New Mexico colors my taste of Denver's green chile

Categories: Cafe Society

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October is National Chili Month! But here in Denver, the only chili that matters is spelled with an "e," and features those hot, hot peppers now being roasted up and down Federal Boulevard. So all this month, chile fans will be weighing in on their favorites around town.

When it comes to Denver’s green chile options, I’m left wondering: Where’s the burn? The mild, mostly flavorless concoctions that pass for green chile in these parts definitely leave me cold. When I bite into a chile-smothered burrito, I want to feel the heat.

My family has lived in New Mexico for generations, so I was raised on green chile. In Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where my clan hails from, we’re purists. There shouldn’t be anything but chile in our chile, and any attempt to add anything to the chopped, roasted chile is considered sacrilege.

We don’t eat green chile jelly, we don’t order a bowl of green chile (because all we’d get would be the vegetable itself), and we certainly don’t even think about putting meat in our chile. The hot chiles are enough, and they should be used in copious amounts on everything. Moderation is never in order, and green chile is put on everything from Subway sandwiches to pizza to quiche. When I lived in New Mexico, probably 90 percent of my total water intake was consumed in an attempt to alleviate the ever-present burn in my mouth from eating too much of the good green stuff on just about everything.

In the four years that I’ve been in Denver, I have yet to find a place that serves real New Mexican chile. The one possible exception is Little Anita’s, an Albuquerque chain with four outlets in the metro area that I would never visit on a trip home (there are so many better options there), but offers up the only meat-free chile with any burn that I have found during my many searches around town. The best facsimiles of real New Mexican dishes that I’ve had in Colorado have come out of my own kitchen, using fresh, roasted chiles bought in the fall (or brought in by the gallon from Albuquerque’s Frontier Restaurant).

My issue with Denver’s green chile could be a matter of regional differences. In New Mexico we like our chile one way; in Denver it is more of a stew that may, in fact, stand up reasonably well as a dish on its own since most area restaurants are fond of adding meat and other ingredients to the mix. I’m not saying all of the chile in Denver is bad -- I’m just saying it’s nothing like my abuelita used to make.

And that’s what I’ll continue to look for. – Aubrey Shoe


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