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Taos, NM: Eat, Shop, Play

Taos, NM, offers a variety of good places to eat, shop and play. That’s because the town, nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, has grown from a 70’s era haven for backpackers into a getaway destination that draws those interested in art and Native American history and heritage.

And one can’t live by scenery alone even if it’s as spectacular as Taos’s 650-foot deep Rio Grande Gorge; 13,000 foot high Wheeler Peak and 1000-year-old Pueblo.

From the outside neither of our two favorite Taos restaurants looks special. El Meze shares its historic 1847 hacienda with the office of a water company and the Trading Post Café has “Italian Restaurant” plastered in black letters across its adobe façade.
Never mind. Inside, both places serve great food.

Along with indoor dining, El Meze offers seating on its patio. On a recent mild summer evening, we enjoyed the tranquil views of Taos peak and the undulating ridges of the green mountains that run through the Tiwa tribe’s reservation. Chef Frederick Muller labels his cuisine “la comida de las sierras,” the food of the mountains. He uses the food and spices of colonial Spain, the Moors and northern New Mexico to create regionally inspired fare.

White nectarines and Macnchego cheese accompany the Spanish ham in the jamon Serrano. The gazpacho, among the best we have ever tasted, has slices of vegetables and is topped with a prickly pear granita. Entrees include tasty grilled lamb chops with mint and oregano and grilled whole trout with lemon, cilantro and garlic. We could not leave without munching the mini-cardamon donuts for dessert.

Chef René Mettler and his wife Kimberley Armstrong create a friendly atmosphere at the Taos Trading Post, named for the long-time store that formerly occupied the building. On a back wall note the signed photograph of Dennis Hopper, who resided in Taos for years.

Mettler, whenever possible, uses locally grown tomatoes, herbs and other products. The pasta—delicious—is made from scratch. “No cans are opened in this restaurant,” says Armstrong. Signature dishes include the seafood paella, meatballs and spaghetti and the duck, a moist, tasty and large portion. For apple pie lovers like us, don’t leave without a big slice for dessert.

For local New Mexican food, we like Orlando’s best. Come early for lunch or dinner, especially if you want to sit on the outdoor patio shaded by umbrellas. The food is tasty and the portions of burritos, tamales, tacos and enchiladas are generous and accompanied by beans and rice. For those who like dessert, try the biscochitos, a typical New Mexican cookie with anise and cinnamon.

There’s no shortage of shopping in Taos. Among the finds on our recent trip: coffee mugs made by local Logan Wannamaker at the Taos Clay Studio; earring from Mesa’s Edge, a jewelry store on the plaza with another location nearby; and a hand dyed silk scarf from the gift shop at the Millicent Rogers Museum.

If you have kids in tow, they, undoubtedly, will need a break from your shopping. Take them to Twirl, not far from the plaza. The clever toy store has two patios of climbing and play equipment for kids—no purchase necessary, but you must stay and play with your children. You can also hike the Carson National Forest and go horseback riding at the Taos Indian Horse Ranch.

Taos, with interesting museums, an impressive Pueblo, great restaurants and good shops, is a find.

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