No visit to the San Luis Valley is complete without a taste test of the region’s best-known staple: green chile. Thanks to its proximity to New Mexico—long considered the capital of green chile—southern Colorado is among the best places to sample this wondrous sauce, which is rich in history as it is delicious.
Breeders in the American Southwest grow all kinds of variations on the chile pepper, varying in taste and heat. But the seed of the original green chile was (literally) planted by Dr. Fabian Garcia, a New Mexico State University professor of horticulture for nearly 40 years. Dr. Garcia introduced now-famous New Mexico No. 9 in 1913, and its descendents have been used as ingredients in some of the San Luis Valley’s best-loved food ever since.
The Rio Grande watershed provides an ideal habitat for growing green chiles, which thrive in high desert and mountain environments. Capsicum annuum (known colloquially as Hatch chile, green chile, red chile, or Anaheim pepper) is high in fiber and rich in vitamins A, B, and C, and it’s great for your metabolism, with effects similar to those of green tea. Some chile sauces pack a bigger punch than others, in terms of spiciness, but be ready for some heat. There’s an endless number of ways to use green chiles, and the San Luis Valley is an excellent place to explore the flavors.
Alamosa, Colorado, is home to several restaurants known for their use of green chiles, including Ef’s Restaurant (closed Mondays), where you’ll definitely want your meal smothered in the green sauce, whether you’re having breakfast or lunch.
Several other Alamosa restaurants serve authentic green chile sauce and delicious chile rellenos (peppers stuffed with cheese and fried), including Calvillo’s. If you’re headed farther afield, it’s worth stopping at Kip’s Grill in Creede, home to many locals’ favorite green chile, which you can get roasted, served in a bowl, over nachos, or, perhaps best of all, smothering a half-pound burger.
For a non-traditional green chile option, try San Luis Valley Brewing Company’s Valle Caliente, a Mexican-style lager infused with flavorful green chiles. It’s available on tap and in six-packs year-round.
Green chile is a southern Colorado institution for a reason. Though it can be spicy enough to bring tears to your eyes, many restaurants prepare their green chile sauce mild-to-medium, and menus note when it’s not for the faint of heart.
Thanks to its versatility—roasted, in relleno form, served like a bowl of chili, smothering burritos, burgers, in beer—there’s a green chile item for everyone. Don’t miss this southern Colorado treat on your next trip to the region.
Originally written for Alamosa CVB.