Introducing the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

The world famous green chile cheeseburger at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio Restaurant (Courtesy of Sandy Driscoll
The world famous green chile cheeseburger at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio Restaurant (Courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

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.”

Los Angeles's best dog trainer Sandy Driscoll with New Mexico's best green chile cheeseburger chef Bobby Olguin
Los Angeles’s best dog trainer Sandy Driscoll with New Mexico’s best green chile cheeseburger chef Bobby Olguin (Courtesy of Sandy Driscoll)

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.


Green Chile Cheeseburger Perfection (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)
Green Chile Cheeseburger Perfection (Courtesy of Sergio Salvador)

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 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.


The New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail (Click on the Map to find your Green Chile Cheeseburger.)
The New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail (Click on the Map to find your Green Chile Cheeseburger.)

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.


21 thoughts on “Introducing the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail

  1. I am trying to find a print/poster of the Green Chile Cheesburger Trail any ideas on where I can find one??

  2. I’d like to mention 2 green chili burger places in Los Alamos, NM. The first is The Chili Works. They have a very good GCCB as well as great breakfast burritos. The second is Viola’s Cafe. They also have a great GCCB that is quite different from that at Chili Works. When I go to Viola’s, I like to get the double meat GCCB. Viola’s also has great french fries.

    However, my favorite GCCB place is The Bobcat Bite. I have never found a place to really rival their burger. I usually order mine between medium and medium rare or sometimes even medium rare. The flavor of their beef seems hard to beat.

  3. Obviously anybody from Maryland has no idea what they are talking about in terms of GCCB, mustard and onions are key ingredients!

  4. Maybe a visit to Smokehouse BBQ in Rio Rancho on a Wednesday or a Friday Lunch for a Smoked Green Chili Cheeseburger would be a good thing now that Gary’s Back !

  5. Hey, Gil. Nice article on the GCCB Trail. As you already know, I’m on my own GCCB quest, and with your forbearance, I’ll add a few of my own observations here.

    First, some preliminaries. Trying to find the best burger in the US is an impossible task — too subjective. There are those 50-cent-piece sized miniatures (slightly larger than the obligatory round dill pickle slice) that are served in Little Taverns back east. Sliders before Sliders were Sliders. You buy them by the bagful and take them to the car and down them with a beer (by the time you get to the car, the bag is grease stained, but wow were these things good). And then there are the monster burgers with a whole delicatessen spread all over them obscuring whatever taste the meat may have had. You know: Mushrooms, guacamole, onions, tomato, pickles, chili (the brown gloppy stuff), sauerkraut, bacon, cheese, olives, mustard, mayo, bbq sauce, Tabasco, and whatever else fell off the back of the truck. You can get these monstrosities locally at places like Red Robin, if you have the stomach for these things. I don’t. And you can’t get a GCCB there. “Not on the menu,” they told me.

    On the other hand, the quest for the world’s best GCCB is a well posed problem, and a simple set of rules make the hunt objective for me. They are:

    1. Don’t look outside of New Mexico. You will fail.

    2. The beef must be hand-cut, hand-ground, hand-formed and lovingly hand cooked to a juicy perfection. Well-done earns a disqualification.

    3. Toppings must be only cheddar cheese and diced fresh roasted New Mexico green chiles. The smoky taste must come through — that’s what it’s all about. Mustard, mayo, catsup and any other adulterants are forbidden, and such perpetrators will be disqualified and verbally abused in any reviews I write.

    4. If you want onions, lettuce, or tomatoes, you should order a side salad. Don’t destroy the pure beef-cheese-chile taste and balance with such impurities.

    .5. Whole thing should be embedded in a nondescript bun with no seeds or other decorations. Toast it if you will.

    What could be simpler? Done correctly, this will result in a heavenly taste treat that is hard to describe. You have to taste it to believe it.

    Where are the best GCCBs and why? My highest rated GCCB is from Sparky’s in Hatch. It is, so far, my standard of excellence. Followed very closely by the Owl Bar in San Antonio (too much salad on the burger — ask for it on the side) and Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe (meat slightly overworked and the result was a patty that was slightly dense — this hides the juiciness of the otherwise great tasting meat).

    So far, this is my A list. I have lots more places on my wish list to explore — Manny’s Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, Badlands Burgers in Grants, Outpost Bar & Grill in Carrizozo, and several others. One of my electronic friends over on Urbanspoon, Lily Mas from T or C, swears that the Outpost has the best, and Gil hints at this, too.

    Here is my B list that serves GCCBs that are really good, but do not earn the lofty position of the A list. They are, in no particular order, Albuquerque Tortilla Company, Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. in Rio Rancho, Jimmy’s Cafe on Jefferson (get the big one, frozen but quite delicious), Perea’s Tijuana Bar in Corrales, El Camino Dining Room on Fourth (get the big one, which is hand made), and a few others. Blake’s Lot burger doesn’t make the cut, and was terrible when I tried it. Flying Star (Corrales) was average. More wish list entries? Little Red Hamburger Hut (Old Town) and Owl (East Side) come to mind.

    I came here from Maryland 18 months ago, and I am now a confirmed Chilehead. In Maryland, I was brought up eating one of the ugliest and sweetest tasting creatures from the sea, the Maryland Blue Crab. I had a similar quest there for the world’s best crabcake. That quest quickly uncovered the grail at Faidley’s Seafood place in the Lexington Market in downtown Baltimore (or “Bawmer” to the natives). Poetry on a paper plate, and you had to stand up at plywood tables next to the oyster shuckers to eat the thing. Second place went to me — Faidley gave me the recipe. This quest was easier that the NMGCCB quest, and resulted in a clear hands-down winner. There is no decent crabcake in New Mexico. But the GCCM makes up for that deficiency. Well, almost.

    I have not completed my GCCB quest. Probably never will, as the scenery and players are constantly changing. But the fun is in the search. What other earthly reason is there for going to San Antonio? Other than passing through on the way to Bosque del Apache or the Trinity Site. I will put the Trail Map in my car (or Jane’s IPhone) and expectantly sally forth. I will be surprised. And sated. Thrilled and filled, as Gil would say.

  6. Great job on the trail! You got most of my faovorites but missed one you introduced me to via your blog–the green chile cheeseburger at Perea’s in Corrales. I’m hooked on that one.

  7. This is just a hoot reading about everyone’s take on burgers…… chile or yellow chile (sounds like In ‘n Out likes ’em that way!). Being a Californian, I have to throw in one more comment. Here in Los Angeles, Nancy Silverton is a well known chef. She is a baker & cook extraordinaire, founder of La Brea Bakery, original partner with her ex in Campanile, and current co-owner, with Mario Batali of the two fine “Mozzas”, Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza.

    A couple of years ago, the LA Times published her recipe for the “Perfect Burger”, a detailed description (right down to the meat man at Farmers Market who sells “Nancy’s blend” ground beef) of the perfect burger. I’ve made them several times, and they are indeed wonderful! Very soon, she is set to open her own burger stand in Farmers Market! So……….Gil, it’s time you came to Southern California for a burger run!

    If you don’t want to wait, here’s a link to the recipe.,0,6371189.story

  8. Hola folks, please go here to start playing the video for some background music while Y’all come back to read and digest this (no puns intended):

    Well big deal with you wussies and your Chile Cheeseburgers and its Trail…albeit a very great interactive map!!

    I throw down my Serape to Y’all from those of us who have the huevos to eat that complex, multifaceted sustenance…The-Great-Meat. Viva El Perro Caliente!!! for the chile cheesedog, which will truly make for Happy Trails for all of you and your Com(p)adres.

    To comply with the old FCC Fairness Doctrine that some Pols wish to revive, we hope you will give us our day in the Enchanting Sun regarding the Bestest of places for Foot Long Chile Cheese Dogs! On the other hand, perhaps there is no trail except to The Dog House on Central SW in The Q! (Whoa…great pic addition Sarah Rose !!!)
    For Newbies here, we’re talking about our Red chile concoction, not that brown, hamburger/beans combo that’s “served” elsewhere. Hmmm….anybody ever make a green chile/cheese dog?

    To some of you: Feliz El Dia de Fiesta sin un Nombre
    To everyone else: Feliz Navidad !

  9. I thought the In N Out chile sounded too good to be true.

    I sent them an email, and this is their response:

    Dear Ms. Barbara XXXXXX:

    Thank you for your e-mail, and for the opportunity to respond.

    In response to your question, all of our locations offer small yellow chilies that can be cut up and added to any burger. Or, if you prefer, you can request to have chilies on the side.

    Should you have any other questions we feel free to call our toll-free Customer Service line: (800) 786-1000. Our representatives are available 7 days a week to assist you.

    Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.


    Andrew Barb
    Customer Service Representative

  10. I was waiting for the negative reaction which I knew was coming once I saw how much response there had been to my comment about In-N-Out. I only offered it because someone lamented that they could not get a green chile cheeseburger in California and I had just had one. I have eaten all but one of my green Chile cheeseburgers right here in beautiful sunny New Mexico although the once wonderful LotaBurger has not been the best for years. I would be willing to bet that this In-N-Out offered it in response to demand after the Bobby Flay throw down. New Mexicans should be proud that we are being copied. It does not matter where it is made as long as it is made well. You, Gil, should be thrilled that Californians are reading your blog en mass about New Mexico food.

    Just to get everybody more riled, the best cheeseburger I ever had did not have green chile though said chile would have improved it to the point of fatal delight. Worse yet, it was in a land generally devoid of bread with which to make buns, cheese or hamburger except at a rare MacDonalds or Burger King or butter with which they bathed the bun (cardiac city). It was at the Aquatini Restaurant at the Navali River Resort in Bangkok which is really not a resort but a faily low priced hotel. It was obviously some imported French cheese but the cook’s English was little better than my nonexistent Thai so he could not tell me what it was. Next time someone reading this goes to Bangkok he should carry some New Mexico green chile and have the best green chile cheeseburger in the world.

    1. One of the highlights of my years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was annual 30-day business trips to San Antonio, Texas. Chester’s Hamburgers, within easy walking distance of where I stayed, served a surprisingly good green chile cheeseburger–maybe not of San Antonio, New Mexico caliber, but pretty darn great. I’ve never believed New Mexico has exclusivity on green chile cheeseburgers, only that we do it better. The Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail invites everyone to find that out for themselves.

      Similar to your experience in Thailand, Jim, every great burger I’ve had outside of New Mexico would be improved with green chile. Come to think of it, most things, including some desserts, taste better with green chile.

      I believe what Chicano Cheeseburger is trying to say is that he’d like to read about your green chile cheeseburger experiences in restaurants featured on the Trail as well as others which didn’t make the list of 48. So, what do you think, New Mexico? Did we get it right? Did we miss the mark?


  11. What gives Nuevo Mexico! We have the best green chile cheeseburgers en el entero mundo and all anyone is talking about is In N Out. Que chingada! Where’s the love for LotaBurger? Gil, the trail is awesome, bato! I want to see more pride in the Tierra Encantada.

  12. Dear Lazlo,
    I did not see it on the menu but I was at the walkup at Fisherman’s Wharf. It really tasted very much like the original Owl, except much larger.

  13. The Child Bride and I just came back from San Francisco where were “endured” the marvelous Frascati (I wish it was here) and Rue Saint Jacques where we the only diners who couldn’t parlevu. What stunned me though was the triumph of New Mexico Cuisine (possibly an open secret to all but me).

    We had never been to the world famous chain, In and Out Burger, and had even passed on Five Guys in Washington, so we walked up to split a “double double.”

    “Would you like onion on that?” he asked.

    I answered “Yes, and how about green chile?”

    He answered “OK” and hit the order button. I was amazed. The chile was a smaller portion than most places here, but higher quality than at least 50% of the local green chile cheeseburger houses. I don’t know whether to be thrilled or alarmed. It was a damned good burger.

  14. What a fabulous and fun map, Gil! Great job putting that all together. Living in LA and only visiting NM about once a year, I’m already plotting my next burger “run”. I see I can knock out a lot of these by hitting “Lottaburger” next time! As I’ve told you before, I’m so sorry that we have not one single Green Chile Cheeseburger in all of California!

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