I lived 45 years without knowing there was such a thing as a green chile cheeseburger. Then I went to New Mexico and my world changed.

Green chile cheeseburger from the Plaza restaurant in Santa Fe
A green chile cheeseburger from the Plaza Café in downtown Santa Fe.

A quick word on spelling. In most of America, this spicy pepper is a “chili” with one L. In British English, it’s a “chilli” with two Ls. Due to Spanish influence in the southwestern United States, the spelling in that part of the world is “chile” — one L, one I, one E. (Learn more on merriam-webster.com.) Confusing, I know.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to use the southwestern American (i.e. Spanish) spelling of “chile” because that’s how it appears everywhere in New Mexico.

The New Mexico Green Chile

Now, some more information on the pepper itself. New Mexico chiles are not like jalapeños or habaneros or any other hot chiles I’ve eaten before. New Mexico chiles are bigger and just plain better, with a half-spicy, half-tangy flavor that I could easily eat in every meal for the rest of my life.

Chile garland in Santa Fe
New Mexico chiles serve as decoration as well as food. These bright red chile garlands hang everywhere in New Mexico.

When New Mexico chiles are harvested earlier, they’re green, and when they’re harvested later, they’re red. The red and green chiles have slightly different flavors, and New Mexican diners are often offered a choice of red or green sauce on local dishes. The green seems to be more popular.

I was in northern New Mexico for five days (one day in Taos and four days in Santa Fe), and the trip quickly became a quest to eat green chiles on/in as many different foods as possible. I ordered green chile in burritos, stews, roast beef sandwiches, waffle fries, croissants, and (of course) cheeseburgers. I ate green chile cooked into sausages, roasted into pistachio nuts, and as a topping on chile con carne and “Frito pie” — a supremely unhealthy casserole made with ground beef, cheese, and Frito corn chips.

I kept meaning to try red chile but could never bring myself to pass up the green. It was that good.

Green chili con carne
Green chile con carne with chicken from Tomasita’s. Side note: New Mexican pinto beans are incredibly delicious, and don’t even get me started on sopapillas — those fried pockets of dough in the green basket on the right. Sopapillas are served hot with pretty much every New Mexican meal and are meant to be eaten slathered with honey butter (served in a little ramekin on the side). My taste buds are crying right now at the memory of sopapillas. If I lived in New Mexico and could eat sopapillas every day, I’m pretty sure I would weigh 1,000 pounds.
Chile croissant
Green chile croissant from Dulce Bakery. I know this seems like a weird mix of cuisines but trust me, it was delectable.
Frito pie
Frito pie from Caffe Greco. You can’t see the chile or the Fritos but they were in there.
Chile stew
Green chile pork stew from Maria’s. Unfortunately it doesn’t photograph well but this was the best green chili dish I ate all week.
Chile cheese fries
Pork and green chile cheese fries. YUM. Full disclosure: I actually ate these fries in Colorado, the state just north of New Mexico, at the Odyssey in Colorado Springs. Colorado grows its own version of the green chile and there is a fierce competition between the two states over whose is better. I felt the New Mexico chiles were superior but I’d have to do a blind taste test to be sure.
Roast beef sandwich with chile
Green chiles on roast beef, also from Tomasita’s (we had to go there twice).

Other Nice Things in New Mexico

I’ve now written 600 words glorifying green chiles and haven’t told you anything else about New Mexico yet. Before you stop reading, here are a few other things I loved about this funky southwestern state.

1) Adobe Churches

Adobe is the most common building material in New Mexico. I think adobe buildings are so beautiful, especially the churches.

Adobe church in Taos
A small adobe church in Taos.
San Miguel Church in Santa FeT
Santa Fe’s San Miguel Chapel — the oldest church structure in the United States. It was originally constructed in 1610 by Tlaxcalan Indians under the direction of Franciscan priests.
Inside San Miguel Church
Inside the San Miguel Chapel.
Chapel at Chimayo
The church at El Santuario de Chimayó, between Taos and Santa Fe, built in 1814. This church and the surrounding town of Chimayó were fascinating and delightful and really deserve a post of their own. Read more on Wikipedia here and here.

2) Hiking in Tent Rocks

We took several great hikes in New Mexico — the natural beauty there is staggering. But hiking in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument was particularly unforgettable.

Tent Rocks formations
The crazy rock formations in Tent Rocks were created by volcanic eruptions six to seven million years ago. These conical towers reminded me so much of Cappadocia in Turkey.
Slot canyon
We walked through several huge slot canyons.
Slot canyon in Tent Rocks
Incredible.
View from the top of Tent Rocks
View from the top.

3) Shopping in Santa Fe

As mentioned in my previous post, I normally hate shopping but I love shopping while traveling. Santa Fe is a perfect illustration of why this is true.

Pam in Santa Fe Plaza
Pam, one of the vendors who periodically sets up shop on Santa Fe’s central plaza. I loved Pam’s jewelry and I loved Pam.
Beautiful turquoise jewelry, for sale in shops all over Santa Fe. These bracelets are at Palace Jewellers in Manitou Galleries.
Cowboy boots at
The most beautiful array of second-hand cowboy boots at Kowboys. I wanted some so badly but alas, no space in my bag.
Joey Palombi at Sante Fe Stoneworks
Joey Palombi, a.k.a. The Scareb, head of rock-cutting at Santa Fe Stoneworks. Santa Fe Stoneworks sells knives, jewelry, and other decorative items made from local semiprecious stone, wood, and bone. My friends and I had such a good time there.
Stone-cutting at Santa Fe Stoneworks
Stone-cutting in progress — this is a piece of lapis lazuli.
Knives at Santa Fe Stoneworks
A few of the end results.

Thus concludes my rambling endorsement of New Mexico, which I’ve decided was my favorite travel destination of 2019. It’s a long way from South Africa but get there if you can.

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