I Went to Santa Fe’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Melanie West)

Fall is hands-down my favorite time of year in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sparkling golden aspens dot the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the air is thick with the intoxicating smell of New Mexico’s famous roasting chiles, and, to celebrate what is likely Santa Fe’s most famous crop, there is the annual Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown.

Every year, New Mexico’s top burger purveyors sling it out for the coveted titles of “Reigning Chomp” and “People’s Choice.” These awards are judged (respectively) by a panel of local food experts (cookbook author and James Beard Award winner Cheryl Alters Jamison is a long-serving judge) and the crowd who, for the price of attendance, get to sample all competing burgers.

This year, I was one of those lucky attendees.

Tensions were high as I entered the 2017 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, where nine chefs representing five restaurants, one brewery, one food truck, and one culinary teaching program from throughout New Mexico were in the midst of a pitched battle for bragging rights. Claiming either of the two awards is a true source of pride for the chefs and their staff in a state where green chile burgers are ubiquitous.

The burgers themselves were as unique as the chefs who conceived them: Some burgers took a classic approach — beef, cheese, and green chile on a bun — while others were more exotic, with secret sauces, inventive toppings, and a variety of meats.

Chef Rocky Durham from the Blue Heron at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort was dubbed “Reigning Chomp,” while the “People’s Choice” was awarded to Chef David Sellers with Street Food Institute. However my personal favorite was the bacon green chile cheeseburger from Rowley Farmhouse Ales, with its truly addictive heat.

The 5 Best Places to Eat Green Chile Cheeseburgers in Santa Fe

If you didn’t make it to the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown, I highly recommend planning a trip for next year’s event. Of course, you can find green chile cheeseburgers basically everywhere in Santa Fe and greater New Mexico year-round.

Read more:

5 Things You Should Know About Santa Fe’s Green Chiles

There’s a saying in Santa Fe that if you don’t put green chile on your burgers, you’ll have three years bad luck. Best to heed the advice, I think. Here are five places to find the best and most unique variations of the green chile cheeseburger in Santa Fe, in no particular order.

Run by the former owners of the legendary Bobcat Bite, this Santa Fe institution takes its burgers very seriously. Made with high-quality ground chuck and sirloin and a balanced green chile, the burgers cost a bit more ($12.90 for regular, $15.65 with bacon), but are definitely worth the splurge.

It’s hard to go wrong with the inventive green chile cheeseburgers offered at Second Street. Try the Fatty Burger (pictured), with an American cheese-stuffed patty and Hatch green chile, or the Alien Burger, topped high with bacon, fried onions, guacamole, and a blue corn chile relleno.

The winner of the 2017 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown “Reigning Chomp” prize went to Blue Heron’s “Life Changer” burger. This prized burger comes with a juicy, perfectly charred brisket and ribeye patty, topped with vintage cheddar cheese, housemade pickles, lettuce, tomato, and Alcalde green chile.

The Bite Burger at this food truck features a unique blend of five chiles (red and green bell peppers, chipotle, jalapeños, and New Mexican green chiles) stuffed into an all-beef patty and topped with pepper Jack, bacon, avocado, and jalapeño aioli. They also serve some of the best fries in town.

I sampled the bacon green chile cheeseburger from this newcomer to Santa Fe’s food scene at this year’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. I was impressed by the pairing of the caramelized onion marmalade, New Mexico-based Old Windmill Dairy cheddar, and spicy green chile.

Do you have a favorite green chile cheeseburger? Share in the comments!