Fall means one thing in New Mexico: green chile season. Throughout the state, grocery store parking lots fill with barrel-shaped roasters that tumble green chiles over open flames. Locals scramble to stockpile their stash because, when it comes to the state vegetable, New Mexicans are hoarders. And, although we’ll slap green chile on anything remotely edible, a classic combination is the green chile cheeseburger – abbreviated to GCCB. You’ll find this combo pretty much wherever burgers are served. Here are some of Santa Fe’s highlights.
“One location, worldwide,” boasts the sign inside Bert’s Burger Bowl, a Santa Fe drive-in that has been in business since 1954. Bert’s is one of the earliest purveyors of the GCCB and its staff takes pride in the burgers. A proper GCCB takes twelve minutes to charbroil — no exceptions. The end result is a slim patty coated with American cheese, and the standard toppings of onions, lettuce, tomato, mustard, and pickles. The charbroiling process imbues the meat with a strong, smoky flavor but the heat levels fluctuate, depending on the batch. Overall, Bert’s green chile sauce tends to be deceptive, with a slow build that takes a moment to catch up with your taste buds.
Heat Index: 6/10 (for the hottest chile I’ve encountered there, although often the sauce is milder).
Location: 235 N. Guadalupe St.
This is the GCCB against which all others are measured. John and Bonnie Eckre previously worked their magic at the renowned Bobcat Bite, which has since closed. Thankfully they brought their recipe to Santa Fe Bite and continue to dish up half-inch thick burgers, consisting of 10oz of ground chuck and sirloin. Rather than a sauce, the green chiles here are sliced and then layered on top of the burger, with Swiss cheese to cool the heat. As a mark of this burger’s stature, it arrives with its own entourage in the form of paprika-seasoned, homemade kettle chips!
Heat Index: 4/10
Location: 311 Old Santa Fe Trail (Santa Fe Bite is attached to Garrett’s Desert Inn).
Although a Mexican restaurant may not seem like an obvious place for a memorable burger, El Parasol has a great GCCB, which sends meat juice gushing down your fingers. The patty is slightly smaller than the ones at Realburger and Santa Fe Bite, but the green chile sauce doesn’t obliterate the flavor of the meat. There are multiple El Parasol locations near Santa Fe, but the most central one on Cerrillos Road is purely a take-out place.
Tip: if you order anything other than a GCCB while at El Parasol and it’s accompanied by a fire engine red sauce, apply with caution.
Heat Index: 6/10
Location: 1833 Cerrillos Road
Head out back to Del Charro’s expansive covered patio, which blends Old West touches (bar stools with metal buffalos on them) with traditional Santa Fean ones (possibly the biggest outdoor kiva in town). Cozy enough for a date, yet sufficiently laid-back for gabbing with friends, Del Charro is one of only a few late night dining options in town. The GCCB is on the milder end of the heat spectrum and pairs chopped green chiles with cheddar cheese. The succulent patty has a pleasant smokiness and is accompanied by skinny fries. This watering hole also has a decent selection of alcoholic beverages (white sangria, beer, margaritas).
Heat Index: 3/10
Location: 101 W. Alameda Street
You don’t go to Realburger for the ambience, you go for the challenge. The GCCB is the hottest on this list and, as it is completely customizable, you can further up the ante by selecting pepper jack cheese. The chiles on this hefty burger appear mashed – a compromise between the two most common formats (slices or sauce). The heat quickly ratchets up and it’s hard to taste much beyond the fire. The heat lingers on your tingling lips until you’re convinced that they resemble an after photo for a collagen ad!
Tip: Although the meal deal is cheaper, skip the fries in favor of the guacamole (also spicy) and fresh-from-the-fryer tortilla chips.
Heat Index: 8/10 (Keep the antacids on standby!)
Location: 2641½ Cerrillos Road (Realburger is set back from Cerrillos and is actually closer to Maez Road.)
It’s impossible to feature every excellent GCCB in Santa Fe and, when you combine Hatch green chile with quality meat, it’s hard to go wrong. These five burgers are my personal standouts. As you explore this signature New Mexican dish, just remember to keep a glass of milk at the ready, because the flames of Zozobra have nothing on a GCCB.
Juliet White co-writes Southwest Compass, a travel blog devoted to the American Southwest, which has a section specifically for food lovers. She is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.