Chefs’ Guide to Local dining

Four Renowned Taos chefs share their personal faves

By Ellen Miller-Goins

Inspired by the late, great “bad-boy chef ” Anthony Bourdain, who trav-eled the world in search of “culinary hotspots and out-of-the-way gems” we asked some of Taos’ esteemed chefs to share their favorite spots to dine in Northern New Mexico.

Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon- Haricots Verts, Baby Squash, Corn, Bacon, Sweet Onion Cream, Balsamic

Chef Wilks Medley

Chef Wilks Medley owns and operates medley [lowercase intentional] with his wife, pastry chef Colleen Medley. He notes, “My mother’s side of the family homesteaded part of New Mexico, so we’ve been in New Mexico forever.” A Taos Ski Valley aficionado since age three, Wilks feels he was destined to return to Taos  something he did in grand style with the establishment of medley on Highway 150 outside Taos. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Wilks worked at several restaurants in Los Angeles before living the dream here serving his modern spins on nostalgic classics, artisan cock-tails and exceptional desserts.

Chef Wilks Medley prepares vegitables as a base for his Salmon dish in his kitchen at Medley (Taos News File Photo)

“When we go to somewhere new, I’m checking TripAdvisor and other sites, but anytime I go anywhere, I also ask the locals, ‘Where should I go?'”

And if a visitor asks him?

My breakfast spot is Golden Piñon always. Dude [Jaime Saenz Ramirez] makes some damn good breakfast! I think he’s got some of the best chile in town. His food’s just what you want. It’s good. For handheld burritos, I’d probably say the Cow [Taos Cow in Arroyo Seco]. They make a damn good breakfast burrito.”

For a special night out, his favorite is the Corner Office near the Plaza. “They really go for it on the food. It’s a creative menu, outside the norm, and they have a nice wine selection,” says Wilks.

“Trujillo’s Diner on the south side has a  solid burger and Lambert’s is always on the list.”

Medley admits with young children, sometimes the best option is to grab carry out. “Once a week we get Pizaños pizza and wings, and during COVID we got lots of takeout from Sushi Siam. I’m a big curry lover.”

Chef James Crowther III

Lambert’s is a Taos institution. Established in 1989, its current owners, the Troy family, maintain its reputation for excellence — buoyed in no small part by Chef James Crowther III, a native of Northern Virginia who’s overseen dining at Lambert’s for over eight years. Because he uses locally sourced ingredients, the menu changes regularly, though popular items like lamb and prime beef fillet are staple items. Crowther, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University with an associates in culinary arts and a bachelor’s in food service management, says he loves what he does. “It allows me to make people happy and to be creative and artistic at the same time.”

Chef James Crowther III (Taos News File Photo)

For Crowther, Gutiz is a go-to favorite in Taos for its Latin and French cuisine (un croque monsieur, anyone?) and South-western-fused options like their goat cheese quesadilla. “I enjoy the fusion aspect of it, plus they have good service and the quality is always consistent.”

The father of two, Crowther says cook-ing at home is often the easiest option but “they love Chalupp’s Pizza.”

He says Taos Cow in Arroyo Seco is a good choice for quick pickups like coffee, ice cream and other treats, and for baked goods recommends A Salty Little Sweet Shop just beyond Taos Plaza. “Every Saturday morning Holli [Everson, owner] serves cinnamon rolls, which are absolutely delicious, and she does a variety of different treats and cookies that are always changing.”

Farther afield, Crowther loves Radish and Rye in Santa Fe for its Southern sensibilities and bourbon.

Sousa Pizza

Chef Kevin Sousa

Until recently, Kevin and Meg Sousa could be seen around Taos with their “Hungry Ghost” pop-up restaurant, however, as Kevin noted, “Due to a trademark conflict, Hungry Ghost will now be known as SUCHNESS dining room. We will have a brick-and-mortar restaurant in downtown Taos. Our goal is to be open by June 1.”

Kevin Sousa
(Taos News File Photo)

Sousa loves Taos for its mix of restaurants. “I don’t want to make it sound like I have explored every culinary corner, because we work.

We get takeout or go out once every two weeks. We get tacos from La Terraza de Taos Cocina, we grab sushi from Sushi Siam. I mean, heck, I’m not going to make it seem like we’re too fancy. I love it if I happen to be in the Smith’s parking lot at the right time of day on a weekday and the fried chicken is just coming out. That fried chicken is no joke!”

For finer dining, Sousa says, “We’ve had really nice meals at the Corner Office we’ve had nice meals at Lambert’s. Those have been our go-to places. I think the Corner Office is doing some-thing different for this town. They have a creative wine list, their food is very locally oriented and, technically, the food is very well-executed, very well-seasoned and nicely presented.

“Our first experience with New Mexican food was at the Alley Cantina. It was a bustling Saturday night with a bunch of people in there and I was impressed that they were putting out really delicious, well-seasoned food.

“We have an affinity for pizza of all styles but as the cliche goes, there’s not really bad pizza, it’s just what your preference is. We like Chalupp’s Pizza, and Pizaños is good for traditional-style pizza.”

Chef Elijah Safford

In 2018, 18-year-old Chef Elijah Safford began cooking at ACEQ, the popular Arroyo Seco restaurant. By 2019, the Taos County native had stepped up as head chef and owner putting his stamp on the menu to reflect Northern New Mexico’s rich culinary history. “My biggest focus is building community and providing the best experiences for my guests.”

Safford is known for sourcing the highest quality ingredients, including bison from Beck & Bulow, grass-fed “wangus” beef (wagyu/black angus crossbreed) and wild-caught fish. Says Safford, “I take a lot of pride in sourcing local ingredients, and I think the quality of our food at ACEQ is phenomenal.” ACEQ’s desserts are phenomenal, too, thanks to Elijah’s sister, pastry chef Lilith Safford.

Elijah Safford
(Taos News File Photo)

“A few restaurants in Taos are really doing an outstanding job,” Safford notes. “One of my favorite things is the mom-and-pop shop that really cares about the food they’re cooking. A place that cares the most in my opinion is this little restaurant called El Sabor Real. Axel [Resendiz] and his family have been in the restaurant industry forever and I truly think Sabor Real does a phenomenal job with some good home cooking.”

“Another favorite of mine is Golden Piñon. The owner/chef is the same guy who used to cook at the Taos Diner, and I grew up eating his food as a child all the time. He does an amazing job. I think all of his food is all tasty and definitely well worth the price.”

“I think Pizaños has the best pizza in town and Martyrs [Steakhouse] always does a good job as well, and of course Sushi A La Hattori is phenomenal. They’ve been doing a really good job for a very long time. Danny Cortez at Bomb Street [food cart on Bent Street] makes the best tacos and burgers in town!”