What To Eat in New Mexico
Chile – spelled with an “E” to honor the official state co-vegetable (along with the pinto bean) – rules in the Land of Enchantment, but you won’t find it as a meal unto itself. Chilies are the chief ingredient of green chile cheeseburgers, chilies rellenos (cheese-stuffed pods), and carne adovada (chile-marinated roast pork). Chilies infuse bread loaves and pizza crusts, ignite huevos rancheros at breakfast, and make Frito pie into an eye-opening snack or meal. Nearly every table features sopaipillas – airy little warm pillows of quick-fried dough, brought to greatness by a drizzle of honey.
Down along the Rio Grande in New Mexico's Mesilla Valley, where most long green chilies grow, cheeseburgers are draped with whole chile pods that have been roasted, peeled and seeded. To the north, the custom is to chop chilies and lay them atop hamburgers, then blanket the chiles with cheese or, alternatively, to first apply the cheese then top that with chopped chiles. The resulting green chile cheeseburger delivers a stunning range of meat and heat, sharp capsicum bite and creamy melted cheese. Condiments may include a slice of raw onion, lettuce, tomato, mustard or pickle chips.
Carne adovada, meaning marinated meat, is hugely popular in New Mexico, where it is pork chunks or chops sopped in a puree of red chile and baked slowly enough to become dramatically tender and, in serious chile-growing country, even more dramatically hot. Served in all levels of restaurant, it can be a substantial and quite elegant main dish or it can be the companion for truck-stop eggs.
At their best, made from roasted chilies that still have muscular vegetable walls, stuffed with cream-rich molten cheese and haloed in a coat of featherweight batter fried to a fragile crisp, chile rellenos are food of the gods. Nearly all of those encountered in the Southwest are made from mild pods – Anaheims, Big Jims or Poblanos – so the chile experience is far more about their sunshiny flavor than about any kind of ferocious heat. Rellenos usually are served decorated with sauce or salsa cruda, and while cheese is the classic filling, some are stuffed also with brisket, picadillo, or shredded chicken.
A vintage lunch counter serving true New-Mex green chile stew, warm fruit cobblers, and soda fountain specialties, Model Pharmacy is a taste of old Route 66.
Tecolote, Santa Fe's premier breakfast restaurant, is a southwest treasure offering creative New Mexican fare and a grand bakery basket. Lunch is served, too.
In Hatch, New Mexico (chile capital of the world), Sparky's serves fine green chile cheeseburgers as well as chile-powered steaks, milk shakes, and lemonade.
Messy, memorable green chile cheeseburgers make the Buckhorn Tavern an essential Roadfood stop in San Antonio, New Mexico.
A Santa Fe, New Mexico, food truck, Roque's Carnitas wraps strips of char-cooked marinated beef with onions & chilies in broad wheat tortillas.
Green chile bread is totally worth a detour to this squat bakery near Old Town Albuquerque. New Mexico’s state cookie, biscochitos, are great, as are pizzas.
Garcia's is a fun, friendly place (7 locations in Albuquerque) that serves some of the best New Mexican food, especially breakfast, available any time.
The lunch counter of a full-service Albuquerque drug store, Duran Central Pharmacy serves New Mexico fare at its best, including magnificent tortillas.
In the tiny New Mexico town of El Rito, El Farolito offers chiles rellenos, enchiladas, green chile and green chile cheeseburgers, plus fine Frito pie.