With a wildly-diverse menu, Luminaria is a shining star - Albuquerque Journal

With a wildly-diverse menu, Luminaria is a shining star

Green Chile Arancini at Luminaria Restaurant and Patio features three green chile risotto balls with avocado mousse and roasted corn salsa. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

Two summers ago, I had the privilege of dining with a group on the expansive Luminaria Restaurant patio and was smitten with Executive Chef Tony Smith’s touches that make classic Italian staples seem even more special with a New Mexico twist. In fact, I am still dreaming about the addition of chopped candied lemons in the kale salad for a sweet and acidic punch of flavor, and his interpretation of arancini that will make any Italian grandmother proud.

Though I had not been back to this restaurant, it was a friend’s recent posting of Chef Smith’s Watermelon Gazpacho that caught my attention and reminded me to return to this hidden gem in the heart of downtown Santa Fe. Located in the Inn and Spa of the Loretto Hotel, this is one of four Heritage Hotel properties in town – and, let me be clear, this is not your typical staid hotel restaurant. In fact, as the name indicates, Luminaria shines bright, attracts both locals and tourists and for good reasons.

The well-shaded covered and open-air patio is a winning spot that is so close to the Plaza you can get there in a few hundred steps. And yet the patio is tucked just enough away from the hustle and bustle so you almost feel like you are somewhere completely off the beaten track. Lush plants, flowers and trees dress the outdoor space. Chirping birds provide natural background music and the St. Francis Church bells ring to keep you both present and grateful for such an opportunity.

Luminaria’s Baby Kale Salad is made with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, radishes, toasted almonds, candied lemons and a lemon-herb vinaigrette. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

My dining companion started with Luminaria’s signature Strawberry-Jalapeño Margarita ($14), a drink that is featured on the Margarita Trail. The rim of a cocktail glass is seriously dipped in a spicy-salty, golden-hued Tajín seasoning that when coupled with the strawberry-jalapeño margarita makes for a significantly more spicy than sweet beverage. My friend loved it as this drink set her palate on fire, but a taste was all I needed.

While she sipped, I nibbled and sampled all of the offerings in the complimentary bread and cracker basket. The bread is locally made by Boultawn’s Bagelry and the stellar crackers are made in-house. The heart-shaped water crackers, lavash and a thin cracker with flowers and herbs were the stand-outs, and we appreciated the soft herb-infused butter.

Having previously sampled some of Chef Smith’s signature dishes and fallen in love, we reordered both the Green Chile Arancini ($15) and Baby Kale Salad ($15). Three crispy but tender ping-pong sized green chile risotto balls are placed on an elongated dish with a swoosh of avocado mousse and topped with a spoonful of roasted corn, a few black beans and microgreens. The arancinis are light and almost melt in your mouth with barely a hint of green chile, so as to not overwhelm diners. The cold avocado plays well against the freshly fried and warm arancini.

We also had the sensational summer soup, Watermelon-Jalapeño Gazpacho ($11), the dish that lured me back and it was an interesting variation with the addition of jalapeño. Veering from tradition, Chef Smith sprinkles a bit of salty feta, pickled bites of strawberry and lots of fresh mint to add more layers of flavor to this seasonal tomato soup which hit the spot on a warm summer night.

The Baby Kale Salad ($15) was as good as I remembered and once again I was swooning with the candied lemons. What I didn’t remember was the other interesting ingredients in the salad, including roasted red pepper, goat cheese, watermelon radishes and toasted almonds. Collectively, this salad is a symphony of flavors – different tones to speak to different taste buds. Thoroughly satisfying, in future visits, I will request grilled fish or shrimp to turn this appetizer into an entree.

Coffee Rubbed New York Strip is served with a few slices of fondant potatoes, sautéed broccolini and red wine demi-glace sauce at Luminaria. (Heather Hunter/For the Journal)

What didn’t enchant was the Elote Salad ($15) – though when it arrived, it did fit the description. Mixed greens are topped with cherry tomatoes and pickled onions, queso fresco, lime crema and dressed with chile-lime vinaigrette. Baby ears of corn are coated in rice flour and tempura batter and fried. I was vacillating between the Grilled Mediterranean Caesar ($15) that features a creative roasted eggplant Caesar dressing, which totally intrigued me, and the Elote Salad. When I inquired with the server, he suggested the Elote Salad and I acquiesced. Next time, it’s the Grilled Mediterranean Caesar.

Timing between courses was significantly delayed and though I appreciated the pause as it gave us time to sit back and enjoy the incredible outdoor ambiance, it felt gratuitously protracted. Having owned and operated a resort and restaurants, I wondered what was happening behind-the-scenes. When I contacted Chef Smith, he informed me that they are replacing the hardwood floors throughout the restaurant. This explained the hiccup. The chef also shared that the kitchen is getting a major face lift this year to make this an even better experience for guests. That the kitchen remained open during construction made it easy to overlook the break in service.

Creative entrees range from Crispy Duck Thigh ($39), Yellowtail Veracruz ($43), New Mexico Wild Boar Ribeye ($49), as well as a vegetarian option, Zucchini Medallions ($42), and their award-winning Loretto Burger ($20) with Hatch New Mexico Green Chiles.

My friend had the Coffee Rubbed New York Strip ($53) and it was a carnivore’s dream. The coffee rub provides both flavor and texture, and it was grilled to her request of medium. Served with a few slices of fondant potatoes, sauteed broccolini and red wine demi-glace sauce, the steak was substantial enough to have leftovers for a steak sandwich the next day.

Because we were completely satisfied with our meals, we skipped dessert and decided to take a stroll around the Plaza instead. There was a jubilant spirit in the air as the Plaza was bustling with a band. As we walked, I realized Luminaria exists to feed hotel guests, but those of us who live here are the lucky ones. The patio is one of the city’s best outdoor dining spots, the menu is wildly diverse and appealing and the food is the shining star. Having been at the helm since April 2021, Chef Tony Smith has definitely found his groove.

Home » Entertainment » Dining Reviews » With a wildly-diverse menu, Luminaria is a shining star

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