One sure-fire way to annoy a New Mexican is to confuse New Mexican cuisine with “Tex Mex” or Mexican food. New Mexican food is a unique fusion of Native influences, Spanish imports, and an independent spirit. And of course, chile remains one of the strongest components of local cuisine. Packed with flavor and vitamin C, the chile burn releases feel-good endorphins—so it is truly in your head why you love it so! Did you know that state legislators passed a 2012 law prohibiting the sale in New Mexico of chile described as “New Mexican” unless grown in New Mexico? Yup, we only want authentic chile in these here parts. So whether you were “born here all your life” or adopted New Mexico as your own, enjoy the unscientific list below of the most quintessential New Mexican dishes. Which one is your favorite?
My all-time favorite dish is blue corn chicken enchiladas with green. When I first came to New Mexico about 40 years ago, I was an immediate fan of sopaipillas with honey. And I still love them!
— Dan Clark, resident of Santa Fe
Any respectable New Mexican home stocks their home with tamales during the holiday season. This Mesoamerica descendent is a New Mexican staple and features corn masa stuffed with chile and meat (or veggie versions). Popular versions include red chile and pork, green chile and chicken, cheese and green chile, and one filled with calabacitas.
The tender seasoned pork, spices, and red chile sauce slow-cooked into spicy meaty goodness makes this one of the top NM dishes. Served with beans, rice, and a flour tortilla is just right.
Posole is the definitive New Mexican comfort food and is a must-have during the holidays and Pueblo feast days. Featuring posole (hominy), garlic, veggies, and a red chile base.
Whether your heart goes pitter-patter for red or green, enchiladas are a true New Mexican dish where tortillas are stacked like a casserole instead of rolled. And don’t forget the fried egg on top.
I dreamt about chile while I lived abroad. I really missed red enchiladas; it’s my form of comfort food. I am so happy to be back in New Mexico.
–Linda Richmond, a return resident to New Mexico after six years living in France
New Mexico Green Chile Stew
While popular during the holidays, this hearty dish flourishes throughout the year. (And is an especially nice way to warm up during a ski outing with a stop at Totemoff’s, mid-mountain at Ski Santa Fe.) It is usually made with pork, potatoes, and green chile—but there are many variations on the theme such as using chicken, posole, and beef. It’s all good!
While cheeseburgers are an American pastime, here in New Mexico, with the addition of green chile, they are an obsession. There are many variations throughout the state in terms of bun choice, meat texture, and cheese topping—but the one constant is spicy green chile. Which restaurant serves the best in your opinion?
We are entering the high season for this favorite side dish; “calabacitas” is the Spanish word for squash. This mixture of green chile, squash, beans, and corn accompanies almost all New Mexican dishes.
Admittedly not the healthiest of choices, but piping warm puffy sopaipillas drizzled with honey are sublime. And perfect as a side to almost anything – especially green chile stew.
This is what the holidays taste like! Did you know the shortbread cookies made with anise and cinnamon are the official state cookie?
The most popular dishes at The Original Pantry are huevos rancheros and our breakfast burrito—both smothered in chile. My personal favorite New Mexican dish is chile rellenos, which must use a very light touch with the breading to avoid it getting doughy. The Pantry does this perfectly.
–Tupper Schoen, general manager, The Original Pantry (Pantry Dos will open this fall on the southside of Santa Fe).
These stuffed New Mexico green chiles contain a generous dose of cheese and are fried up to perfection. The cornmeal batter needs to be just right—not too thick.
One person interviewed put it all in perspective. Joey Martinez was born and raised in New Mexico and left to pursue a life adventure after raising her son. She notes that even in a city as multicultural as New York, she can’t satisfy her New Mexican palate. “The Hatch chiles remain elusive as does any flavor whatsoever resembling or satisfying like New Mexican food. I yearn for the #10 plate from The Shed and would beg for an El Parasol breakfast burrito; Christmas, of course. The food of New Mexico makes going home all the more important. Our food is sacred and is part of the land. You go there to find it and savor it as it should be and where it should remain.” Well said!