To New Mexicans, there is nothing as thoroughly soul-satisfying and utterly delicious as our ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger. We have a fierce pride in that most simplistic, but explosive, flavor-blessed union of a thick, juicy beef patty grilled over an open flame or sizzled on a griddle then blanketed in cheese and topped with taste bud awakening, tongue tingling, olfactory arousing green chile.
New Mexicans throughout the Land of Enchantment’s 33 counties celebrated July 22nd, 2009 with the gusto normally reserved for a Lobo or Aggie victory. We basked in the glory of one of our own upstanding citizens vanquishing an audacious interloper from New York City in a green chile cheeseburger “throwdown.” On that fateful summer day, the Food Network aired for the first time, the tasty triumph of the Buckhorn Tavern’s Bobby Olguin over “Iron Chef” Bobby Flay. Our chests swelled with pride as the Food Network confirmed what all of us know–when it comes to the green chile cheeseburger, New Mexico is the best in the world.
In recognition of Olguin’s victory, Governor Bill Richardson declared Friday July 24, 2009 “Buckhorn Tavern Day.” “Congratulations to the Buckhorn Tavern and its owner Bobby Olguin for the impressive victory over one of the world’s most recognized chefs,” Governor Richardson said. “Through his win, Mr. Olguin did an excellent job of showcasing one of New Mexico’s culinary treasures, the green chile cheeseburger.”
Not one to ever let an opportunity pass by for showcasing the Land of Enchantment, Governor Richardson called for a statewide green chile cheeseburger challenge to be held at the New Mexico State Fair on September 22nd, 2009. “The Buckhorn’s victory sparked excitement all across New Mexico and triggered debate throughout the state on what makes the perfect green chile cheeseburger,” Governor Richardson declared. “With so many great choices and everyone swearing by their favorite, I thought it was time to put them to test, head-to-head. There’s nothing like a little fun and friendly competition to showcase the best from around New Mexico.”
Twenty of New Mexico’s finest purveyors of green chile cheeseburger excellence picked up the governor’s gauntlet for the inaugural Governor’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge. In a blind taste test in which a fresh burger was delivered to their table every five minutes, a panel of five lucky judges evaluated twenty burgers using a criteria of taste, balance of ingredients and appearance. Each contestant was required to use New Mexico green chile (as if anything else could possibly do).
When the smoke had cleared and the judges’ seared tongues had cooled, Badlands Burgers from Grants was announced as the winner of the inaugural Governor’s Challenge, earning acclaim as New Mexico’s best green chile cheeseburger. Along with Bobby Olguin’s Buckhorn Tavern (which didn’t compete in the Governor’s Challenge), Badlands Burgers anchors the New Mexico Tourism’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, a listing of the Land of Enchantment’s most outstanding green chile cheeseburger restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys.
I had the great privilege of helping develop the inaugural New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail along with the scintillating, four-time James Beard award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison; the brilliant Kate Manchester, publisher of Edible Santa Fe; and one of New Mexico’s finest ambassadors, Martin Leger, the advertising manager for the New Mexico Department of Tourism. We reviewed dozens of potential candidates with votes cast by some 8,000 people for inclusion into the inaugural Trail. Competition was very keen with many worthy candidates being nominated by aficionados of the state’s best burger establishments. It was like selecting the best and brightest stars on a clear, cold New Mexico winter night.
Between the four of us, we had voraciously consumed green chile cheeseburgers at many of the candidates as well as at several others not nominated but worthy of inclusion so we were definitely qualified for the task at hand. Ultimately we narrowed down the number of selections to what we believe are 48 of the very best green chile cheeseburgers from throughout the Land of Enchantment.
Both the Buckhorn Tavern and Badlands Burgers were “grandfathered” in as was New Mexico’s iconic institution LotaBurger. Other purveyors of green chile cheeseburger perfection on the trail include the Bobcat Bite, selected in 2007 by Bon Appetit magazine as America’s very best burger; the Owl Cafe, selected in 2003 by Epicurious.com as one of the top ten burgers in America; Clancy’s Irish Cantina in Farmington, selected by Food Network magazine as the one burger in New Mexico you absolutely have to try; and other burgers not nearly as famous, but all with a delicious story to tell.
Please click on the image below to launch a larger, more interactive map. By hovering your cursor over each of the numbered burger icons, information about the green chile cheeseburger restaurant represented will display. For much more great information on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, please click here. While you’re on the New Mexico Department of Tourism’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail page, don’t forget to download a personal map you can take with you throughout your travels in the Land of Enchantment.
Don’t forget to visit Edible Santa Fe for a terrific article by Cheryl Alters Jamison on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. While there, enjoy browsing through the fabulous quarterly publication that promotes and celebrates the abundance of local foods in North Central New Mexico. Edible Santa Fe values local, seasonal, authentic foods and culinary traditions while celebrating family farmers who plant the seeds and work tirelessly to bring you the freshest local produce, the ranchers and poultry farmers committed to creating healthier and more sustainable methods of working with animals and the land; the food artisans who proudly create a creamy cheese and the wines to pair them with, and the local chefs who continually create to excite us with the unique flavors of this region.
Note: I have added a “New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail” category to the menu at right. Every restaurant on the Trail I have reviewed can be found in this category.