Eat + Drink

The Great Chile Debate: What to Know Before You Order Anything in Albuquerque

Green chile? red chile? You must pick a side in the great chile debate before you hit the ABQ food scene. (Photo: Alamy)

You’re packed and have all your electronics and their charging cords. You’ve triple-checked your wallet. But before you take off on your trip to Albuquerque, there’s just one more thing to think about.

Red or green? It’s the question on everyone’s lips at almost any restaurant when you order your Mexican eats in Albuquerque. It’s a query so common it’s been designated the official state question. Red or green what, you ask? Chiles. All day, everyday. Not sure what your chile profile is, or what that even means? We can help with that pivotal question.

A Chile by Any Other Name

When New Mexicans talk about chile, they could be talking about the pepper itself or a sauce commonly served on top of dishes like tamales or huevos rancheros. What they are definitely not talking about is chili, the tomato-based beef and bean stew.

Chile peppers, and therefore chile sauces, come in red or green varieties, and you’re likely to encounter strong opinions about which to order on either side of the debate.

Green Versus Red

Green chile is made from peppers picked while they’re still green, then roasted and skinned. Chiles may be left on the plant to ripen and turn red. These are usually dried in decorative bundles called ristras before being turned into chile powder or used to make red chile sauce.

You might assume red chile is spicier, but that’s not usually the case. How hot your chile is depends on the variety of the plant used, as well as growing conditions. Generally speaking, the flavor of the chile gets sweeter, not hotter, as it ripens and turns red.

Basic versions of both sauces start with a base of onions, garlic and broth thickened with flour, with red or green chiles added along with other spices for flavor.

Christmas-Style: Twice as Nice

Chile aficionados have strong preferences about their chile. They may insist only green chile belongs on eggs, while red is the best choice for beef dishes.

It’s really a matter of preference. If you can’t decide, you can always choose Christmas-style: red and green chile on the same plate. If your chile is too spicy, locals swear by eating sopapillas (fried dough) dipped in honey to help tame the heat.

green chile enchiladas
Green chile enchilada plate at Duran Central Pharmacy. (Photo: Jay Guthrie)

Albuquerque’s Best Chile

Ready to dig in? Nearly all restaurants throughout Albuquerque serve their versions of New Mexico’s signature sauce. Try these favorites to get started.

El Pinto Restaurant: This family-owned stalwart serves New Mexican dishes in a hacienda-style building with a courtyard overflowing with flowers and plants.

El Modelo: You can chill on the patio or take home chile by the quart at this no-frills, retro joint that’s been around since 1929.

Duran Central Pharmacy: Chile at a pharmacy? You read that right. This unique independent pharmacy has a soda fountain-turned-restaurant in back serving made-from-scratch New Mexican specialties. You can pick up a few jars of chile to take home too.