shopping center. Chef-owner James Campbell Caruso stirs up paella for a crowd at the Wine and Chile Festival in Santa Fe, a version of the classic served at his La Boca and Taberna restaurants in Santa Fe.