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Budweiser is universally available. Belly dancers with swords are not. Both can be found in bars and restaurants, important parts of the story when you’re traveling.

My wife Pat is a food scientist, and researches eating places before we go. This usually ensures we aren’t served substandard fare, but sometimes, there aren’t any good choices.

Lounge at Socorro's El Camino Family Restaurant

Lounge at Socorro’s El Camino Family Restaurant

That’s what we faced on our first night in Socorro, New Mexico on a trip to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It was the day after Christmas, so our options were very limited. Usually any restaurant with ‘Family’ in the name serves bland food, but they’re open when nothing else is. Socorro’s El Camino Family Restaurant provided adequate fuel, but not much else. I did capture locals in the lounge on the way back from the restroom, though. Like restaurants, open bars may be limited in a small town after a holiday.

John Wayne and Budweiser at the Owl Bar and Cafe

John Wayne and Budweiser at the Owl Bar and Cafe

Go For Local Color
Things improved with lunch the next day in nearby San Antonio, NM. Local favorite Owl Bar and Cafe reputedly has the best green chile cheeseburgers in the state, so we went to try ‘em out. I’m a sucker for bar and restaurant decoration – I prefer a character-filled ambiance with things to look at while I munch. This place had it in spades, with neon, bottles and wall hangings everywhere. The burger was pretty good too – at least going down. But the green chile was too spicy for me, so I had problems later. If you have a sensitive stomach, watch out.

Outside looking in - the bar at Michael J's Italian, Ruidoso

Outside looking in – the bar at Michael J’s Italian, Ruidoso

Lacking good local dinner options, we headed another 105 miles southeast to Ruidoso. From a prior visit we expected great drinks and food at Michael J’s Italian, and we weren’t disappointed. Without a dinner reservation, we sat at the bar where a skilled bartender mixed Pat a bourbon sidecar and poured me a good local porter. Lasagna didn’t disappoint either.

After a morning hike the next day, we returned to Bosque del Apache for more bird photography.

Carne adovada burito at the Range Cafe

Carne adovada burito and Christmas chile at the Range Cafe

Check Out All The Choices
New Mexico’s fine dining runs the gamut. Albuquerque’s local favorite The Range Cafe makes burritos and blue corn enchiladas in huge, tasty portions, and they’ll even serve you Christmas chile (both red and green) on the side so you can spice to taste.

Belly dancer at Pars Cuisine, Albuquerque

Belly dancer at Pars Cuisine, Albuquerque

If you’d like some entertainment with dinner, Pars Cuisine features belly dance performances with Persian cuisine. As a former regular at San Jose, California’s Falafel Drivein, I love that food style. But some advice – never argue with anyone dancing with a sword.

Kabob apetizer and beer at the Ranchers Club, Albuquerque

Kabob apetizer and beer at the Ranchers Club, Albuquerque

If a steakhouse is more your style, Albuquerque’s Ranchers Club serves it up well. We celebrated a wedding anniversary there, with well-seasoned, perfectly cooked steaks.

A fly on the menu at the Indigo Crow, Corales

A fly on the menu at the Indigo Crow, Corales

We like Corales’ Indigo Crow for dining al fresco. The beef skewers and burgers are a cut above ordinary in ingredients and flavor, and surroundings are pleasant even though Corales Road runs just out front. As a bonus, your dogs can sit outside with you.

The Gentleman's Vice pouring at the Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe

The Gentleman’s Vice pouring at the Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe

But if we really want to impress out of town visitors or pamper ourselves, we head to Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe. It’s not cheap, but you won’t find the smokin’ Gentelman’s Vice or perfectly-prepared Grilled Scottish Salmon anywhere else. And the ambiance and service are classy without being too snooty.

They're ready for you at the Coyote Cafe

They’re ready for you at the Coyote Cafe

Shot Notes
Manual-focus rangefinder lenses usually have a 27” minimum focus. This limit is historical and mechanical. Early Leica rangefinders only went to one meter because of the limits to mechanical tolerances in the 1920s and 1930s, but later designs shortened that to 70cm (27”) starting with the Leica M2 in 1957. Today, focusing accuracy is limited at close distances within a reasonable camera size.

Some recent rangefinder lenses will focus down to 50cm (19.7”), but not with the camera’s rangefinder. You need a digital rangefinder camera with live view to focus this close, using the camera’s sensor to see the scene. Leica makes two of them – the M10 and its predecessor M typ 240.

Don’t want to fiddle with a rangefinder? You can use M-mount lenses on mirrorless cameras with the appropriate adapter. The catch there is that anything wider than 35mm will be hard to focus because of wide depth of field (depth of focus), and may give you strange colors or smearing in your picture’s extreme corners. Because light at the edges of a picture passes from the lens at an extreme angle, it passes through more glass in front of the sensor, and may miss photosensitive elements entirely. This effect is also color-dependent, so you may get weird colors or smeared light rays in the corners. Recent Leica cameras have micro lenses on their sensor pixels, so they minimize or eliminate the problem.

Why is close focusing important? When I photograph food in a restaurant, a 35mm field of view at 50-60cm is about right to render a single plate and maybe a background beverage. It may also be tough to back up for the view I want.

On a crop-sensor camera like a Fuji X-E2 or XT-2, I use a Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Biogon T* ZM lens for food shots. On those cameras, this gives a 37.5mm field of view. With a full-frame camera like the Sony A7 series or Leica M10, I use a Voigtlander 35mm f/1.2 VM II for food shots. Both these lenses focus down to 50cm. And both are available for less than $1000 used.

Interior shots need high ISO. I can usually get by with ISO 6400, which most recent digital cameras will give you. If you’re lucky enough to have a camera sold within the last couple years or so, you may be able to go to ISO 12500. With any ISO, test it first for noise and your ability to recover shadow detail. You may get severe color banding and baseball-sized noise, along with inky black shadows with no detail. I had enough banding and noise with the belly dancer picture that I needed to render it in black and white. Goes without saying – use raw format for this, not JPEG or your cell phone’s JPG.

And leave your camera preset to 5 feet or less at its widest aperture and high ISO. I didn’t anticipate the vapor smoke from the Gentleman’s Vice drink pour, and was lucky enough to get it with a preset camera.

Sittin' at the bar - Owl Bar and Cafe, San Antonio, NM

Sittin’ at the bar – Owl Bar and Cafe, San Antonio, NM

I’m always looking for restaurant and bar detail. Sometimes it’s something I see on the way to the restroom, so I wear a camera when I get up in a restaurant. For the lounge at the El Camino Family Restaurant, I had a 16-18-21mm f/4 lens on the camera when I walked by. A slight crop was needed, even at 21mm. A 24MP image gave me plenty of pixels for this. It’s a long way from the 2.7MP Nikon D1H I used to shoot in 2002.

More Information
San Antonio Owl, retrieved from http://www.sanantonioowl.com/

Michael J’s Italian Restaurant, retrieved from http://michaeljsrestaurant.com/ciao/

Range Cafe, retrieved from http://www.rangecafe.com/

Pars Cuisine, retrieved from http://www.parscuisine.us/

Ranchers Club of New Mexico, retrieved from https://www.theranchersclubofnm.com/

Indigo Crow Cafe Corrales, retrieved from http://www.nmgastronome.com/?p=153

Coyote Cafe, retrieved from https://www.coyotecafe.com/