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Get Your Chile Fix - A Culinary Journey Along the Rails

chile tomasitasNew Mexicans’ appetite for chile is infamous. Santa Fe trader Josiah Gregg wrote about it in his “Commerce of the Prairies,” published in 1844. Similarly, a portion of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad – the Antonito, CO, to Santa Fe segment – was nicknamed the “Chili Line” (sic) starting in 1895 due to the dietary habits of New Mexicans.

Chile continues to be a staple at restaurants from Santa Fe to Belen, and if the New Mexico Rail Runner Express didn’t already have a name, it could be considered a modern Chile Line. Our tour of green chile opportunities starts in Santa Fe, where passengers leave the train just a parking lot away from plates of fresh sopapillas, enchiladas, and of course, green chile.

TOMASITA’S in Santa Fe

Rail Runner passengers don’t have to wander far to get the taste of New Mexico. Basically, the train ride ends right at Tomasita’s, 550 S. Guadalupe St. This red brick building, built in 1904, is literally the station house for the original Chili Line which made its final run on Sept. 1, 1941.

Manager Ignacio Patsalis says Tomasita’s two locations (the second in Albuquerque) use a total of 128,000 pounds of green chile annually, and the figures are taped to the freezer door. The Santa Fe location has been at the Railyard since 1980, Patsalis says, although it originally pened on Hickock St. in 1974.

If you don’t know where to start on the menu, Patsalis recommends the green chile enchiladas which comes with rice, beans and fresh sopapillas. Delightful is probably the best description of the green chile’s flavor, although Patsalis says a lot of customers ask for Christmas so they can enjoy both red and green chile.

Check out the menu and the many chile options available at www.tomasitas.com, or follow them on Facebook @TomasitasSantaFe.

THE RANGE in Bernalillo

chile range“We do get customers from the Rail Runner’s Downtown Bernalillo Station,” says Ann Fisher-Ives, who has been managing this Bernalillo chile locale for 22 years. “They ride the train up from Albuquerque or down from Santa Fe, to eat, then they get back on the train and ride home.”

The Bernalillo location alone uses 37,000 pounds of green chile annually, and the chain proudly proclaims they use only chile from Bueno Food’s certified New Mexico program. Bueno works with the Hatch Chile Association and the New Mexico Chile Association to deliver the taste New Mexico loves.

The Green Chile Chicken Stew at the Range comes with a tortilla and blue corn chips, and it will warm you up on a cold day. Sunday breakfast may be the busiest time to get a table at the Bernalillo location, but Fisher-Ives says the restaurant does take reservations.

In addition to local residents, the restaurant is seeing an uptick in tourists who have heard about the state’s chile fetish, and want to taste it for themselves. The Range even sells Apple-and-Green-Chile Pie in season, which certainly proves that Josiah Gregg got it right.

This is only one of five Range locations where New Mexicans’ satisfy their chile cravings. Find the list and menu items online at rangecafe.com.

FLYING STAR in Albuquerque

chile flyingstarThere are six Flying Star locations across Albuquerque, and chile is a staple at all of them. Jeff Graham is the manager at the Corrales restaurant, and he’s been working for the chain for 20 years. His location alone uses close to 100 pounds of chile a week, and 25 gallons of green chile sauce. Graham recommends the Huevos Rancheros with green, or the green chile pork stew.

“We have a lot of regulars. The chile cools them off when it’s hot, and warms them up when it’s cold,” he says. “No one does chile quite like New Mexico.”

Flying Star’s chile is all grown in New Mexico, and several years ago the restaurants switched from a mild to hot. “It increased our sales. Our customers seem to prefer to have the fire.”

For locations, menu details, and business hours, visit flyingstarcafe.com.

PETE’S in Belen

chile petesMarie Torres, a manager at Pete’s, has literally spent her entire life at the restaurant. That’s because her grandparents, Pete and Eligia Torres, opened it for business in 1949. This is truly a family restaurant and a place where “locals” gather to see friends and neighbors.

New customers are always welcome, Marie says, and she reports that the Bugg Lights display during the Christmas holidays at the Harvey House Museum, right across the street, brings in lots of new faces.

Torres recommends the dinner combination No. 2 for those seeking a chile fix. It comes with a relleno (a green chile stuffed with cheese, battered and fried), enchilada, a beef taco, and your choice of two sides – we went with the squash and beans. The plate was filling, so if you need something lighter you might try the green chile stew. Evelyn Jaramillo, who has been cooking at Pete’s for 36 years, makes 20 to 25 gallons of the stew every week.

Pete’s is located at 105 N. 1st St., a short stroll from the Belen Rail Runner Station. You can also peruse their menu online at petescafenewmexico.com.

TRAILS AND BYWAYS

Of course, there are hundreds of other places serving green chile across New Mexico. Many of them can be found on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail or the New Mexico Breakfast Burrito Byway. Visit newmexico.org and search “culinary trails” to find out more.

Chile remains a way of life in New Mexico, just as it was in 1844. Get out there and taste your heritage!

Story & Photos By: Martin Frentzel

 

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