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When New Mexico’s official state question (“Red or green?”) is asked in local restaurants, it is usually in connection with our unique style of Southwestern fare. Here, it’s “Christmas” (a combination of red and green) every day of the year – and enchiladas , burritos, and tacos provide a perfect canvas for savoring the subtleties between red and green, fiery and mild, and Hatch versus Chimayo chiles.
But no visit to the Land of Enchantment is complete without sampling the rich variety of other cuisines embraced by our creative chefs. Fortunately, your tastebuds can take a virtual trip around the globe and still get their chile fix. Craving sushi in Santa Fe? Irish pub fare in Farmington? Pasta in Truth or Consequences? You may be surprised to discover that our local chile shows up in places – and dishes -- you would least suspect.
Chile is your passport to a world of exciting flavors, without ever leaving the state of New Mexico. Let’s explore a few of the options:
Unless you’re Persian, you may have trouble pronouncing some of the dishes at Pars Cuisine (parscuisine.com), like Chelo Kabab Koobideh or Ghimeh Bademjoon, but don’t let that stop you – this restaurant, with its Samovar and Hookah bar, is an authentic cultural immersion. Accompany your kabob, shank, or stew with a side of green chile and discover the tasty intersection of Middle East and Southwest.
With its own sizable farm and a seasonally driven menu influenced by both haute cuisine and foods indigenous to the Rio Grande River Valley, La Merienda at Los Poblanos is definitely not your typical New Mexican restaurant. It showcases a variety of local growers and producers, like Shepherd’s Lamb from Northern New Mexico, their farm’s own lavender honey, and 16-year-old Balsamic vinegar from Old Monticello Farms. Naturally, local chile appears in daily specials and regular dishes, such as the green chile mustard that accompanies the Pollo Confit Rillette, and the honey red chile glaze on their larded and brined Los Poblanos Pork Loin with coriander roasted root vegetables.
Inside Carlsbad’s historic old City Hall, The Stock Exchange (thestockexchangenm.com) Chef Kevin Zinc gives a local twist to an American steakhouse favorite: Reserve Tenderloin Tips topped with sautéed mushrooms, roasted green chile, and aged cheddar. Side dishes include green chile cheese grits, two whole grilled green chiles, and a palate-cleansing wedge of watermelon with pink sea salt.
If you wander into Clancy’s Pub – an Irish Cantina (clancys.net) looking for an Irish stew and a pint, you may be a wee bit surprised to discover the New Mexico green chile in your bowl alongside the pork and potatoes. (This Irish cantina also has a sushi bar, but that’s another story.) It’s all part of the eclectic culinary experience at Clancy’s, where you’ll find more than a wee bit o’ the green (chile, that is) in all kinds of delicious dishes.
At Fratelli’s Pizza Bistro & Ice Creamery’s (fratellisbistro.com), Italian cuisine and frozen delights provide a welcome stop for Interstate 40 travelers. Their New Mexico Roadrunner pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and green chile is the perfect entree to the Land of Enchantment. For a trip back to the glory days of the “Mother Road,” as locals called the old Route 66, check out the historical charm of the Badlands Grill (badlandsgrill.com). Start with the Green Chile Wontons filled with ground beef and green chile, served with a green chile marmalade; and then surrender to the Bandito, a 16-oz., bad-boy New York strip steak topped with green chile, mozzarella and cheddar cheese.
Hatch is where the bulk of the state’s chiles are grown, so you would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that doesn’t feature them. But for a change of pace from New Mexico-style cuisine, follow the smoke to Sparky’s (sparkysburgers.com) – and if that fails you, just look for the 10-ft. A&W Root Beer Mama on the roof. This is serious, wood-fired barbeque featuring brisket, pulled pork, ribs and sausage, accompanied by a side of green chile creamed sweet corn. Sparky’s West Texas-style green chile cheeseburger and green chile chicken sandwich are also great ways to enjoy the local crop.
A name like Aqua Reef (aquareefrestaurants.com) sounds incongruous in southern New Mexico, but you can satisfy your Asian/sushi and green chile cravings with their New Mexico Pecan Green Chile Roll – a pecan-breaded, stuffed green chile topped with sriracha sauce. Also try their Aqua Reef Roll, featuring Saku tuna, green chile, cucumber, and scallion with dynamite sauce.
At the Si Italian Bistro (sibistro.com), definitely say “yes” to Dave's Favorite Pizza, a wood-fired pie with homemade sauce, pepperoni, salami, Cremini mushrooms, black olives, oven roasted tomatoes, and – last but not least – hot green chile.
Santa Fe encompasses an entire globe of dining options, and New Mexico chile has sprouted up in almost all of them. The flavors explode at Babaluu’s Cocina Cubana (babaluuscocina.com), a Cuban gem along Highway 14, the Old Turquoise Trail heading toward Madrid, where pig roasts are a regular event. Havana native Chef Amaury uses Hatch green chile to spice up his Caribbean Crawfish Creole Green Chile Boil and Sautéed Littleneck Clams, and uses Chimayo red chile to kick his mango sauce up a notch, and even subtly flavor his ice cream, which he serves in edible bowls of spun sugar.
Feeling nostalgic for the Left Bank? Mais oui! Stroll over to Bouche Bistro(bouchebistro.com), where French-born and -trained Chef Charles Dale will have you convinced the Eiffel Tower is twinkling outside your window. Red chile adds a nice local touch to his Black Mussels in White Wine. At the aptly named Ristra (ristrarestaurant.com), native French Chef Xavier Grenet showcases New Mexico green chile in his Poblano Relleno, accompanied by wild rice, spaghetti squash, sundried tomatoes, and a piquillo pepper coulis.
When it’s time for the Three S’s (Sushi, Sashimi, and Sake), head to Shohko Café(shohkocafe.com), where the fresh fish rivals any of its coastal counterparts. But be sure one of your dishes includes their signature green chile tempura, invented in the mountains of La Madera and inspired by New Mexico’s chile relleno. It also shines in several other original Shohko creations, including the Santa Fe Roll, which teams green chile with shrimp tempura and avocado.
Osteria d’Assisi’s (osteriadassisi.com) cuisine is inspired by Italy’s Lombardy region on the north side of Lake Como, but their Lombardy native Executive Chef Cristian Pontiggia never hesitates to feature local green and red chile in a variety of dishes, from his Buffalo Lasagne to pizza toppings at Osteria’s sister restaurant, Pizzeria da Lino (pizzeriadalino.com). Red chile takes a final bow in Chef Pontiggia’s unique dessert, Tartufo al Cioccolato con Peperoncino Rosso e Pancella in Salsa Cappucino, which translates to a delectable chocolate truffle crusted with red chile bacon in cappuccino sauce.
And, speaking of sweet endings, chocolate lovers must order Chef Andrew Cooper’s Dark Chocolate Souffle with Green Chile Cream, one of the most-popular desserts at Terra at the Four Seasons Encantado Resort (fourseasons.com/santafe/dining/restaurants/terra). This decadent treat is designed for two, but nobody will tattle on you if you savor it all by yourself.
Who first figured out that green chile belonged in that quintessential American dessert, apple pie? We aren’t sure, but we agree it is a match made in heaven. You can find the combination all around the state during the September chile harvest, but you might want to make the pilgrimage to Pie Town, where they take pie making seriously. It might seem like there’s a rivalry between the Good Pie Café (goodpie.com), whose New Mexican Apple Pie incorporates two ounces of spicy green chile, and the Pie-O-Neer’s (pie-o-neer.com) apple, green chile, and piñon pie, but they peacefully co-exist by being open on different days of the week.
Once an old mining town, Silver City is now home to a thriving, diverse restaurant community, including The Curious Kumquat (curiouskumquat.com), where Chef Rob Connoley recently earned a spot in Saveur magazine’s “Top 100” for what it termed the “most far-flung modernist cuisine.” A devotee of molecular gastronomy, the chef incorporates hydrocolloids (a fancy name for gums, such as gelatins and pectins) and other techniques into globally influenced dishes, like Thai red curry duck and Korean-spiced elk shank. Chef Connoley’s cuisine is equally inspired by locally sourced ingredients, such as crayfish harvested from the nearby Gila River and, of course, Hatch green chile. His Green Chile Corn Chowder males a great starter or light lunch.
Chef Lesley Fay of Graham’s Grille (grahamstaos.com) describes her Green Chile Cioppino as “Taos, New Mexico meets North Beach, San Francisco.” The fragrant fish stew originated in the Italian American neighborhood of the City by the Bay. Chef Fay’s unique New Mexican take combines shrimp, mussels, Italian sausage, and New Mexico green chile in a smoky tomato, white wine, and garlic sauce.
When thirst strikes, you’re in good hands – Taos and its environs are home to a handful of microbreweries. But you won’t want to miss the award-winning Taos Green Chili Beer at Eske’s Brew Pub & Eatery, located in the historic district of Taos, one-half block southeast of Taos Plaza. Their brewers use local green chile during fermentation make an aromatic, dry, delicious beer that was recently featured online in a recent ABC News article highlighting the country’s best brews: “Latest Craft Brews Inspired by Far More than Hops.” If you can’t make it to Eske’s, you can also find this specialty brew elsewhere around the state, including the Albuquerque airport.
Truth or Consequences
After a nice, long soak in the T or C hot springs, it’s time for dinner in Italy! Actually, it’s not much of a stretch when you’re dining at Bella Luca Café Italiano (cafebellaluca.com), home of hearty Italian cuisine. Since Hatch’s famous chile is grown just 40 miles away, don’t miss their Calabasitas Fettuccini, featuring local organic summer squash, fire-roasted corn, Hatch green chile, and crispy pancetta in a white wine cream sauce. Add some grilled chicken, tiger shrimp, or wild salmon if you need a little protein to recover from your strenuous day of bone-soaking.
Michele Ostrove is a Santa Fe-based writer and president of the PR/marketing firm Wings Media Network, which organizes New Mexico Restaurant Week, Holiday Pie Mania, and other events. She specializes in food, wine, travel and tourism, and founded Wine Adventure magazine, the first wine magazine for women.