Santa Fe has a longstanding—and well-deserved—reputation as a health-conscious city. Patients were drawn to the Sunmount Sanatorium in the early twentieth century, just as the back-to-the-land movement felt a magnetic pull to the high desert in the 1960s and 70s. Even nearby Ojo Caliente’s curative mineral springs are said to have been a gathering place for thousands of years.
Today, the impulses towards good health take more varied forms, from alternative healing practitioners to tai chi instructors to organic farming advocates. And it’s only natural that the city has also kept pace with changes in the culinary landscape (remember Healthy Dave’s, in the Design Center?). Once upon a time, “health food” was a broad umbrella term referring mostly to vegetarianism while encompassing things like whole-wheat bread and homemade yogurt. Now the categories are much more complex. Vegan and gluten-free options, dietary outliers in the not-so-distant past, are becoming menu staples, as are alternatives to refined white sugar.
Dozens of local restaurants accommodate all manner of diners’ dietary needs and preferences. Below are just three of the many places where you can have your gluten-free, vegan, low-glycemic cake and not just eat it, but enjoy it, too.
SWEETWATER HARVEST KITCHEN
At Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen, says Fiona Wong—who owns the restaurant along with Soma Franks—the “approach to food is that it has to be nutritional and healing for our bodies.” Fiona met Nou Kimnath (who is from Cambodia by way of Thailand) eight years ago and immediately knew she had found her chef. Says Fiona of Nou, “[She] also shares our concern about local and organic ingredients.”
Sweetwater began its signature Thai Night as a special themed pop-up dinner on Wednesdays. “I’m originally from Singapore,” explains Fiona, “so I like bold flavors; I like international tastes.” The popular menu was eventually offered on Thursdays, as well, and now the entire dinner menu comprises Thai food, served Wednesday through Friday. All the Thai menu items are gluten-free, and Fiona says, “Because we don’t use dairy [for Thai Night], most of the vegetarian dishes are also vegan.”
Nou concocts all the recipes herself, and she never uses any pre-packaged ingredients. In her pad Thai, for example, there is no commercial fish sauce. Instead, she came up with an alternative vegetarian recipe using garbanzo beans, daikon and red lentils. In place of white cane sugar, she sweetens her pad Thai with coconut sugar. The result is subtle and tasty. As Fiona puts it, “The flavors are there but are not overwhelming.”
Similarly subtle is the Lahpet Thoke (Burmese tea-leaf salad), which features a colorful cornucopia of bite-size vegetables and seeds, topped with the fermented green-tea paste that serves, Nou says, as a digestive aid. Its mild, intriguing flavor is hard to place, but it shares none of the bitterness of drinkable green tea (and none of the caffeine, either).
On the other hand, Sweetwater’s Spicy Cambodian Green Curry is hot, even for seasoned New Mexico palates. The dish is packed with an unexpected combination of vegetables, including eggplant, green beans and silky kabocha squash. Chunks of pineapple help to temper some of the intense heat of the green curry liquid, which is more like a broth than a sauce.
Fiona recommends Baileyana Pinot Noir to accompany Thai dishes. “Also, Riesling goes really well with Thai food,” she says. Sweetwater offers different sakes, served hot and cold, individually or in tasting flights. There are also many gluten-free desserts, but most of them have butter. There is one vegan item, though, Fiona says, and that’s the chocolate mousse, made with avocado.
Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen is located at 1512 Pacheco Street in Santa Fe. 505.795.7383, sweetwatersf.com.
ANNAPURNA’S WORLD VEGETARIAN CAFE
Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe, founded 14 years ago by owner Yashoda Naidoo, focuses on ayurveda, a system of Indian traditional medicine that aims to restore balance in the body by combining sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Not surprisingly, “Eighty percent of the menu,” Yashoda says, “can be made vegan and gluten-free.” Most menu choices are also soy-free, with the exception of the stir fry (which has a no-tofu option) and tofu scramble, though Yashoda is planning to replace the latter with a soy-free option and eliminate soy from the menu entirely.
Baked goods are almost all gluten-free and vegan, and sweeteners will never appear in any of the menu’s main or side dishes. In the treat department, Yashoda says, “We use agave, brown rice syrup, molasses, date syrup and organic raw cane sugar” (this last one is used sparingly). Because, she adds, all the recipes were originally formulated without the need for eggs, “We do not use any egg replacement in our bakery.” If you need to know which menu items are compatible with your dietary needs, Yashoda says, “We can tell you very quickly.”
Annapurna’s also delivers take-out food quickly, via their Car-Ma To-Go curbside service, available at all three restaurant locations in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. “Customers call in and order, and we take it out to them,” Yashoda says. “It’s been [operating] more than five years. I believe it’s not being used as extensively as it should be.”
There are designated parking spots, and the staff hand-delivers orders after running customers’ credit cards inside. “A lot of our customers are young women with babies,” says Yashoda. “It’s a convenience we like to provide.” The service also allows office workers with limited lunch breaks convenient access to healthy food. “At dinnertime, we get a lot [of business] as well, between five and six, when people are on their way home from the office.” Yashoda adds that she has seen Car-Ma customers pick up chai, too, in individual cups or in an insulated box that holds 12 eight-ounce servings. That, paired with Annapurna’s gluten-free, vegan muffins, she says, makes for a nutritious alternative to coffee and donuts.
Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café in Santa Fe is located at 1620 St. Michael’s Drive. 505.988.9688. In Albuquerque they are at 2201 Silver Avenue SE, 505.262.2424 and at 5939 4th Street NW, 505.254.2424. chaishoppe.com.
LOVE YOURSELF CAFE
The calming custard-yellow walls and high ceilings in Love Your Self, adjacent to the Light Vessel spa in DeVargas Center, makes the compact and cozy café seem larger than it is. Behind the bar are dozens of jars and dropper bottles of what manager Matthew Slaughter calls “herbs, supplements, super foods and vitamins”—the building blocks for the (frankly mind-boggling) array of potions offered.
Upon being seated, each diner is immediately given a small complimentary glass of Love Water, made with juiced apples and cucumbers, plus coconut water, silica and Cell Food, a dietary oxygen supplement. The café offers two house teas: there’s gynostemma tea, which Matthew describes as “adaptogenic,” a term that refers to a substance that adapts to what your body needs it to do. “In the future,” he predicts, “this is going to be more popular than green tea.” The other house tea blends chaga (an immune-boosting mushroom), pau d’arco (an anti-fungal harvested from the bark of the tree of the same name) and rehmannia (a root used in traditional Chinese medicine).
If any or all of those ingredients are unfamiliar, well, there’s a lot more where that came from. Love Yourself’s selection of beverages—“herbal elixir crafts,” in Matthew’s words—casts a wide and eclectic net, from the Mushroom Mocha to shots of probiotic liquid to variations on fresh fruit and vegetable juices blended with ginger and turmeric root. In addition, there are some two-dozen add-ons that can be incorporated into any drink: maca, chlorella, goji berries, ginseng and whey, to name just a handful of the more recognizable ones. Fortunately, the café’s staff members are not only ready and willing to answer questions about the less recognizable ones, they are also happy to suggest particular concoctions designed to give customers the specific boost—or wind-down—they are looking for. “We do a very quick assessment,” says Matthew. “How are you feeling? What are you doing today?”
The edible portion of the menu, he continues, “is organic, gluten-free, low-glycemic index [and] vegetarian. Simple, simple food.” There are, for example, salads (Caesar, massaged kale), alternative iterations of breakfast comfort foods (pancakes, waffles, Eggs Benedict) and pizza. The baked goods department is populated by two hearty breads with almond flour at their foundation, a rotating selection of pastries and the delicious LYS Blisscake, a velvety vegan take on cheesecake with a blessedly not-too-sweet banana/cashew/coconut crust.
While any of the drinks can be made vegan, the main dish choices for vegans are fewer. The café does, however, offer two vegan-friendly build-your-own options: a grain-and-legume–based Power Bowl and a potato-based Oven Baked Skillet. Everything on Love Yourself’s menu is served from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Love Yourself is located at 199 Paseo de Peralta (in DeVargas Center), Santa Fe. 505.473.1200. lightvesselsantafe.com.
Story by Eve Tolpa