I’ve never eaten bad green chile in Santa Fe and there’s empirical evidence that supports why it’s so good. The capsaicin-rich New Mexico state vegetable (or fruit, depending on whether you categorize it before or after it’s harvested) is grown in the Hatch Valley, where the unique soil and growing conditions create a taste and flavor unmatched in the entire country. In addition to its deep roots in this southern valley soil, the scientists at New Mexico State University have been tinkering around with green chile varietals for the last 130 years. Way before the scientists got ahold of it, Don Juan de Oñate, the Spanish conquistador who colonized the northern border of New Spain, brought the first chile pepper plant to what is now New Mexico perhaps as early as 1598. That has given locals more than 400 years to perfect the spicy, rich sauce they spread over everything from scrambled eggs to enchiladas. It’s a dangerous endeavor to go out on a limb and rate the best in Santa Fe, because it’s all just a matter of taste. But here are a solid top five.
On a busy commercial strip on the southern end of town, this no-frills restaurant that shares a parking lot with a gas station makes a green chile so hot that it makes native New Mexicans beam with pride…then it brings a dripping sweat to their brows. Pick your poison and order from levels one to five. If you’re not used to hot and spicy, do yourself a favor and stop at three.
Tune Up Café
This always-packed, always-unpretentious neighborhood café—owned by a couple who has roots in both El Salvador and Louisiana—has perfected a sweeter, mellower green chile that still has a spicy kick of an aftertaste. Order it smothered over a breakfast burrito, and you’ll have found the perfect wake up food. Be aware that this restaurant has a local’s cult following that hasn’t ebbed since it opened in 2008, so the late breakfast rush on Saturday can be a little nuts.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen
The green chile stew at this 62-year-old institution is as legendary as its tequila menu. The lean pork and potatoes nicely cut the spice of the whole, roasted, peeled, and stemmed Hatch green chiles that go into the pot. Be sure to order it with one of the 100 margaritas Marias has on offer.
Open for breakfast and lunch, this downtown family-owned restaurant has a regular clientele that is almost as loyal as its waitstaff, some of whom have been working here for more than 20 years. Go for breakfast, but wait until Saturday and order the special: A spicy chorizo burrito smothered with spicy green chile.
Tesuque Village Market
Strategically based just a few miles down the road from the start of the Winsor Trail in Tesuque, this restaurant within a wine shop, bakery, and grocery store has a covered outdoor patio. As long as you build in some recovery time, this plate-sized green chile breakfast burrito with crispy bacon is the perfect fuel before an ambitious day of mountain biking or hiking.