Originally published in Taos Summer Guide
Chile is an essential ingredient in the northern New Mexican cuisine. But not all chile sauces are created equal. Should they be vegetarian or have a pork base? Which one is better, red or green?
These questions are answered here by restaurateurs, chefs and managers who use chile, in all its permutations, daily.
Voted Best Mexican Food in TaosCounty since 2005, Orlando’s New Mexican Café, about two miles northwest of TaosPlaza, is well known for its creative uses of chile in a variety of recipes. A very special one is the vegetarian red chile, which is made following a secret recipe by Delfina Archuleta, the owners’ grandmother.
“All the chile that we use here is grown in Hatch, New Mexico,” said Orlando’s manager Felisha Rascon. “We use three main kinds of chile—caribe, red and green, and a combination of red and green known as Christmas.” The caribe, made from dried red chile pods, is the hottest one and has a distinctive smoky flavor.
“Some people think that red chile is always hotter than green, but that is not necessarily the case,” said Rascon. “Every year, they develop their own identity. Depending on the season and the batch, the green chile can be hotter.”
She recommends the smothered chicken or beef burrito, one of Orlando’s signature dishes, which is served completely covered in the chile sauce of your choice. When accompanied by green chile, its pungent flavor makes the taste of the cheese that tops the burrito stand out, creating a New Mexico culinary delight.
“But if you want to sample the three varieties we recommend Los Colores,” said Rascon. “This is a combination plate that includes three rolled blue corn enchiladas—chicken with green chile, beef with red chile, and cheese with chile caribe. You can’t go wrong with that.”
Another “Best of Taos” winner is Antonio’s, located next to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Antonio’s has won first place for best red chile by the Taos Chile Challenge in 2012 and second place for best green and red chile in 2011.
Though Antonio’s specializes in Mexican food, it also offers New Mexican dishes like chiles rellenos de queso, made with a fresh Hatch green chile stuffed with Monterrey Jack cheese and covered in red, green or Christmas sauce.
“We don’t buy the green chiles frozen,” said manager Benina Roybal. “Ours are handmade every day and prepared with egg batter.”
Antonio is from Veracruz, so this is not your typical northern New Mexico restaurant, explains Roybal. “We have some interesting dishes,” she said.
Personally, Roybal favors chimichangas, made with chicken, beef or pork, smothered in green chile.
“Chimichangas are very much an Antonio’s dish,” she said. “Not to be confused with mini chimichangas, which are stuffed with mango and cream cheese and served with ice cream.”
Juana and Horacio Zarazua are the owners of La Cueva, located at the corner of Paseo del Pueblo Sur and Quesnel. They prepare all their chile-based dishes with gluten-free flour. They also follow a totally vegetarian recipe.
“We mix and match Mexican and New Mexican recipes, and try to use as many fresh ingredients as possible,” said Horacio Zarauza.
Its combination plate of a chile relleno, a chicken enchilada and a beef taco covered in red chile has just the right blend of spiciness and crispiness.
Right next to the San Francisco de Asis Church is Ranchos Plaza Grill. Adam Medina is the owner, the chef and a native Taoseño. He says that both his red and green chile sauces are made with ground pork, though he also offers vegetarian green chile.
“I like pork because it gives the chile a special flavor,” Medina explains. “And it smells good, too. When you are cooking chile con puerco, the aroma makes you want to eat!”
His perfectly puffy sopaipillas are stuffed with beans and beef and topped off with sour cream, guacamole and a sprinkle of cheese. They are delicious when covered in red chile.
“That’s because we use a red chile caribe made with crushed (not ground) red chile pods,” said Medina. “This accounts for the distinct flavor of our chile.”
Stray Dog Cantina, at the base of TaosSkiValley, offers completely vegetarian red and green chile.
“Our chile is from Chimayo,” said co-owner Rachele Giego. “We choose only the meatiest and colorful chilies, and add just garlic and fresh vegetables to our sauce. The purity helps keep its rich red color and special texture and flavor.”
Their green chile cheeseburger is by far the favorite meal on the menu by both locals and visitors alike. “The green and blue burger, made with green chile, bacon and blue cheese is just our twist on the original and it’s delicious,” said Griego.
My favorite dish there is Local Loco, inspired by the Hawaiian dish Loco Loco.
“When (co-owner) Marcos Aragon lived in Hawaii he would always say, ‘wow, this dish is so good, and I’m in paradise, if only I had some chile to put on top!’” recalls Griego. “So he came up with this combination of white sticky rice, a hamburger, cheese, red and green chile—and an egg on top!”
Not yet sure about red or green, meat-based or vegetarian? No problem, try them all!
Variety is the spice of life.
Orlando’s is located at 1114 Don Juan Valdez Lane
Phone: (575) 751-1450
Antonio’s is located at 122 Dona Luz St
Phone: (575) 751-4800
La Cueva is located at 135 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur
Phone: (575) 758-7001
Ranchos Plaza Grill is located at 8 Ranchos Plaza
Phone: (575) 758-5788
Stray Dog Cantina is located at 105 Sutton Place, Taos Ski Valley