Hitting the Greens: Why Colorado is Home to the Best Green Chile

Dear New Mexico: visit Colorado to play golf and taste the best green chile on the planet

By John Lehndorff

Nowadays, all players must be careful about making controversial comments as they putt or sip a post-round beer. Feel free to argue about the best 18th hole in the Southwest, religion, or even national politics. Those are tame topics compared to the bull elephant in the room, the debate most likely to spark anger and sarcasm: which state – Colorado or New Mexico – is home to the best green chile on the planet? That question involves both the green pods and those warming bowls of green chile and sauce that smother burritos.

For New Mexicans, there is no debate. They insist that Hatch chilies are so superior that no other chile variety grown elsewhere is worth considering. There are Taos residents who brag that the green chile sauce served there is perfection – others are pale imitations.

Coloradans have not forgotten the time the New Mexico Tourism Department purchased billboards in Colorado, just north of the border, taunting “137 MILES TO REAL GREEN CHILE.” New Mexicans did like to point out that their state license plates feature chilies. Now, though, so do Colorado’s.

We in Colorado pat them on their heads and point out that New Mexico may have chilies on their plates, but those depicted simply aren’t the best chilies. The most delicious chilies are grown in and around Pueblo, Colorado. Like Rocky Ford melons, Palisade peaches and Olathe corn, Pueblo chilies are the very definition of late summer deliciousness in Colorado.

SPICE UP YOUR RIDE! Thanks to a new branding campaign, local leaders and the newly formed Pueblo Chile Growers’ Association now have their sights set on Pueblo Chiles taking a permanent seat in Colorado’s culture, instead of just Pueblo’s. This goal brought forth an idea of a Pueblo Chile group special license plate during a casual conversation between State Representative Daneya Esgar and Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen (excerpt taken from the Pueblo Chile Growers Association). pueblochile.org/

Pueblo chilies, bred to thrive in this climate, are a mirasol variety, so named because the pods grow pointing at the sun, not hanging their heads. Pueblo pods have thicker walls making them easier to roast. They are also spicier – a lot hotter! – than your typical Hatch chilies. On the Scoville scale measuring pepper “heat,” the Pueblo chile registers at about 5,000 Scoville units. Standard Hatch chilies fall in the modest 500- to 3,000-unit range.

New Mexicans often hint that we got the chile fever from them going back before statehood. The Centennial State’s relationship with chilies – red and green – is ancient. Researchers at Boulder’s University of Colorado Museum of Natural History have recently reported identifying fossils of 50-million-year- old chilies found in Colorado.

For newcomers, the whole “chile” thing can be confusing, especially if you come from New England where the only pepper is ground black. In Colorado, “chile” is the name of the plant, as well as the stew and a sauce used in the burritos always found on local breakfast menus and in green chile cheeseburgers.

In Colorado, green chile is a slightly reddish stew and sauce, usually featuring long-cooked pork, roasted green and ripe red chilies, onions, garlic, broth, tomato (sometimes) and it may be thickened with a little flour, cornmeal or cornstarch. The best most addictive local renditions of this dish are jammed with roasted peppers and tons of flavor.

You’ll find green chile in dishes across the state, but Pueblo is ground zero for pod appreciation. Green chile stars in The Slopper, a Pueblo dish featuring an open-face cheeseburger doused in green chile and crowned with chopped onions, shredded cheese, and tortilla chips or saltines. There is even a 10-stop Slop- per Trail: pueblochamber.org/puebloslopper

At Pueblo’s Bingo Burger, the patties are beef mixed with diced red chilies. The city’s legendary Gagliano’s Italian Market grinds exceptional hot Italian sausage with roasted Pueblo peppers. More than 50,000 visitors from around the world are attracted to the annual Pueblo Chile and Frijoles Festival each September. The event’s perfect signature dish is a whole roasted green chile and cheese inside a folded griddled flour tortilla.

Play enough rounds at Colorado courses and you can’t help but notice that pork green chile – a bowl and a stack of warm tortillas – is on the menu at most clubhouse restaurants, fancy country clubs as well as public courses.

Besides the yumminess factor, one simple reason accounts for green chile’s ubiquity on the links: Colorado’s 10-month golf season, give or take a blizzard. Players may roll into the clubhouse during any month of the year bone-chilled, wind-blown and craving something warm and soothing with a little bite.

Green chile has topped the menu for six years in the clubhouse restaurant at Columbine Country Club.

In Colorado, “chile” is the name of the plant, as well as the stew and sauce used in the burritos always found on local breakfast menus & green chile burgers

“We start with great roasted chile from Pueblo, slowly simmer it with pork, onions, garlic, bacon fat, chicken stock and spices. We sell it by the bowl and use the green chile in our breakfast burrito. During the busy season, we make seven or eight gallons a week,” says Jeff Kenser, Executive Chef at the Littleton course. Kenser credits the popular dish solely to Mila- gro “Mama” Rosales, Columbine’s executive sous chef.

“Mama and I worked together for six years at Cherry Hills Country Club before coming to Columbine. She is the backbone of this kitchen and beloved by the membership,” Kenser says.

Milagro “Mama” Rosales, Columbine Country Club Executive Sous Chef

Green chile and golf come together naturally on The Green Chile Golf Trail, a program devised by John Edwards of Colorado Golfer News Online. The Trail features golf courses near the Colorado-New Mexico border such as Pueblo’s Walking Stick Golf Course, Grandote Peaks Golf Course in La Veta and Black Mesa Golf Course in Espanola, New Mexico.

“The idea is for golfers to be able to play every day, stay overnight in reasonable accommodations and enjoy the local favorite green chile. Often the green chile is at a tiny restaurant or drive-in,” Edwards says.

Look, New Mexico: Colorado is not comparing crop sizes with you. Your pod crop is much bigger, something we know is a source of pride. The Pueblo chile harvest is only about 5 percent of that in Hatch, according to the Pueblo Chile Growers Association.

This reality forces us to admit that much of the green chile served in Colorado restaurants is grown elsewhere, mainly in California, Texas and New Mexico. However, the chilies grown in the Colorado terroir – and the dishes created with them – simply taste the best.

“Chili” is something that is served in Texas and elsewhere and celebrated on National Chili Day, February 25. Your typical “bowl of red” is just beef in a dark chile sauce cooked with – or without – beans. Texans seem to like it, but it’s not on par with green chile.

Ironically, the Mexican dish that inspired the “bowl of red” is probably chile Colorado or meat in a red sauce. Using ripe chilies makes it red or dark brown. The Spanish adjective also gave our state its name. Colorado, home to the best reddish-green chile anywhere.

Columbine Country Club green chile recipe (photo provided by Columbine Country Club)

As in New Mexico, some Colorado eateries dish green chile that makes you want to write poetry and others ladle abominable glop. The following Colorado destinations, listed alphabetically, are justifiably well known for their green chile.

Adelita’s Cocina Y Cantina, Denver


Efrain’s Mexican Restaurant, Boulder


El Karajo Mexican Restaurant, Centennial


La Loma, Denver


Las Palmeras Mexican Restaurant, Longmont


Rudy’s Little Hideaway, Colorado Springs


Tacos Jalisco, Denver



Colorado AvidGolfer Magazine is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it, publishing eight issues annually and proudly delivering daily content via coloradoavidgolfer.com.

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John Lehndorff is the former dining critic for the Rocky Mountain News. He can be reached at [email protected].