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Horseman’s Haven – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Horseman's Haven in Santa Fe

Horseman’s Haven in Santa Fe

I know several native New Mexicans who have accepted the dumbing down of political office in America as a consequence of living in these times and who have shrugged apathetically at the attenuation of educational standards. These same individuals, however, become as agitated and vociferous as scalded cats when served chile that has been “Anglicized”–that is, chile which doesn’t bring sweat to their brows, tears to their eyes and blisters to their tongues. Pepper spray has nothing on chile for these capsaicin addicted masochistic diehards.

I spoke with one of these chileheads several days after the January, 2006 airing of the Food Network’s “The Secret Life of Fiery Foods.” He was still laughing at the segment in which host Jim O’Connor thought he was man enough to try the green chile burrito locals call “the devil” at the world famous Horseman’s Haven in Santa Fe. One bite had O’Connor red faced and sputtering, an experience shared by many people, including many locals weaned on incendiary chile.

The Horseman's Haven dining room

The Horseman’s Haven dining room

According to O’Connor, the “devil” is the hottest burrito in the world with a chile that rivals the habanero, a pepper at the extreme level of the Scoville scale. For New Mexicans frustrated with the “kinder and gentler” preparation of our beloved chile, the Horseman’s Haven is the standard bearer for how chile should be served. It is the measuring stick of manhood. It is what separates the men from the boys. (Before you accuse me of being sexist, let me say that women—being, by far, the smarter and more mature gender–need no such validation of their adulthood or femininity.) Native New Mexicans who show weakness may as well be Texans, as deprecatory an insult as a New Mexican can hurl at anyone (if you’ve ever experienced insipid, cumin-laden Texas chili, you’ll understand why).

The Horseman’s Haven has been a Santa Fe legend since debuting its high octane chile in 1981 in a smallish dining room adjacent to an old gas station. It has since moved to a larger, stand-alone complex sharing a parking lot with a more modern service station. True to its name, the Horseman’s Haven celebrates the horse with walls and shelves teeming with paintings, plaques and statuettes of equine nobility and their human companions–from the Mexican charros to American legend John Wayne.

The counter with a view to the dining room

The counter with a view to the dining room

It’s conceivable some patrons won’t even be able to see and appreciate the art on the walls because of free-flowing tears and noses running like Usain Bolt, all courtesy of a chile which kicks sand in the face of the wimpy stuff too many so-called New Mexican restaurants serve. The Romero family, proprietors of this Santa Fe institution from day one, own the hybrid seed from which their famous green chile is grown by seven different farmers in Hatch, New Mexico.

That chile is a weapon of mass deliciousness, the favorite of blue- and white-collar workers who arrive at the Horseman’s Haven for breakfast when they need the chile’s eye-awakening properties to get them going. The regulars tend to sit on the bar where they have a view of the semi-open kitchen. The tinkling of ceramic coffee mugs blends with the whistling sound from a pressure cooker blowing off steam as beans are being prepared. It’s a good coffee served steaming hot and it heightens the bite of the chile even more. Amateurs, tourists and Texans shouldn’t pair hot coffee with the Haven’s comburent chile without a net.

Salsa and Chips

Salsa and Chips

The Haven’s chile will bring diners to their knees, but for New Mexicans with asbestos-lined taste buds who consider pain to be a flavor, that means we’re on our knees in prayerful gratitude for chile with both piquancy and flavor. Those qualities come across very well in the restaurant’s breakfast burritos: fluffy scrambled eggs and crispy bacon wrapped in a tortilla then covered with chile the color of glowing kryptonite. The aroma of the chile is intoxicating, an incomparably fragrant bouquet. This breakfast burrito is exciting and invigorating, a capsaicin high way to start off the morning.

Chile aficionados know that one of the best ways to “cut” the taste of piquant chile is with sopaipillas and honey. Since none are to be found on the menu, you might try ordering a side of pancakes, two light and fluffy golden orbs just begging for butter and soliciting for syrup. At the risk of braggadocio, I’ve never touched the pancakes until having consumed the entire chile-slathered burrito.

The Mucho Burger smothered with green chile and cheese; served with home fries

The Mucho Burger smothered with green chile and cheese; served with home fries

What I will brag about, however, is having survived (relatively) unscathed a side of “level-two” green chile. You won’t see it on the menu, but chileheads in the know swear level-two is chile with the heat turned up to the hottest level in Dante’s inferno. Others, perhaps ashamed at their mere mortality, claim level two is an urban myth. It most certainly is NOT an urban myth. My friend and fellow chile masochist Bill Resnik and I shared a bowl of level-two chile which we slathered on the Haven’s blue-corn tacos. With a liberal dousing of level-two chile, those tacos were painfully good.

Not only is there a level two chile, the Horseman’s Haven now offers chile and levels three to five for Navy Seals, superheroes and diners with a death wish. While filming “Parts Unknown” for CNN celebrity glitterati Anthony Bourdain had a spoonful of the level three green chile. It instantly brought sweat to his brow, tears to his eyes and more impressively, shut the gregarious one’s mouth for a moment or two. Rather than seeing the host suffer ignominiously, cameras quickly panned to another segment.

Apple Pie Ala Mode

Apple Pie Ala Mode

Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate and a bona fide flame fanatic swears by the Haven’s mucho burger, a half-pound of fresh ground sirloin grilled to order and served with home fries, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Because you’re in Santa Fe, it’s almost compulsory to have it green chile cheeseburger style. At the Haven, this means the burger is smothered and the cheese is shredded. It does not mean hand-held unless you don’t mind risking a sunburn-like heat running down your arms. This is a fantastic green chile cheeseburger, emphasis on the chile. If you’re tired of green chile not making an impression on too many local burgers, this is the burger for you.

Interestingly the salsa is not quite on the same level of piquancy as the green chile. At most New Mexican restaurants, salsa is usually the most piquant item on the menu….sometimes the only piquant item on the menu. It’s a very good salsa with the flavor of freshness. The chips are low in salt, crisp and thick enough for Gil-sized scoops of salsa though with the Haven’s salsa, most will prefer dipping their chips instead of dredging them.

If your tongue and lips are still burning, you can quell the flames with the Haven’s apple pie ala mode. It’s not made on the premises, but it’s made especially for the Haven. A thick, flaky crust and plenty of pectin enhanced sliced apples with vanilla ice cream should do the trick for most diners. By the time they’re done eating the pie, most new diners regain at least part of their sense of taste and will discern that this is a good apple pie. Cinnamon rolls are also available.

In February, 2006, the Horseman’s Haven launched A Taste of Haven in Rio Rancho. The celebration among Duke City area fire-eaters was short-lived because the restaurant closed within a year after launching. Perhaps there really is only enough room in this world for one restaurant serving the world’s most dangerously delicious chile.

Horseman’s Haven
4354 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-5420
LATEST VISIT: 25 September 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Breakfast Burrito, Green Chile Cheeseburger, Pancakes, Tacos, Salsa and Chips


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  • Jim Millington says:

    I am sorry, but I will have to pick a very stupid fight here. My version of a Texas Red will blow the top of your head off and taste great in the process. Tell me which day you want to come by and I will make it for you. I will eat it and love it but you will throw in the towel.
    I remember that not long after I moved here (09/02/1975) I worked with the ultimate native New Mexican whose name, as a now beloved deceased person, I shall not mention. He hated Texans, Coloradans, Arizonans, Californians and Mexicans. I tried however to introduce him to the human race. Once I agreed to meet him at a Bluegrass Festival at the old Territorial House. Up until then I had been ignorant of the fact that Bluegrass was apparently native New Mexican Music. At food break I ordered a burrito, beef, green. Of course he said that I couldn’t eat it-too hot for human consumption and he couldn’t eat one. I took that as a challenge.
    The first bite nearly put me on my knees but I didn’t flinch. It was the second hottest thing I ever bit into. (The hottest was when my Dad retired, moved to a lake in East Texas, and grew a couple of bags of jalapenos because I ate them like candy). He got 50″ of rain most years. Neither of us realized that the more water these things had the hotter they got. I minced them into tiny little pieces buy could not eat anything I added them to). I ate the burrito but if ***** hadn’t been there I would have pitched it. My Chili won’t be that hot. A Texas Red Chili and New Mexico Chile are as different and comparable as apples and oranges.

    September 26, 2013 at 8:49 PM
    • Gil Garduno says:

      Your Texas Red sounds great, Jim. I may take you up on your offer. It probably won’t surprise you that the biggest bone I have to pick with Texas chili is that copious amounts (any more than one part per million) of cumin is used in almost all of the Texas chili I’ve had and in recipes I’ve researched. Readers are probably tired of my ad nauseum diatribes against the use of cumin on New Mexico chile, a food so pure and perfect it needs absolutely no amelioration. That bias-prejudice applies even to the powdered chili used in Texas.

      September 26, 2013 at 9:07 PM
  • Jim Millington says:

    Glad to cook for you. Just say when but not for a few days each side of October 20. I have a niece getting married in Dallas.

    I can’t however even imagine a Texas red without cumin. That would turn it into New Mexico chile, a food so pure and perfect it needs absolutely no amelioration.

    I cheat and use Wick Fowler’s kits but completely ignore the ridiculous and inedible package recipe. It is just easier than rounding up and all the same stuff. No hambuger-diced stew meat. No Tomato sauce-diced tomatoes. Add green chile, Don’t use a pan, a pressure cooker makes everything better. As a matter of fact he ignored it too the year he won at Terlingua. There, I gave away most of my secrets.

    September 27, 2013 at 8:54 AM
  • The Level II will level you!!! says:

    It has been sometime since I have been to the Haven, but as Gil mentioned, a group of my friends and I use(d) the Level II green chile from Horseman’s Haven to certify our manhood and to shut up any bold enough to claim they can eat anything! We all say it. “It can’t be that hot.” Yep, it is.

    Funny enough, though, when eaten with a meal (burrito, burger, rib-eye steak – which you have to try here…I think it is the Friday special…more on that later, sorry to interupt my train of thought) the chile is fine and bearable. Eaten by the spoonful (usually one is about all most can handle) by itself…WOW, talk about eating fire!!!

    Funny enough, their regular chile is good and has a pretty good bite to it as well. I suggest getting regular and then getting a side of Level II to mix in, or to try for yourself…but be aware, you have been warned!

    The rib-eye special. The steak itself is average to good, but something about the combination of the posole, potatoes, the rib-eye, the chile…it just works and makes that wonderful cut of meat (rib-eye is my absolute favorite cut) just zing!

    September 27, 2013 at 11:17 AM
  • Regular Joe's Guide says:

    As one of those wimpy Texans (from Dallas-Ft.Worth no less), we go to Santa Fe roughly once every year or two. In fact, we just returned from there a week ago. First place we make a beeline to every time? Horseman’s Haven. Absolutely love their green chile (Level 1). It is indeed hot, and I love that the wait staff doesn’t warn you (I hate when they do that in Thai restaurants too – yes, I REALLY do want to sweat… especially at the top of my head.)

    One mistake in your review though… Level 2 in on the menu (look at the back of the laminated paper menu – you’ll see it there). I am that guy who tolerates the hottest of the hot (yep… even from Texas). I tried a side of Level 2 – once. Mrs. RJG took one bite and said forget it (and being a native Old Mexican, she has quite a bit of tolerance). I managed quite a few bites, but I couldn’t finish it – even after trying to mix it in with the regular green.

    Here’s the urban myth part… They also have a Level 3, 4, and 5 (!?!?) And our waiter said he could eat Level 5. YOU WIN! I said. I think I said that. I could barely talk and couldn’t see through the tears.

    September 28, 2013 at 5:53 AM
  • Larry McGoldrick says:

    I rate the GCCB #3 in New Mexico. Here is my latest GCCB Hall of Fame:

    Sparky’s (Hatch) ♥♥♥♥♥
    Owl Bar (San Antonio)
    Horseman’s Haven Cafe (Santa Fe)
    Bobcat Bite (Santa Fe) — Oops. Closed June 9. May reincarnate soon in DTSF
    Owl Cafe (Albuquerque)
    Indigo Crow (Corrales)
    Griff’s Hamburgers (Albuquerque)
    Perea’s Tijuana Bar (Corrales)
    Fuddruckers [yeah, really!] (Albuquerque – Pan American Freeway)
    Monroe’s (Albuquerque — Osuna Rd)
    The Grill on Menaul (Albuquerque

    See http://www.abqtopten.com/blog/horsemans-haven-cafe/ for my review.

    Go easy on the level 2 green chile unless you are an asbestos mouth like Gil, Andrea, and me.

    September 29, 2013 at 8:44 AM

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