As patio season approaches, it’s time to evaluate the best outdoor dining establishments in Santa Fe. The exceptional weather is one of the reasons we live in – or visit – The City Different. And as outdoor dining has grown exponentially during COVID to accommodate restaurants, we now have even more patios to choose from.
While a “big patio” is sometimes enough for a happy hour with friends, I generally want exceptional food to go along 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 best restaurant, Geronimo, and across from the city’s oldest bar, El Farol, The Teahouse opened in 2003. What started as a tribute to the founder’s love for tea was purchased in 2012 by Rich Freeman, also owner of El Farol. Fortunately, Rich has only improved The Teahouse over the years.
Loved by locals for obvious reasons, this is where tourists recharge after a Canyon Road adventure. With a 10 page menu of over 150 global teas and sensational scones (they also have a gluten free scone of the day and other gluten free options) I don’t know why they don’t offer an elevated tea time .
The ambience and staff are mostly warm and welcoming. If you choose Michel as your waiter, he is a charming French replica of Father Christmas and knows The Teahouse well. The menu is thoughtful and designed to appeal to a wide audience. But back to the terrace.
The large outdoor area is covered in gravel that resembles an adult playground. Although there are no swings or slides, they make up for that with teas you can only find here and outstanding food.
Breakfast is offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunch starts at 11 a.m. and continues until 3 p.m. and, from May 2, they are launching dinner service until 6 p.m.
The outdoor space is casual and comfortable. Inside, the tables are spaced out in the three rooms of the old house and this is the place to be in winter. But The Teahouse is all about the expansive patio that seats over 60 people and offers a glimpse of the action along Canyon Road.
While tall trees provide natural shade for some tables, strategically placed umbrellas protect diners from the sun. Metal chairs are a lot more comfortable than they look, so sit back and enjoy some vitamin D.
No matter what time of day you visit, you should start with tea. Seductive names like Oriental Beauty and Freak of Nature Oolong, even tea connoisseurs are challenged by the options. Tea neophytes can sample the possibilities: green, black, lattes, chai, matcha, floral, 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 there for breakfast, a range of six eggs Benedict dishes ($16) will likely catch your eye. Or dive into the wild smoked salmon platter ($19), toasted bagel, cream cheese and all the toppings, bowl of oatmeal ($13) or green vegetable quiche ($14).
At lunch, the outdoor tables are covered in a sea of salads. Nine different salads are served on round plates, but I would prefer a bowl. Organic greens and your choice of toppings are lightly seasoned with balsamic vinaigrette. I say barely dressed because it will look like the salad is dry, but it’s not. Rather than a salad dripping with dressing, these ultra-fresh greens are barely seasoned so the ingredients can shine. And they do, but don’t be afraid to ask for a side of the 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 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, it’s a meal. Add salmon ($8), chicken ($6), marinated artichokes ($6) and/or avocado ($3) for a boost of protein and healthy fats.
Don’t like salads? Don’t worry, entrees are waiting for you and most include soup or salad. Eggplant Parmesan ($16) is gluten-free, Lasagna Bolognese ($17.50) stands tall, Italian Meatloaf ($14) is a favorite and Chicken Pot Pie ($16.50 $) is also gluten-free.
Or choose from nine provocative panini combinations ($16) like brie, apple, black forest ham and mostarda, or mushrooms, fontina and balsamic onion marmalade, or chicken, brie, fig jam and arugula. Sandwiches ($16) come with a soup or salad and include a BLT or house roast turkey or vegan wrap.
If you’re more of a snacker, order a few starters, Artichokes and Goat Cheese ($13.50), Burrata Caprese ($13) or Salame ($17). The Antipasto Misto for Two ($30) will enliven the palate of any table with the chef’s selection of cheeses, charcuterie, olives, fig jam, truffle honey, mostarda and toast.
Because everything is homemade and not at all heavy, you can enjoy a dessert without feeling guilty. The signature scones ($5) are served warm with a side of tangy lemon curd and soft whipped cream, this pairs well with a flowery tea.
The gluten-free key lime pie ($8) also stands out as the graham cracker crust provides a crunchy contrast to the creamy, lemony interior. We recently splurged and ordered the Strawberry Shortcake ($9). This stunning dessert silences the table as if EF Hutton is speaking. The trick is simply whipped cream without sugar and we proclaimed it to be one of the best desserts in Santa Fe.
So is The Teahouse a favorite because of the incredible selection of teas, the eclectic menu, the delicious scones and desserts or the outdoor space? I let you decide.