We Love Food: Santa Fe Cafe

Kip Laramie
Santa Fe Cafe Owner Kipp Laramie by MichaelTRuhl

In the heart of hilly Rosslyn amid the skyscrapers and the steel, the Santa Fe Cafe is an oasis for spicy food lovers. Offering authentic New Mexican food, the restaurant has maintained a presence in Arlington for over 20 years on Wilson Boulevard two blocks from the Rosslyn Metro station.

A New Mexico native, myself, I noticed right away that the restaurant has the same quaint, cozy feel as many of the family owned places in Santa Fe. The staff is friendly and Spanish speaking, and the prices are reasonable. The authentic New Mexican art adorning the walls provides a pleasant refrain from the metropolis above; it’s almost like one made a wrong turn and ended up in Taos Pueblo.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, New Mexican food holds a distinct style from other Southwestern cuisines such as Tex-Mex and Mexican food. Based largely around red and green chile pepper sauces and traditionally spicy and flavorful, the food has roots hundreds of years deep. Traditional dishes include blue corn enchiladas, chile relleno, posole, or green chile stew.

Santa Fe Cafe owner Kip Laramie has adapted his New Mexican menu to include more ‘traditional American’ items to cater to a wide audience, but that don’t compromise the credibility of his classic southwestern dishes.

“I think we’re pretty legit,” Laramie said. “We have a few things which wouldn’t stand up to New Mexico: a steak and cheese burrito, which is Philadelphia meets New Mexico, but I try to marry them with the NM ingredients that would give somebody who is into the spicier cuisine reason to try them.”

Laramie has made a mark with local New Mexicans, including the University of New Mexico Alumni Association, the New Mexico State Society, and many military personnel once stationed in the Land of Enchantment. The Congressman representing Santa Fe, Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, is reportedly a fan; his signed headshot hangs on the wall among other New Mexico statesmen who have visited the establishment.

Santa Fe Cafe
Santa Fe Cafe by MichaelTRuhl

Laramie’s authenticity extends to addressing the age old New Mexico question: red or green? New Mexico has two main varieties of chile, which vary in color, taste, and consistency based on when it’s harvested. New Mexican culture embraces both red and green chile, but there is definitely a divide between people as to preference. Laramie offers either one on his dishes, or you can get it ‘christmas style’ with both red and green.

“The green chile in New Mexico is the state fruit – no doubt about it,” Laramie said. “I just think most people that know anything about New Mexican food, one of the first things they learn is green chile, whether it’s green chile stew or green chile enchiladas.”

Raw, fresh green chile is a difficult item to find in DC if you don’t grow it yourself. A few grocery stores in the area carry it frozen, but the Santa Fe Cafe gets their supply shipped directly from Hatch, a small farming town in Southern New Mexico known for the fiery peppers. Recently several local grocery stores flew in fresh peppers from Hatch and roasted them in front of their stores, a tradition in New Mexico this time of year. Many stores are sold out already.

The only quintessentially New Mexican item Laramie doesn’t offer is the sopapilla, a deep fried pastry. He once had the recipe it down perfectly, but when he changed deep fryers in his kitchen he couldn’t get them to puff properly anymore. “It’s embarrassing and frustrating,” Laramie lamented. “I will run them every once in a while as a special, but I just know that I’ll have to make 20 sopapillas to get 4 good ones, and just accept it. I just need to consult with someone’s grandmother to find out what I’m doing wrong,” he laughed.

If you’re in the mood for something new or spicy, consider taking a ride over to Rosslyn on the blue and orange lines. Take a moment to talk to Kip Laramie while you’re there – he’s a heck of a nice guy. You’ll be happy you came.

Santa Fe Cafe
1500 Wilson Boulevard (at corner of Oak Street)
Arlington, Virginia 22209
(703) 276-0361

Michael came to DC in 2009 via Albuquerque, NM. In his spare time, Michael is a photographer, an audiophile, and a guitar aficionado. His humor is drier than the desert and he often finds himself neck deep in awkward situations. Visit his website.

15 thoughts on “We Love Food: Santa Fe Cafe

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I lived in New Mexico for five years and had no idea I could real New Mexican food nearby. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

  2. Kip’s food is absolutely outstanding, and this is the friendliest restaurant around. Do yourself a favor and visit!

  3. Awesome food at Santa Fe Cafe! And don’t feel bad about the sopapilla, the fried ice cream rocks!

  4. Long time fan of SFC!! Now I’m hungry for some green chile stew. No, a BBQ burrito with great chipotle chiles, no blue corn chicken enchiladas with salsa verde . . .

  5. We have eaten at Kip’s restaurant for years (both lunch and dinner). It is the best and Kip also gives back to the community in many ways.

    Great food … great guy … great prices … it doesn’t get any better!

  6. I’ve been going to Santa Fe Cafe since it opened! Food is terrific, authentic, and addictive – same could be said for the Margaritas! Kip is the nicest guy in town and does so much for the community. The huge number of regulars speaks well to the yum factor.

  7. We moved to FL in 2001and I still crave SFC!!!! Kip’s margaritas are the best I’ve had, the food hits the spot-so delicious,and his smile is charming! We miss this little gem!

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  9. Not a single comment on his awesome baritone voice calling out your order number when its ready? That’s half the fun of going there (“Twen-ty-Four!!!”).

    Folks in our office have dubbed the entrees there — at least the ones in the foil containers – as “slop”, but in a most affectionate way.

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  11. My husband and I and our friends have been gathering at the Santa Fe Cafe on Friday nights for more than 10 years—often driving from as far away as Silver Spring on one end and Mt. Vernon on the other. In fact, we feel we’ve been such regulars, we should have a plaque on the large round table in the rear! The food has been consistently delicious, the specials—wonderfully adventurous. Most of us have strong ties to New Orleans, so we’re foodies and fairly hard to satisfy when it comes to cuisine. And as much as we love the food and the ambiance, we love Kip Laramie and his staff. We’re always made to feel welcome and we joke that it’s our home away from home. So. If you’re in Rosslyn or even if you’re not, we strongly recommend the Santa Fe Cafe. You’ll recognize us as the rowdy group at the round table in the rear.

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