Home Cuisine All Hail the Green Chile Cheeseburger!

All Hail the Green Chile Cheeseburger!

La Fonda's famous Hatch Green Chile Cheeseburger, paired with a glass of sparkling Gruet in La Plazuela restaurant. Courtesy La Fonda on the Plaza

BY LYNN CLINE

No one knows for sure who first paired the earthy, smoky heat of Hatch green chile with a cheeseburger on a bun, but the consensus seems to be that green chile cheeseburgers originated in the late 1920s or early 1930s when Route 66 came through New Mexico, giving rise to roadside diners along the route. The most popular story has it that the burger was born at the Owl Bar and Café in San Antonio, New Mexico, when scientists working on the Manhattan Project would come in and order cheeseburgers with a side of green chile. One day the dishwasher didn’t show up for work, so the bowls that held the chile were still dirty and couldn’t be used. The cook simply added the chile directly to the patty, and a true classic was born.

Back in the day, diners likely ordered a milkshake or a soda with their green chile cheeseburger, or perhaps a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Today, with nearly 100 craft breweries operating in the state, it’s easy to find a local brew that perfectly pairs with your burger. Wine lovers have a similarly broad choice among the award-winning New Mexico varietals and blends to complement their burgers, whether they’re topped with roasted green chile or inventive additions such as blueberry mustard, beer-pickled onions, or fried oysters and Cajun remoulade.

To find out which craft beers and wines best complement  your choice of burger, we turned to a few local experts for some suggestions.

Burgers With a Bite

Santa Fe Bite is world-famous for its green chile cheeseburgers, which date back to 1953. That’s when Santa Fe rancher Rene Clayton opened Bobcat Bite, a small diner on the southeast edge of town. Bobcat Bite’s green chile cheeseburger became the stuff of legend, hailed as the best in New Mexico. John and Bonnie Eckre bought the restaurant in 2001 and have since moved the Bite into town, but this burger retains its fame.

So what’s the best beer to pair with this beloved burger? Try Beer Creek Brewing Co.’s Picture Rock Porter, an American porter with a smooth body and roasted malt character. Located on the Turquoise Trail south of Santa Fe, this brewery grows its own hops on a nearby farm. “The porter is a darker beer, but it’s not known to be a really thick or heavy type of beer,” says Angela Mason, Santa Fe Bite’s managing partner, who oversees the restaurant’s beer and wine selections. “So it can be cleansing on your palate. It offers a little bit of a cool-down after the bite of the chile.” Mason also recommends a few beers produced by New Mexico’s first craft brewery, the Santa Fe Brewing Company, including the 7K IPA, a dry, fruity West Coast-style IPA, and Santa Fe Nut Brown, an English style Brown ale with a medium body. “I think both of these pair really well with our burger,” she says. “They both stand up to our burger, which is pretty hardy.”

For oenophiles, Mason recommends matching the Bite burger with vinho verde, a white Portuguese wine with a bubbly quality that pairs well with the heat of green chile.  For a red wine option, she swears by Sean Minor Four Bears Pinot Noir. “It’s my personal favorite and it goes great with our burgers and steaks. It’s a California wine and it is probably one of the most fantastic pinots I have ever had. It has the most beautiful, rich blooming flavor when you’re drinking it and it’s the best thing to wash down a bite of burger or one of our steaks. It’s a smooth flavor and it goes really well with red meat.”

Burgers and Bubbles

The fabled La Fonda on the Plaza  offers a renowned burger created by executive chef Lane Warner for the hotel’s La Plazuela restaurant. The hotel’s director of food and beverage, John Cuviello, has refreshing recommendations to pair with this burger, which includes applewood-smoked bacon.

“A burger and a beer always sound fantastic,” Cuviello says. “A lot of people I know go to an IPA. I prefer a Marble Cerveza on tap, which really quenches my thirst. When I get to green chile, I don’t want something so hoppy. I tend to gravitate to something more light, so that would be the Cerveza by Marble,” a Mexican style lager from the Albuquerque brewery.

Gruet, one of New Mexico’s most celebrated wineries, is Cuviello’s go-to wine for La Plazuela’s signature burger. “If I want a bacon cheeseburger, I’ll look at Gruet Sparkling,” he says. “It’s a nice combo with the smoked bacon, and I’d maybe counter that with a Gruet Blanc de Noirs. It’s nice to have something light and bubbly, especially with the green chile.”

Burgers in the Wild West

In the dusty old mining town of Los Cerrillos, the Black Bird Saloon’s crooked doors, uneven floors and easygoing atmosphere hearken back to the days of the Wild West. Indeed, this popular eatery is housed in an old West saloon built in the 1880s.

Black Bird’s green chile cheeseburger, El Chivato, is a perfect fit with Santa Fe’s Second Street Brewing Company’s Boneshaker Bitter, an English-malt-style beer with hints of light citrus. “I think the style would go well with the green chile,” says Patrick Torres, who owns the Black Bird Saloon with his wife, Kelly Torres, the magician in the kitchen. “It’s more of a pale style, kind of middle of the road. Customers like to pair those together.”

The Black Jack Ketchum burger sports Gun-Powder Rub along with Tucumcari Jack cheese, onion, cilantro and Bandit Sauce. “That one I would pair with the traditional German-style pilsner, Perle Haggard,” says Torres of a beer from the Ex Novo Brewing Company in Corrales, New Mexico. “The ingredients would go well with a drier beer. We do a dry red chile rub on the burger itself, and we do a red chile mayo, which we call Bandit Sauce.”

The Trail Blazer elk burger comes with Stilton, greens, and blueberry mustard, which calls for a stout. “I would pair Milk Stout made by Tractor in Los Lunas, or Malpais Stout made by La Cumbre Brewing Company in Albuquerque,” Torres says. “Elk is a little lighter. It’s not as heavy as beef. It has a sweeter flavor to it. This is farm-raised so it doesn’t have a gamey flavor, and Kelly puts her Blueberry Mustard on it. It’s savory-tangy, so the darker beer would balance that and go well with the blue cheese.”

The Black Bird’s Fuddled Outlaw combines a half-pound of locally sourced, dry-aged beef with British back bacon, whiskey cheddar, and beer-pickled onion. “That has a whiskey cheddar on it, and any of our lighter beers I would pair with that,” Torres says. “There’s a lot going on there, and then Kelly does her beer onions. The bacon is salty so I wouldn’t pair a heavy beer with that. Any of our lighter beers would work well, including La Cumbre’s BEER, which is a lager style.”

Burgers With Flair

Favorite burgers at Joe’s Dining include a Greek burger with New Mexico lamb, feta cheese, and kalamata olives. Roland Richter, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Sheila Nixon, has a favorite wine to pair with this flavorful burger, Casa Rondeña Winery’s1629. “I would go with a red wine, and the 1629 from Casa Rondeña is wonderful,” he says. “It’s a blend of Tempranillo with Syrah and Cab Sauvignon. I like blends the best because they show off the winemaker’s skills. It’s not too high in alcohol, it’s not too dry. This one is really easy drinking. It’s just beautiful.” Fittingly, 1629 is named for the year the Franciscan monks brought their Spanish vines into New Mexico.

Oysters are on the menu at Joe’s, and so is the Oyster Burger, a combo of a beef burger, fried oyster and Cajun remoulade, with radish sprouts and pickled pepper. “This burger is so unusual, and more popular than I expected,” says Richter.“ In this case, I’d probably have Santa Fe’s Tumbleroot IPA. It’s a hazy IPA, there are some citrusy tones in there, and the citrusy flavor just pulls it all together. You have the tangy Cajun remoulade sauce, so there’s some heat.”

With Joe’s many creative burger choices, one reigns supreme. “Hands down, it’s the green chile cheeseburger,” Richter says. “But my favorite is the Truck Stop 66 Burger, which has an egg on top, with caramelized onion and red chile. It’s just delicious. If you have a Sierra Blanca Amber Ale on tap with it, man, I can have that for breakfast.” That’s a nod to one of New Mexico’s oldest craft brewers, Sierra Blanca Brewing Company, founded in 1996.

Richter shares one more piece of advice about the art of pairing burgers with beer and wine. “It doesn’t matter what the experts say,” he says. “If you like it, it’s the right combination.”

Lynn Cline is the award-winning author of The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes and Tales From New Mexico and is working on a similar book about New England cuisine. She’s written for The New York Times, Ploughshares and many other publications.