As patio season approaches, it’s time to assess Santa Fe’s best outdoor dining establishments. The exceptional weather is one of the reasons we live in – or visit – The City Different. And since outdoor dining grew exponentially during COVID to accommodate restaurants, we now have even more patios to choose from.
Though a “great patio” will sometimes suffice for happy hour with friends, I typically want exceptional food to go with the exceptional weather and outdoor experience. And that’s when The Teahouse jumps to the top of the list.
Located near the end of Canyon Road, just beyond the city’s top dining establishment, Geronimo, and across the street from the oldest bar in town, El Farol, The Teahouse opened in 2003. What began as a tribute to the founder’s love of tea was purchased in 2012 by Rich Freedman, who also owns El Farol. Thankfully, Rich has, over the years, only made The Teahouse better.
Loved by locals for obvious reasons, this is where tourists recharge after a Canyon Road adventure. With a 10-page menu of more than 150 global teas and sensational scones (they also have a gluten-free scone of the day and other gluten-free options), I’m unsure why they don’t offer a high tea hour.
The ambiance and staff are mostly warm and welcoming. If you get Michel as your server, he is a charming French replica of Santa Claus and knows The Teahouse well. The menu is thoughtful and crafted to appeal to a wide audience. But back to the patio.
The expansive outdoor area is covered with gravel which feels like an adult playground. While there are no swings or slides, they make up for it with teas you can only find here and exceptional food.
Breakfast is offered from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., lunch begins at 11 a.m. and continues until 3 p.m. and, starting May 2, they launch dinner service until 6 p.m.
The outdoor area is casual and comfortable. Inside, tables are spaced throughout the three rooms of the former home and this is the place to be in the winter. But The Teahouse is all about the expansive patio that seats more than 60 and provides a glimpse of the action along Canyon Road.
While large trees offer natural shade for some tables, strategically-placed umbrellas protect diners from the sun. The metal chairs are much more comfortable than they look, so sit back and enjoy a little vitamin D.
No matter what time of day you visit, you must start with tea. Alluring names like Oriental Beauty and Freak of Nature Oolong, even tea connoisseurs are challenged by the options. Tea neophytes can get a taste of the possibilities including green, black, lattes, chai, matcha, flowering, white, Chinese green, Japanese green, flavored green, oolong, pu-erh, mate, rooibos, iced tea of the day and coffee. Prices range from $4 to $20 for the more extravagant varieties.
If you go for breakfast, an array of six eggs Benedict ($16) dishes will likely get your attention. Or dive into the Wild Smoked Salmon Platter ($19), a toasted bagel, cream cheese and all of the fixings, a bowl of oatmeal ($13) or quiche with mixed greens ($14).
At lunch, the outdoor tables are covered with a sea of salads. Nine different salads are served on round plates, though I would prefer a bowl. Heaping organic greens and your choice of toppings are barely dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. I say barely dressed because it will appear as though the salad is dry, but it’s not. Rather than a salad dripping with dressing, these uber-fresh greens are scarcely dressed so the ingredients can shine. And they do, but don’t be afraid to ask for a side of dressing.
Creative salad toppings include a combination of roasted vegetables, fruit, a thick triangle of cheese and lots of crunchy nuts. Think Brussels sprouts, pear, pecorino cheese and pistachios – my personal favorite. Apples, roasted pears, Irish cheddar and pecans. Beets, goat cheese and pine nuts. Apples, bacon, avocado and Irish cheddar. At $16 for a large salad, this is a meal. Add salmon ($8), chicken ($6), marinated artichokes ($6) and/or avocado ($3) for a boost of protein and healthy fats.
Not into salads? Don’t worry, the entrees are waiting for you and most include soup or salad. The Eggplant Parmesan ($16) is gluten-free, Lasagna Bolognese ($17.50) stands tall, Italian-Style Meatloaf ($14) is a favorite and chicken pot pie ($16.50) is also gluten-free.
Or choose from nine provoking Panini ($16) combinations like Brie, Apple, Black Forest Ham and Mostarda, or Mushroom, Fontina and Balsamic Onion Marmalade, or Chicken, Brie, Fig Jam and Arugula. Sandwiches ($16) come with soup or salad and include a BLT or House-Roasted Turkey or a Vegan Wrap.
If you are more of a nibbler, order a few appetizers, Artichokes and Goat Cheese ($13.50), Burrata Caprese ($13) or Salame ($17). The Antipasto Misto for Two ($30) will activate the palate of the whole table with the chef’s selection of cheeses, cold cuts, olives, fig jam, truffle honey, mostarda and grilled bread.
Because everything is homemade and not at all heavy, you can enjoy dessert without the guilt. The signature scones ($5) are served warm with a side of tangy lemon curd and soft whipped cream, this pairs well with a flowering tea.
The gluten-free Key Lime Pie ($8) is also a stand-out as the graham cracker crust offers a crunchy contrast with the creamy, citrusy interior. We recently splurged and ordered the Strawberry Shortcake ($9). This show-stopping dessert brings the table to silence as if EF Hutton is talking. The trick is simply whipped cream without any sugar and we proclaimed this one of Santa Fe’s best desserts.
So, is The Teahouse a favorite spot because of the incredible selection of teas, the eclectic menu, the scrumptious scones and desserts or the outdoor area? I’ll let you decide.