Rethinking red or green


In 2023, the New Mexico legislature passed a memorial making roasting green chile the state’s official aroma.

Years ago, the legislature made the state question official: Red or green?

However, it’s time that question is revisited.

The question refers to what type of chile you want with your food order. For example, if you order cheese enchiladas, and you fail to identify your chile, the server will ask, “Red or green?” Perfectly logical.

But sometimes people use the question outside of a meal setting to ask which you like better.

“What do you like better – red chile or green chile?”

“It depends.”

“No, you can’t cop out like that. You’ve got to pick.”

And that’s the use of the question that is deeply flawed, in that it deeply underestimates the power of chile in New Mexico.

It is quite possible, indeed very probable, your answer to the question will vary greatly.

For example, almost every New Mexican loves a green chile cheeseburger. There are some restaurants and New Mexico cooks who create a red chile cheeseburger; but they are few and far between, and the concepts are so different it’s nearly impossible to compare.

Even if you narrow it to just green chile cheeseburgers, the variety makes it difficult to make a unilateral decision. Take the green chile cheeseburger at Spotted Dog Brewery (2920 Avenida de Mesilla). The patty is thick and juicy. The green chile is generous and it melds with the cheese. The bun does not feel store-bought. Then look at the green chile cheeseburger at Whataburger (multiple locations), one of the best burgers at a chain restaurant (and also the best fries). The patties are thinner and less juicy, which means it’s best if you get double meat. Unlike some chains, Whataburger definitely understands green chile, so it’s good. The cheese stands more by itself, and the buns are more traditional. Both are good burgers, but it’s a different experience.

Let’s talk enchiladas.

Many in Las Cruces consider Nellie’s Café (1226 W. Hadley Ave.), established in 1963, to be the best place in Las Cruces for red enchiladas. The red chile is bright red, almost orange. And nice and hot. The cheese on both the inside and on top is thoroughly melted. If you get onions on top, maybe even a fried egg, you’re having a classic, real New Mexican moment. That’s why the hours and days are very limited, and the lines are typically long.

Lucy’s Café (1155 S. Valley Drive, 575-523-5619), located in the home of the longtime former Las Cruces staple, Old Town, has a strikingly different red enchilada. The red chile is very dark and almost pasty compared to many more liquidy red chile sauces. The cheese is less melty. This is also a delicious New Mexican experience, yet totally different from Nellie’s.

Then consider Paisano Café (1740 Calle de Mercado). The food there is more central old Mexico than southern New Mexico. The red chile is bright like Nellie’s, but more pasty, like Lucy’s. The tortillas are prepared differently and the experience feels lighter than the other two. Yet, also a wonderful dining experience. Also, Paisano has one of the most unique chips-and-salsa presentations, and mole that will make you a mole fan.

So, three different reds, and three different great meals.

Now let’s look at green enchiladas.

Andele Restaurant (1950 Calle del Norte, Mesilla) is the favorite of many Las Crucens. Southern New Mexico expatriates routinely make the obligatory Andele stop when they come back into town. It’s hard to describe the thick, creamy, green sauce Andele’s uses on its enchiladas, and this is a case where almost everyone gets the chicken enchiladas.

The Shed (810 S. Valley Drive) has a wonderful blue corn tortilla green enchilada plate that emphasizes the green chile, and the shredded cheese inside has a wonderfully non-gooey texture.

Hacienda de Mesilla (1891 Avenida de Mesilla, Mesilla) presents an even different take. The unique blue corn, blue crab, green chile enchiladas are, as far as we could tell, unique in Doña Ana County. If you’re old enough to remember the 1958 novelty song about the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater, you’ll realize you can sing “blue corn, blue crab, green chile enchiladas” to the same cadence.

So, you see, there is no easy, clear way to answer the question “Do you prefer red or green?”

And if you want to get the full lesson on southern New Mexico green chile, you need to take the beautiful drive down Highway 28 and visit the amazing experience that is Chope’s Town Bar and Café (16145 NM Hwy. 28, La Mesa). Its roots go back to 1909, and it’s where you get true chile rellenos, true green chile queso (where the star is the green chile, not the cheese), and true chile verde.