Tasting New Mexico: Top 20 New Mexican Foods

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1. Green Chile If this state didn’t have such a strong Catholic identity, we’d probably all bow down to statues of green chile and regularly attend green chile houses of worship. Wait—many of our restaurants probably fit that description.

Year-round green chile is actually a relatively recent development; before refrigeration, the young form of the New Mexican chiles could be enjoyed only until they matured into red ones. Hatch is the best-known source, and it’s a region and a brand, not a specific type. Arguably the best-known variety is Big Jim, named after the late Hatch chile breeder Jim Lytle.

Found in green chile stew. Move over, chicken noodle soup. This stuff is New Mexico’s penicillin—and ultimate comfort food. Chopped chile, pork, onions, garlic, and potatoes are the usual building blocks. also: green chile chicken enchiladas, green chile cheeseburgers (see below), breakfast (and regular) burritos, candy, and even beer—almost anything, when you get right down to it.

2. Green Chile Cheeseburgers The bun is crusty, or cheek-soft, or brioche-flaky. The meat is rich, the patty pancake-flat or ovoid. We add a layer of cheese (usually Jack or Cheddar), maybe some bacon, and the elevating showstopper, green chile—diced, sliced, or whole wilted. It’s our default lunch or dinner choice, our tower of power, our point of pride, our fat stack, our singular source of go-to satisfaction, our comforting panza plumper.

What makes it ours? It was invented here, and the green chile seals the deal. Our state has a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail with almost a hundred options (although there are many more).

3. Chiles Rellenos Take a New Mexico green chile, stuff it with Jack cheese, dip it in thick cornmeal batter, and fry it. Served with chile and more cheese, they’re best eaten before a strenuous hike, although a nap might be more appealing.

What makes it ours? New Mexico chiles are used; Mexican rellenos’ batter is thinner and eggier.

4. Red Chile If green chile is like a zippy, fun sauvignon blanc, then red chile is like petite sirah: earthy, extracted. Not only does it eat off a woman’s lipstick, it replaces it with its own rusty stain. The mature form of green, its smoky ballast is the yang to green chile’s yin. Some swear it’s a great hangover cure. You’ll find red chile dried in the form of pods, flakes, or powder, and it’s incorporated into sauces, not served whole. Lots of people order “Christmas,” both red and green, to get the best of both worlds. Chimayó red is a top pick.

Found in carne adovada, stacked red chile enchiladas (see recipe), as a sauce over huevos rancheros, and in chocolate.

5. Carne Adovada Pork slow-braised in a spicy red chile bath for hours, then served on its own, folded into burritos, dolloped on savory breakfast dishes, or in omelets.

What makes it ours? The red chile.

Hungry yet? Read the rest of the list here at New Mexico Magazine, along with Candace's article "Not Really Mex, Not Really Tex" and a recipe for Stacked Red Chile Enchildadas

New Mexico Magazine Managing Editor Candace Walsh is the author of the foodie memoir Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity (Seal Press), a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner. Follow her on Twitter @candacewalsh.