The Great Green Chile Cheeseburger
Savoring New Mexico's Unofficial State Dish
New Mexico is famous for its green chile cheeseburgers. There's a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail with 63 stops around the state, an annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown competition that draws the best chefs in Santa Fe, and a zillion photos on Instagram and other social media sites devoted to this sublime sandwich, which may have been invented at the famous Owl Bar & Cafe in 1945, though no one can say for sure.
You could argue that the green chile cheeseburger is New Mexico's unofficial dish, since it's made with one of the official state vegetables (the other is frijoles, or pinto beans), both designated in 1965. But you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a single recipe representing this dish, because there as many versions of it as there are New Mexico restaurants that serve it.
My husband, for example, orders his green chile cheeseburgers made with buffalo meat because its earthy flavor goes well with the bite of the green chile. I often have blue cheese on mine because its tang is the perfect foil for the chile's heat. But there are countless other variations, including a veggie version. Here's a short list of some of the best places in Santa Fe to get your green chile cheeseburger fix.
Atrisco Cafe & Bar is one of just four Santa Fe restaurants on the state's Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Here, the Green Chile Cheeseburger Deluxe is an absolute delight, made with six ounces of local, grass-fed ground beef and fresh green chile, topped with melted cheddar, Swiss or American cheese and served with lettuce, tomato and onions on the side along with rustic house-cut fries. This is a great burger, one you can wrap your hands around and bite into with gusto!
La Plazuela at La Fonda is also on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail for its delicious take on the dish. Made with fresh-ground Black Angus beef and green chile, it's served on toasted Telera bread, a traditional crusty Mexican bread. Try yours topped with smoked cheddar cheese or American or Swiss. But note that the burger here is only available during lunch, though you can order one in the newly revamped Fiesta Lounge for dinner.
Shake Foundation, dedicated to "the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger,” serves up one of my favorite Santa Fe green chile cheeseburgers. While we don't know precisely who came up with the idea to put green chile on a burger, it's easy to imagine that the version here reflects the authentic, traditional green chile cheeseburger. Lovingly crafted, they're based on owner-chef Brian Knox's memories of eating cheeseburgers while growing up in Milwaukee. Shake Foundation's burgers are fat and juicy, made with a combo of sirloin and brisket with no antibiotics or hormones, and served with a number of optional toppings from bacon and house-brined pickles to whipped lardo, jalapeños and garlic mayo. Order yours with a side of handcut shoestring fries and an old-fashioned shake made with Taos Cow ice cream. Delish!
Del Charro Saloon at the Inn of the Governors offers a decadent version of the state's unofficial dish. The Stuffed Green Chile Cheeseburger is a combo of local ground beef seasoned with the restaurant's own chipotle BBQ sauce and stuffed with applewood-smoked bacon, green chile and Gorgonzola cheese and served with house-made green chile relish. If your appetite isn't that hearty, try the more traditional New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger, made with local grass-fed beef, Hatch green chile and local cheddar cheese.
And by all means, don't miss Cowgirl BBQ's Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers. This won a Green Chile Smackdown 'People's Choice' award for its secret blend of all-natural beef, local buffalo beef and applewood-smoked bacon. It's served on a cheddar-green chile bun with melted Brie, truffled green chile, heirloom tomato and hand-cut truffle fries.
This list is by no means complete. Santa Fe has a diverse menu of green chile cheeseburgers across the city, and if you're in the mood for a road trip, check out New Mexico's Green Chile Cheeseburger Tail to find spots around the state that serve up one of our most famous and unique dishes.