New Mexico Road Trip: Four Days Along the Green Chile Trail

New Mexico Road Trip: Four Days Along the Green Chile Trail

Then drive 40 minutes north to Rancho de Chimayó, which opens for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Both an inn and a restaurant, it’s better known for the latter—which won a James Beard Classics Award in 2016.

It’s impossible to talk about chile in New Mexico without mentioning Chimayó, both the name of a chile varietal and the tiny town in which grows it. Chimayó chile is almost always consumed dried, powdered, and red (versus green or fresh). It is a landrace chile, which means that these plants have adapted to the area’s climate over hundreds of years, as generations of farmers have passed down the seeds. When roasted, Chimayó chile is intoxicatingly bready, and smells almost like toast.

El Sanctuario de Chimayo, a historic church in Taos

Nick Fox / Alamy Stock Photo

After lunch stop at El Sanctuario de Chimayo, a historic church that inspires pilgrimages by photographers, painters, and the faithful alike. Then start up the High Road to Taos, a 56-mile scenic byway that meanders through the Sangre de Cristo’s historic mountain towns. There’ll be several art galleries on the side of the road where you’ll be tempted to stop, like in the tiny town of Truchas—give yourself an extra hour to shop but leave plenty of daylight, as the roads are winding and the views stunning.

It’ll be late afternoon when you check into El Monte Sagrado. A sprawling adobe hotel at the foothills of the mountains, it’s precisely what you imagine when you think of New Mexico. Traditional kiva-style fireplaces adorn many rooms, all of which overlook a central pond. In fall, the weeping willows are ablaze in yellow, giving the whole courtyard a golden glow. It’s just a few blocks from the Plaza, Taos’s central square, which is full of shops and restaurants.

If you want to stretch your legs, walk half a mile to The Rolling Still to sample the green chile–infused vodka—or walk just a few steps to the Anaconda Bar, El Monte Sagrado’s greenhouse-like taproom. There, bartender and Taos native Greg Rael leverages his masters in organic chemistry to engineer some of the best cocktails around. Order the carajillo, the Latin American answer to Irish coffee. Rael’s version features the traditional Licor 43 and espresso, as well as foamy aquafaba, a chickpea concoction that replicates frothed milk. It’s then garnished with dried green chile, which is a rare find nowadays. 

Dinner tonight is at El Monte Sagrado restaurant De La Tierra. Chef Cristina Martinez’s vegan red posole—a highlight of the fall/winter menu—was the best dish we came across on this road trip. Most posole uses either dried red chile or fresh green chile, but Martinez’s version combines both—marrying ancho, puja, Chimayó, poblano, Hatch green chile, and jalapeño with dried hominy, simmering it down all day. If you get one more thing, make it Martinez’s blue cornmeal–crusted chile relleno, whose deep-fried blue corn coating is the ultimate complement to the molten cheese within.

Day 4

In the morning, drive to Los Poblanos in Albuquerque, two hours away. A century-old dairy turned inn and restaurant, it’s still a working farm that produces lavender, kale, garlic, chiles, honey, and eggs. (Also, there are alpacas.) There’s a good reason it’s on virtually every New Mexico itinerary. Chef Jonathan Perno bottles his own hot sauce from whatever chiles the farm grows, and it’s on the tables at Campo, the hotel restaurant. Drop your bags at the front desk before tucking into eggs Benedict with green chile hollandaise and chilaquiles. 

Big Jim green chiles at a market

Brian Hartshorn / Alamy Stock Photo

Afterward, grab bicycles—free to borrow if you’re staying at the hotel—and ride two minutes down the street to Big Jim Farms to pick your own chiles and have them roasted on-site. While the farm is named for its patriarch, Jim Wagner, “Big Jim” commonly refers to a variety of New Mexico green chile. It was developed at New Mexico State University through cross-breeding (it’s non-GMO) and is preferred for its thick, fleshy structure, which makes it substantial for roasting and peeling. The nine-acre farm offers Big Jims as well as other New Mexico green chile varieties, like Sandia.

Bike back to Los Poblanos for a free cocktail at the hotel’s happy hour, from 3 to 5 p.m., then head to Duran Central Pharmacy, a short drive away. It’s a must-visit Albuquerque restaurant and, true to its name, adjacent to a working pharmacy. The green chile here is good, but the red chile is positively drinkable. Get the enchiladas—the best last meal of a delectable road trip.

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