Whether you want a simple plate of succulent jamón and plump olives or an elaborate paella,
El Mesón (213 Washington Ave., 505/983-6756, 5–11 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $19) is the place to go. The menu hits all the Spanish classics, but nightly specials show off the chef’s way with seasonal ingredients—paprika-crusted pork belly on fresh fava beans, for instance. The warm dining room is a tiny bit formal; if you want just casual tapas ($5–10) and a glass of wine, the bar, ¡Chispa!, is the place to be.
La Boca (72 W. Marcy St., 505/982-3433, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat.) is also nominally Spanish, but its dishes can be a bit more freewheeling. It’s a great place to stop in for a late-afternoon snack of bruschetta with mushrooms and egg, though you might end up staying for a dinner of grilled salmon with parsnip-bacon hash. Ranging from $3 to $12, the little plates can add up fast, but there are a four-course tasting menu for $45 and lunchtime specials for about $10.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition