Some like it hot: green chile tour of New Mexico
New Mexicans love their chile. Welcome signs on the interstates feature huge red and green chile, red ristras hang from adobe homes and even McDonalds offers green chile on its burgers.
To fully appreciate New Mexican green chile, visit in the late summer or fall, when acres upon acres of chile fields throughout the state begin to ripen and farmers hand-pick the fragile pods before they turn red. This hot green trail of chile hot spots takes you to local favorites.
Santa Fe is the heart of New Mexico’s culinary experimentation. In between visiting the capital’s samplings of art, history and culture, check out a few local restaurants, each with a delicious take on classic, chile-infused New Mexican food. First grab breakfast at Harry's Roadhouse for some of the meanest huevos rancheros in the state. For lunch stop by Española’s El Paragua, which does authentic, old style northern New Mexican cuisine. Later, after studying the artwork at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum or walking among the ancient pueblos at Bandelier National Monument, grab a seat at The Horseman's Haven, a hole-in-the-wall that some argue has the hottest green chile in the state.
If you're like most visitors to New Mexico, you'll hesitate to buy any chile because, to the average cook, they're mysteriously alien. No worries. Swing by Santa Fe Railyard to pick up some extra-hot green at the year-round Saturday and Tuesday morning farmers market, and then take an afternoon class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (santafeschoolofcooking.com). Classes are offered just about daily, and they have an excellent collection of Southwest cookbooks and green chile products. For an after-class snack, head to Bert's Burger Bowl (bertsburgerbowl.com) to scarf down one of the town’s best green-chile cheeseburgers.
Next head north to Taos, an easy hour-and-a-half drive along the Rio Grande River from Santa Fe. With a pedestrian-friendly downtown, Taos boasts excellent art galleries and fantastic hiking trails that wind through the aspen and ponderosa of the surrounding mountains. Settle in at the end of the day with a pint of green-chile beer and a green-chile smothered burrito at Eske's Brew Pub & Eatery (eskesbrewpub.com) – the vegetarian chile, with its huge chunks of carrots, zucchini and other goodies, is unusual even in this vegetarian-friendly town, and just the smell of the beer is ecstasy to a green-chile addict.
Continuing south to Albuquerque, head to Wagner's Farm (localharvest.org/farms/M23974), a seasonal farm stand that sells produce grown in their fields throughout Corrales. Folks come from miles around, bringing coolers or garbage bags to fill with bushels of chile for roasting at cylinder roasters on site, and then they drag home bags of the savory blackened pods. Enjoy a fresh-made peach turnover, watch 'em roast the chile and pick up a gallon of apple cider. For a pick-me-up as you continue your spicy conquest, head to Java Joe's (downtownjavajoes.com), a cafe hidden in a residential neighborhood off old Route 66, for a coffee and a chicken burrito that packs more punch than a triple espresso. Another local option is Duran Central Pharmacy (durancentralpharmacy.com/restaurant), a busy diner at the back of a local pharmacy where burritos are made on house tortillas so large the green chile drips off the plate.
If that doesn’t satisfy your idea of chile perfection, consider heading south on I-25 to blink-and-you-miss-it San Antonio. Here the dark lil' Owl Bar (77 US Hwy 380, NM 87832) serves up no-frills chile that's the subject of statewide debate. Some folks drive miles for its green-chile cheeseburger, while others gripe that the reputation is undeserved. The best in New Mexico? You decide.
Tucked away in the southern end of the state, there’s the chile hotspot of Hatch, NM. It’s home to the most famous green chile – the Hatch green chile – and it’s where most of the state’s chile are grown. If you’re in town in late August go to the Hatch Chile Festival (hatchchilefest.com), a two-day pepper party that attracts over 30,000 visitors every year. At any other time of the year, you can stop by Pepper Pot (207 W Hall St, Hatch, NM 87937) to sample the town’s best examples of fiery local fare.
Additional research by Megan Eaves in August 2014.