In New Mexico, green chilis are as treasured as peaches are in Georgia or pineapples in Hawaii. The local ingredient has come to symbolize the state’s cuisine, especially in restaurant-filled cities like Albuquerque.
Mary & Tito’s Cafe may look unassuming, but this no-frills eatery is as beloved by locals as it is by critics – the restaurant earned an “America’s Classics” award by the James Beard Foundation in 2010. Such honors are apt considering the heart and soul that go into each and every timeworn recipe, many of which smolder with green chile flavor. The menu star is the sopapilla, a fried pastry wrapped around fillings such as beef, chicken and carne adovada. The latter is the winner, a traditional Mexican medley of diced pork marinated in herbs and chiles. Customers can then get the whole thing heaped with green chile salsa, which lends a smoky, slightly fruity flavor to the dish, and tastes like a New Mexican calzone.
With offerings from biscuits and gravy to grilled cheese sandwiches, this quaint daytime café has a knack for Americana comforts. Look beyond the surface, though, and guests will find clever local twists on familiar favorites. A prime example is the modest-sounding turkey sandwich, wherein sliced turkey comes piled on rye with a heady layer of chopped green chiles. Alongside cheddar and provolone, the chiles help temper the richness in the sandwich, while echoing the smokiness from the turkey breast.
A collection of eateries, bars, shops and cafés fills out this colorful dining complex, featuring stacks of shipping container boxes as restaurants. One particular standout is Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria, which does a great job mixing Italian inspiration with New Mexican ingredients. A large section of the menu showcases “New Mexico-style” pizzas, including a riff on a traditional Hawaiian pizza that adds green chilis to tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, pineapple and basil. For added spice, the “Chile P” pizza combines both red and green chiles for a potent punch alongside corn, Italian sausage, tomato sauce, mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. The pizzeria is a counter-service operation, so folks can order pizzas and have them brought to wherever they’re sitting in the complex, be it a balcony or at a bar.
Green chile cheeseburgers are a New Mexican go-to, and this cozy hacienda takes the staple to the next level. In addition to a crowd-pleasing selection of tacos, burritos and enchiladas, the restaurant offers a variety of inventive burgers made with ground Angus chuck. The “JC Lopez” is Cocina Azul’s take on a classic green chile burger, made with roasted green chiles. Other options include a burger that subs a flour tortilla for buns, a patty melt with cheddar, caramelized onions and green chile and a hearty brisket burger with garlic and green chiles.
The nachos at this Albuquerque institution are so revered that they’ve earned acclaim from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, the Food Network and President George W. Bush. The fanfare is deserved, as El Pinto’s nachos are an artful assemblage of tortillas, chiles, cheese and guacamole. It’s as colorful as it is delicious, with each layer of chips meticulously garnished to ensure no part of the crispy heap goes untouched. At once spicy, zesty, creamy, crunchy and fruity from the avocados and green chile undertones, each bite bursts with harmonious flavor and texture.
At first glance, this bustling downtown café looks like a typical urban coffee shop. Linger a little longer and discover that The Daily Grind has a serious kitchen operation too, churning out clever twists on popular breakfast and lunch dishes. “The Mike” is a fluffy omelet stuffed with green chile and cheddar, then topped with more chopped chiles and a gooey layer of cheese. The “Chile Pocket” is another tasty option; essentially a savory gourmet Pop Tart, it’s a puff pastry filled with chiles, potatoes and cheddar. Even something as simple as a bagel gets a New Mexican makeover here, stacked with green chiles, cheddar and egg.
A pastry pastime in Albuquerque, Golden Crown Panaderia has a roster of famed recipes under its belt. Chief among them is the New Mexico green chile cheese bread, by far the most popular loaf of the bunch. As light and buttery as brioche, it’s a savory bread baked with tomatoes, cilantro, onions, Parmesan and green chiles. The bread itself is airy and slightly sweet, which serves as a nice compliment to the sharpness of the onions, the juicy tomatoes and the chiles themselves, rounding things out with a smoky finish.
At this funky taproom, guests can eat their green chilis and drink them too. The “Alien Burger” comes with American cheese, smoked bacon, garlic mustard, chipotle aioli and crispy strips of green chile tempura. It pairs perfectly with the “Pancho Verde Chile Cerveza,” a light and crisp ale brewed with whole roasted green chiles, lending a toasty tingle to each sip.
The name of this diner, housed in a former gas station, belies the fact that its neo-comfort food is anything but standard. Local ingredients help elevate and reinvent nostalgic classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and green chile is a frequent fixture. In the morning, there’s eggs Benedict topped with green chile-turkey sausage and breakfast burritos bundled with cheese and chile. For lunch, green chile tater tots come with bacon-bourbon marmalade and grilled cheese sandwiches get a tangy dollop of green chile-apple chutney. Come back for dinner and pair the green chile-studded mac & cheese with the “Chile Verde” margarita, made with chile-infused tequila and a fresh green chile garnish.