About Regional Flavor
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.
New Mexico Regional Specialties
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.
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.
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.
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.
A sign on the wall in Nellie's of Las Cruces says: "A day without chile is like a day without sunshine." No problem on this fine chile-centric New Mexico menu!