This guide begins with restaurants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and may be expanded to include other locations in New Mexico, including Las Cruces, Taos, Espanola, Silver City, Roswell, Las Vegas, Gallup, Corrales, Bernalillo, Ruidoso, and many, many others.

It is not the purpose of this guide to tell you the best restaurant with the best food, but to give you some insights about what you might expect in food, cost, dress, and ambience, with an emphasis on local dining, so you can make choices about what is right for you. You should consult reviews and ask for recommendations in forums.

In addition to the reviews available on TA, you may want to consult these links for reviews and menus:

http://nmgastronome.com/blog/

The restaurant types are grouped in five categories, which are rather arbitrary. Again, simply because a restaurant is in group 5 doesn't mean it is a better choice for you than a restaurant you may find in group 2.

Here are the groups.

1. National chain restaurants and fast foods.

These are almost never recommended in the forums.  You know what they are. (There's a new Taco Bell in Santa Fe.)

There are some notable exceptions, however, which include some local chains or places to drive up and grab a quick bite (including food trucks and carts) that are often recommended but which still fall into a fast food category: 

Examples: Blake's Lotaburger (statewide); El Modelo (Albuquerque); El Taco Tote (Albuquerque); El Parasol (Santa Fe & Pojoque)

2. Casual restaurants and local chains.

This is the biggest category. Most local New Mexican and Mexican restaurants, better burgers, easy breakfasts & lunches, coffee houses, barbecue, and local pizza places fall into this category. The dress is very casual. The ambience can sometimes be very funky. The food can be very good. The range of cost for two in 2012 can start at $30 (including a couple of beers) plus tip. Children can eat cheaply.

Examples of casual New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque: Cecilia's, Barela's, Los Cuates, Monroe's, Duran's, El Patio, Charlie's Front & Back Door

Examples of casual New Mexican restuarants in Santa Fe: Tomasita's, The Shed, Atrisco's, La Choza, Tecolote, Dos Amigos

Examples of casual New Mexican restaurants in Bernalillo: Range Cafe

Examples of casual New Mexican restaurants in Espanoloa: Rancho-o-Casado

Examples of casual New Mexican restaurants in Las Cruces: Andele, La Casita Cafe, El Comedor, El Sombrero

Examples of better burger restaurants in Albuquerque: Five Star Burgers, Kelly's

Examples of better burger restaurants in Santa Fe: 

Examples of better burger restaurants in Las Cruces: D1ck's Cafe (lol, wouldn't accept actual name)

Examples of easy breakfasts & lunches in Albuquerque: Weck's, Frontier

Examples of easy breakfasts & lunches in Santa Fe: Horseman's Haven

Examples of easy breakfasts & lunches in Las Cruces: Boba Cafe, Break an Egg, International Delights, The Shed

Examples of coffee houses in Albuquerque: Java Joe's

Examples of coffee houses in Santa Fe: 

Examples of coffee houses in Las Cruces: Milagro Coffee y Espresso, Spirit Winds, The Bean

Examples of barbecue in Albuquerque: Powdrell's, Whole Hog

Examples of barbecue in Santa Fe:

Examples of local pizza places in Albquerque: Dion's, Saggio's, Tomato Cafe

Examples of local pizza places in Santa Fe: Il Vicino, Rooftop, Upper Crust, Second Street, Espiritu 

Examples of local pizza places in Las Cruces: Dion's, Zeffiro's Pizzeria

Examples of local chains in Albuquerque: Flying Star (& Satellite)

Examples of local chains in Santa Fe: Blake's Lotaburger, Flying Star

Examples of local chains/fast food in Las Cruces: Blake's Lotaburger, Caliche's Frozen Custard, Roberto's, Si Senor Express

3.  Dinner Casual.

This category is meant to recognize casual restaurants that have something extra special that make them great for a dinner out (or even a special lunch) but you can still expect them to be casual and cost not much more (unless you include a bigger bar bill). This category may include favorite local restaurants serving ethnic cuisine which don't usually get mentioned in forums to first time visitors from outside New Mexico.This category may also include some national or regional chains, such as P.F. Chang's or Bravo. 

Here are some examples of what might be recommended in this category.

Special New Mexican in Albuquerque: El Pinto

Special pizza in Albuquerque & Santa Fe: Il Vicino

Del Charro and Zia Diner in Santa Fe.

Thai Delights in Las Cruces

Mexican Seafood in Las Cruces: El Taco Mexicano on N. Main

4. Dining.

This category recognizes those restaurants which are favorites for dining out but where the ambience, table setting, and service are notably above casual. This is where the chefs begin to shine. These might include romantic dinners. Here you might find a divergence of thought between Albuquerque and Santa Fe for what is appropriate dress. In Albuquerque, you may want to dress smart casual. In Santa Fe, you may still get away with jeans dressed up a la Santa Fe style. In New Mexico, these restaurants will still welcome children, but you may want to plan an appropriate time. Reservations would be expected, too. You can expect the cost to be signficantly more, starting at $50 plus tip for two in 2012. In 2012, you might find a bottle of wine (or the equivalent in cocktails) for about $35.

Examples in Albuquerque: Zinc, Artichoke Cafe, Scalo, Yanni's, Marcello's Chop House, Trombino's

Examples in Santa Fe: La Boca, Santacafe.

Examples in Bernalillo (Santa Ana Reservation): Tamaya Corn Maiden, Prairie Star

Examples in Espanola: El Paragual

Examples in Chimayo: Rancho de Chimayo

Examples in Las Cruces: La Posta, St. Claire Winery and Bistro 

5. Fine Dining.

Santa Fe abounds in great dining, and Albuquerque has its fair share. You can expect some overlap in the quality of the dining experience between this category and the previous one, particularly in Santa Fe, but the distinquishing markers here are dress and cost, perhaps reputation, and something nebulous about describing fine dining. In other words, many of the restaurants in the previous category might rightfully belong here. This may be the category to pay special attention to dress code, but the general New Mexico rule of thumb may still apply: in Albuquerque: smart casual or even business casual; in Santa Fe: Santa Fe style or smart casual. You can expecct to pay over $100 plus tip for two in 2012 and you may find a bottle of wine for about $50. Reservations, of course.

Examples in Albuquerque: Ranchers Club, Vernon's Hidden Valley Steakhouse, Artichoke Cafe

Examples in Santa Fe: Geronimo, The Compound

Notes:

1. Categories break down. Obviously, you can have a great food experience no matter what the category. Cost is an important consideration in distinguishing categories but it cannot be the only determinative criterium. Thus, your experience at The Ranchers Club (under fine dining) may cost less than your experience at Marcello's Chop House (under dining). Start with this guide and then check TA reviews or ask a question in the TA New Mexico forums.

2. Here's a link to a frequently asked question about New Mexican food: