Dining Santa Fe: The Green Chile Cheeseburger

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NM Dept of Tourism Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail“No state is more passionate about its burger than New Mexico,” states The New Mexico Department of Tourism, a claim that Texas, California, Illinois or half-a-dozen other burger-loving locales might dispute.  But the Land of Enchantment can call first and best for the marriage of burger and green chile.

Chile is what makes New Mexican food New Mexican, versus Mexican or Tex-Mex. Red and Green chile come from the same plant, harvested at different times. Red chile, made from dried, ground pods, has a sweeter, slightly smoky taste. Green chile is to me what pesto was to Genovese sailors: it holds the bright, fresh essence of New Mexican sunshine in a taste.

New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, put together by the New Mexico Department of Tourism, is a”[selection of] some four dozen of the state’s outstanding green chile cheeseburger restaurants, cafes, drive-ins, and joints.”  Below– in alphabetical order, not order of preference– are our recommendations for the best local spots in downtown Santa Fe.

Bert’s Burger Bowl: Our usual order is a green chile cheeseburger with a side of sweet potato fries and spicy sauce, but the flavorful gourmet burgers, such as lamb, Kobe Beef and Ostrich– are what really set Bert’s apart. Service is perfunctory. Outdoor seating options are tables on busy Guadalupe or in a plastic-windowed shotgun patio without atmosphere or adequate heat for cool weather. Also note that the Arnold Palmers are made with Sprite, not lemonade. Still, for quick, filling, savory and cheap, Bert’s is a good bet. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ Guy Fieri visited Bert’s in November of 2009. Watch the YouTube.

Bobcat Bite: This small, ever-busy, no-nonsense diner is a perennial Santa Fe Reporter “Best of Santa Fe” winner that has reaped kudos from sources as diverse as GQ, Bon Appetit and The Chicago Tribune.  The thick, juicy 10 ounce burgers are made of choice ground choice whole boneless chuck or sirloin served on a toasty, cornmeal dusted bun.  Homefries extra. Well-worth the 15 minute drive. 420 Old Las Vegas Highway Tel: 505.983.5319 Winter Hours: 11-7:50.

Cowgirl Santa Fe: The Cowgirl’s half-pound choice burger comes with fries and slaw, topped with your choice of cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss or Blue Cheese. Add a dollar for green chile strips and the Cowgirl’s burger is still a bargain relative to other sit-down restaurants.  Plus, the Kaiser Roll beats the typical tasteless, super-soft white bread bun by a yard. Feeling adventurous? For a few dollars more, you can get an Elk, Buffalo or Venison burger, smothered in Green, topped with cheddar, with a salad on the side. Tel: 982.2565; 319 S. Guadalupe St. For hours and Directions, click here.

Santacafé: I haven’t had their Green Chile Cheeseburger and, frankly, this isn’t the sort of fare I seek out at this upscale restaurant known for its American-Southwest-dash-of-Asian fusion cuisine (the Calamari with 4 Chile Lime dipping sauce is a must-try.) But if you want your burger in slightly more sophisticated surroundings, Santa Cafe is a good bet.  The courtyard is a wonderful setting in fair weather. 231 Washington Avenue Tel: 505.984.1788

Second Street Brewery:  The half-pound choice burger can be topped with green chile and cheese for an additional $1.75.  Homemade fries or chips are included, or you can substitute slaw, onion rings, soup, stew or a salad of mixed greens– my usual choice. Quality, handcrafted beers and frequent live music are among the reasons Second Street made the list. The newest location in the Railyard, is walking distance from the Plaza, and hard by Box Gallery and SITE Santa Fe, two of our favorite places for Contemporary Art.  Tel: 989-3278 The original Second Street Brewery is located at 1814 Second Street, near the Pacheco Street Arts District. Tel: 982-3030 The new Second Street is brand new and a tad swankier, but the old building has Ernie– as sensitive and savvy a waiter as you’ll find at any price point.

I put the vote for best Green Chile Cheeseburger out to my friends on Facebook.  The swift and rich response included plugs for Albuquerque eateries (Lumpy’s, Five Star Burger, Duran’s and O’Neill’s) as well as both confirmation (Bobcat Bite) and counterpoint (Rio Chama, Del Charro, Horseman’s Haven, San Francisco Bar & Grill, and El Milagro) for our Santa Fe lineup.

Have an opinion?  Leave your comment below.  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

READERS NOTE: Through the end of the month, you can nominate your favorite candidate for best New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger.  Follow this link to fill out the brief nomination form. Voting runs from March 1st through March 31st, so be sure to check back and cast your vote.

UPDATE:  The burgers made famous by John and Bonnie Eckre at the Bobcat Bite can now be enjoyed at their new location Santa Fe Bite, at the Garrett’s Desert Inn, in downtown Santa Fe on Old Santa Fe Trail.

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