One of the first questions you’ll be asked when eating in Santa Fe is “Red or green?” Your waitperson is inquiring whether you would like a sauce of red chiles or green chiles on your dish. By answering “Christmas,” you’ll get a combination of the two.
Foodie Santa Fe
Santa Fe has become a foodie destination. Tourists visit for the unique spin on Southwest cuisine that is not necessarily Mexican and a far cry from Tex-Mex. Dishes like posole. sopapilla, and the down-home Frito Pie make for a unique culinary tradition.
Santa Fe has also become a craft-beer capital with places like Santa Fe Brewing, Rowley Farmhouse Ales, and Chili Line Brewing leading the way. There’s also a little hole in the wall called Chili Line that makes some extraordinary brews.
New Mexico and Hatch Chiles
First, let’s define our terms. When we talk about chile in Santa Fe, we’re talking about what most people know as chile peppers, not the dish with beans and tomato sauce. And, most of these chiles are New Mexico Chiles.
To add to the confusion, New Mexico Chiles are not a single type of chile, but a group of cultivars developed in the late 1800’s from Native American plants. So, there can be a range in flavor and heat within the different types of New Mexico Chiles.
And, let’s not stop there. Many people have heard of Hatch Chiles. These are chiles grown in and around Hatch, New Mexico. To further complicate things, Hatch chiles are not a single type of chile, nor are they necessarily in the family of New Mexico Chiles, though they can be.
Red or Green Chiles
Surprisingly, red and green chiles come from the exact same plant. The only difference is that a green chile is picked earlier and a red chile is allowed to ripen longer.
Both red and green chiles can be roasted and made into “sauce.” However, locals in Santa Fe wouldn’t ask for “green sauce” or “red sauce.” Simply ask for red or green.
Both the red and green sauce can be spicy. Heat level will depend on the hotness of the chile itself, though chiles can be made less spicy by removing the seeds and veins.
Green chiles can be slightly sweet while red chiles can be more earthy. While green chiles are often described as “smokey,” red chiles can be imparted with a smokiness if they are dried and then roasted in a hot skillet.
How chiles are served in Santa Fe
Chiles are literally eaten for every meal in Santa Fe. Breakfast burritos are served with a side of red or green. Burgers are topped with green chiles, So are pizzas. Posole, too.
Red or green chiles make all these dishes more delicious.
But, my favorite way to enjoy chiles in Santa Fe is a plate of enchiladas smothered in “Christmas.”
Christmas is a combination of half red and half green. The best!
Where to get red and green in Santa Fe
There are so many great places to eat in Santa Fe. But, here’s a few of my favorites.
Tia Sophia’s – This great unassuming spot has been going strong for 45 years. It’s now run by the son of the original owners. Tia’s claims their waitress invented the term “Christmas” to describe red and green chile. They make a point of not taking responsibility if the chiles are too hot for your taste. Don’t complain, you’ve been warned.
Cafe Pasqual’s – Not only is this a great place for an authentic Santa Fe foodie experience (the restaurant is in a pueblo-style adobe just off the plaza), but they also are quite mindful of using organic and local ingredients. Vegetarians rejoice over the long list of excellent veg options.
The Shed – The standard bearer for Santa Fe cuisine. They’ve been around since 1953 and are located in a 300 year old adobe building. Green chiles are available on practically any dish. Reservations required.
La Choza – Sister restaurant to The Shed. La Choza hasn’t been around as long, but they just might be better (heresy, I know). Chiles abound in the green chile stew, green chile clam chowder, and even a bowl of chili with red or green chiles! And, another rarity, they offer a veg posole (it’s usually made with pork).
Tomasita’s – Tomasita’s does things their own way. Enchiladas are flat (like a quesadilla), not rolled. The chiles are sourced from Hatch and they have New Mexico honey to go with the Sopaipillas.
About the Author
Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon, Porto, Sintra, Monsaraz, and Evora in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.