In Taos, it’s pretty easy to spot a locals’ hangout. If people stop, greet others warmly, ask about the baby, the truck or how the firewood is holding up, it’s a locals’ joint. There are locals who try each new place the minute it opens. They can tell you where the good places used to be. There are other locals who rarely eat out, but when they do, it’s always at the same place. But on an unscientific level, here are a few places where you can catch the community vibe.
Guadalajara Grill Two Taos locations: 822 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, (575) 737-0816; and 1384 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, (575) 751-0063
On sight, the Guadalajara Grill looks like … a Mexican restaurant. Any old Mexican restaurant. And then you eat. Then you understand why almost any local will say you must eat there. Everything is delicious. Everything tastes fresh, from the warm chips to the vegetarian burrito to the spicy wild-caught salmon. Everything is affordable; for a buck fifty, you can get a couple of fresh tacos. For $6 to $12, you can get almost any entrée. Kids are people here, too, which makes it nice for families.
Taos Diner 908 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, (575)758-2374
On the North end of town sits a hotspot with an inauspicious entrance. Taos Diner serves breakfast all day — yummy biscuits the size of your face. And recently, it began serving the kind of dinners cold weather begs for, like fried chicken and meatloaf. Most of the produce and meat are organic and locally-grown. The spinach omelet comes packed with cubed tomatoes, fresh (not overcooked) spinach and chunks of feta. No slabs of melted processed cheese product here. Add a generous handful of nicely fried cubed potatoes with light seasoning and you’ve got a very filling meal for $8.
Orlando’s New Mexican Café 1114 Don Juan Valdez Lane, (575) 751-1450
Last year, homeboy Hosea Rosenburg, who grew up working in restaurants all over Taos, was named the winner on the Bravo channel’s Top Chef: New York. His favorite Taos restaurant? Orlando’s, which has a great patio that’s warmed in the winter by a firepit and features colorful New Mexico-style décor along with some beloved New Mexico dishes. The Tres Colores enchiladas are a big hit, though entrees move into the $10 range here. You can find Orlando’s on the West side of Paseo del Pueblo, Norte of Taos.
The Love Apple 803 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, (575) 751-0050
A newcomer to locals’ list of favorites would be the Love Apple, a charming little restaurant that opened about 18 months ago in an old church. The shape of the tiny church along with its tiny bell tower, the outside lights and the simple sign hint that something special might be inside. As promised, the atmosphere proves extraordinary in its spare coziness. The food is about 70 percent locally grown, much of it organic. Popular dishes include the trout, which is wrapped in corn husks and grilled, and then filled with a lime-compound butter and chipotle crème, and the burgers — choices alternate between a buffalo burger with fresh garlic and a local cheddar, and a lamb burger with a smoked paprika lemon aioli.
Antonio’s 122 Doña Luz, (575) 751-4800 A lot of locals talk about Antonio’s, but not just in terms of the food. They usually say something along the lines of, “We love Antonio …” A signature dish at this upscale, old-style Mexican restaurant — located in one of the snazziest buildings in the plaza area — includes Chile Relleno en Nogada, a poblano pepper stuffed with pork, apples, pears, raisins, tomato, onion, epazote and garlic. It’s served with a walnut-brandy cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate. Antonio’s can be found in the grand building with the big courtyard, one block west of Taos Plaza.
So there it is. Or there’s part of it. People tell you other places; Gutíz, the Dragonfly, Chef Damon’s, Joseph’s Table, Lambert’s, the list just goes on and on. Rumor has it that Taos has more fivestar chefs per capita than any other place in America. But this short list can help anyone eat like a Taoseño.