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Green Chile Cheeseburger SMACKDOWN in Santa Fe, NM

A New Mexico tradition, the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown is an annual event you don't want to miss.

It's green chile season. Here in the Land of Enchantment, where every food order comes with the question "red or green," that's a big deal. If you're reading my site and have never been to NM (such a shame), think of this as a virtual visit.

New Mexico does green chile bigger and better than anywhere else. 

Can you smell the chile wafting through the air? Mmmm.

Chile roasting, Albuquerque
An important milestone in the life of any New Mexican, we recently drove to Albuquerque to celebrate Olive's first green chile roast. (No kids, you know.)

Peeling and bagging Hatch green chile
No gloves! You're a real New Mexican when you finish peeling and bagging 25 pounds of Hatch green chile and worry that you should have bought a second case.

Update: We went back for a second case. We also tried to get a cute photo of Olive inside the Hatch Green Chile box. She wasn't having it.

Here in New Mexico, we have the only green chile cheeseburger competition in the entire world, our much beloved Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown. In the weeks leading up to this event, secret judges visit restaurants all over the state and recommend only the very best 7 chefs to compete in the exclusive Smackdown. It's quite the honor.

But there was a problem this year. Actually, the Smackdown has this same problem every year.
Sold out events
Oh no!

Luckily, we'd reserved our tickets in advance.

Best brewery in NM
For 2019, the Santa Fe Brewing Co. hosted the Smackdown. It was the perfect location - convenient for visitors from other cities, plenty of indoor and outdoor space, and most importantly, some of the best beer on tap to pair with the best green chile cheeseburgers.

I could taste their 7K IPA already. (Figuratively, seeing as we were still in the car at this point.)

Off roading in a Chevy Volt
Parking was ample, as long as you were willing to do a little off-roading. If my Chevy Volt can handle it without knocking off the lowrider front end, any car can.

Side note: My blog's spell check doesn't know lowrider. Come on, Google.

New Mexicans
Hungry festival-goers were lined up well before the doors opened at 2 pm. The warm aroma of roasted green chile soothed but taunted during the wait. So close, yet so far.

For just a little extra, everyone had the option of a VIP ticket with early entry and a burger valet. (Yes, a burger valet!) Standing under the hot sun, there's a good chance my fellow cheapskates and I were regretting our penny pinching, not that we'd ever admit it.

Cooking more than 800 green chile cheeseburgers in 3 hours is messy work. Look at all that Hatch green chile! It's not enough.
Cooking more than 800 green chile cheeseburgers in 3 hours is messy work. Look at all that Hatch green chile! It's not enough.

Santa Fe Brewing Oktoberfest
Santa Fe Brewing Oktoberfest

The moment the clock struck 2, the line moved quickly and we soon found ourselves in foodie paradise. We were here for the green chile cheeseburgers! Pretty much everyone, us included, started out in the beer lines though. Gotta have a way to stay cool in the burger lines, right? That's how we do things in New Mexico.

Burgers And Beer = A Winning Combination

Patricks Probiotic Soda Water
There was also probiotic soda water for the non-drinkers. It's a Santa Fe thing.

2020 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown
I couldn't resist matching my purse to the food.

While editing these event photos, I was flattered to have caught this man checking me out, especially with my husband taking the photo! I zoomed in. Actually, it's pretty clear he was checking out his green chile cheeseburger.

Where to hear live music in Santa Fe
Live music? Check. It was just loud enough for a respectable party but not so loud that it made conversation difficult. That's my kind of music.

The top 7 restaurants in New Mexico for a green chile cheeseburger
It wasn't all fun and games though. We had important work to do. After all, this was the Smackdown!

2019 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown - The Competitors

Chef Kathleen Crook - Market Steer Steakhouse (Santa Fe, NM)
Chef Kathleen Crook - Market Steer Steakhouse (Santa Fe, NM)

This restaurant has only been open a little over a year, but their reputation is already respectable enough to have gained a prestigious Smackdown nomination. That ooey, gooey cheese you're salivating for is Muenster and, as if that weren't enough, there are also sweet and sour onions.

Chef Peter Knaus - Pajarito Brewpub & Grill (Los Alamos, NM)
Chef Peter Knaus - Pajarito Brewpub & Grill (Los Alamos, NM)

The buttery brioche bun was nice, but what made this one of my favorite burgers were the thick-sliced pickles. It's a personal preference, but as far as I'm concerned, no pickles = disqualified. The same goes for little wimpy ones.

Chef Marc Quiñones - MÁS Tapas y Vino (Albuquerque, NM)
Chef Marc Quiñones - MÁS Tapas y Vino (Albuquerque, NM)

Chef Quiñones must have been so hot in this black jacket! Despite the nonstop demand for burgers, this was the nicest, most friendly chef. Everything for his green chile cheeseburger was made from scratch - even the ketchup and mustard. The cheddar was from the Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory here in NM. We loved the honey bacon.

Chef Sean Sinclair - Bar Castañeda (Las Vegas, NM)
Chef Sean Sinclair - Bar Castañeda (Las Vegas, NM)

This chef grew up in Tijeras, which scored him some bonus points with me. Us East Mountainers need to stick together! Here's another burger utilizing local ingredients with Tucumcari green chile cheddar. Yes, green chile on the burger and in the cheese. New Mexicans just can't get enough.

Chef Jason Stewart - Luminaria Restaurant & Patio (Santa Fe, NM)
Chef Jason Stewart - Luminaria Restaurant & Patio (Santa Fe, NM)

This was the juicy, messy green chile cheeseburger every backyard chef strives for. I love fried onions, crispy bacon, and a generous pile of pickles. Basically, this burger could do no wrong...except that the green chile was too spicy for me. (Hangs head in shame.) My husband traded me his onion strings for my fiery chile and everyone was happy.

Chef Jason Baczkiewicz - Steel Bender Brewyard (Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM)
Chef Jason Baczkiewicz - Steel Bender Brewyard (Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM)

Finally, a burger with some lettuce! That means it's healthy. And that's no boring iceberg. It's arugula with a housemade truffle-onion vinaigrette, like a side salad inside the burger. 

Chef Isaac Sandoval - The Skillet (Las Vegas, NM)
Chef Isaac Sandoval - The Skillet (Las Vegas, NM)

Did you know a burger is still a burger even if it doesn't have a bun? I'm not actually sure that's true, but I enjoyed this one anyway. Here in New Mexico, we put everything inside a tortilla. Chef Sandoval's "burger" featured a top-secret special sauce which was absolutely delicious and absolutely...horseradish. Luckily, that's one of my favorite condiments.

Time to Get Serious at the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown

Food events your husband will love
Oh yeah, my husband looks really serious, doesn't he?

Hanging out at the Santa Fe Brewery
Here. This guy gets it. He is Mr. Serious, all mysterious in his never-ending cloud of smoke.

What to wear to a food festival
And this guy has a CHILE SHIRT. You know he is serious.

How many green chile cheeseburgers can you eat in 3 hours?
There were 7 mouthwatering green chile cheeseburgers to eat, but an obstacle in their way.

Where to get the best green chile burgers in NM
Endless lines for all 7 burgers. *sigh*

Photos from the green chile cheeseburger smackdown
This cowboy cannot believe the length of the lines. Them's fightin' words, partner.

The best food festivals in Santa Fe
And crowds! My social anxiety was in high gear and I initially wondered what the heck I was doing here. Perhaps I should have just gotten a green chile cheeseburger at McDonalds (just kidding).

Also, did you know our McDonalds in New Mexico have Hatch green chile cheeseburgers? That's why we're called the Land of Enchantment. Well, one of the reasons at least.

Lines and crowds. There was something else there too though.

Family-friendly events in NM
Wherever you looked, everyone was friendly and cheerful, beaming and laughing with their friends and family, as well as with strangers.

Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown photos

Fun foodie events in new mexico
With a leisurely 3 hours and reasonably priced beer (only $6), the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown was a relaxed, laid back party. It felt like we were all the cool kids.

Santa Fe Brewing 7K IPA

Volunteering at the green chile smackdown for a free shirt
The hardworking volunteers whisked people through the lines in no time, always with a smile.

The Skillet Las Vegas NM

Who has the best burger in NM?

2019 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown
Your guide to the best food and beer festivals in NM
Social anxiety? What social anxiety? Green chile is a cure for anything.

New Mexico food festivals
When we first arrived, my husband and I discussed what a great idea it would be for the 2020 Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown to include a booth with free french fries.

4 burgers in and with 3 to go, I realized how ridiculous that was. I was already sooo full. Which, sadly, brings me to my next photo.

I need to report a food crime.

Who threw a burger away?!
Who did this?! Tragic. So tragic.

This poor green chile cheeseburger did not get to fulfill its life purpose! When you attend this food festival next year, be sure to bring a Tupperware container or at least a Ziploc bag. I saw a person placing a burger into a Pyrex bowl and was instantly jealous. 

Having failed to plan ahead, I brought my last 2 cheeseburgers home on the paper plates they were served on.

Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown - The Winners

Eating green chile cheeseburgers is serious business
My husband takes voting very seriously. Here, he is admiring how the char on the chile brings out the smokiness of the meat. Points were given for the proper meat-to-chile ratio and contestants were disqualified if their burger was dry. 

I gave bonus points for pickles and special sauce but he said that was nonsense. He considers himself to be a green chile cheeseburger purist (*rolls eyes*) and is not swayed by the glitz and glitter of special sauce. 

Attend the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown and vote for your favorite green chile cheeseburger
"Rock the vote!"

Drumroll, please. The undisputed best green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico is from...

best green chile cheeseburger
Photo from edible New Mexico

Best green chile cheeseburger, Judges Choice: Bar Castañeda

Best green chile cheeseburger, People's Choice: Steel Bender Brewyard (The peppery arugula gave them an edge.)

Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown - One More Entry!

Never tiring of green chile, we decided to make our own burgers at home the next day. Voilà!

How to make the best green chile cheeseburgers at home (tips from the Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown in Santa Fe, NM)
Thick slices of raw white onion paired with equally thick slices of Hatch green chile, plus nacho cheese and pickles, pickles, and more pickles. We baked the buns from scratch in our backyard pizza oven. Watch out, Chefs Sinclair and Baczkiewicz!


Dreaming of more dining adventures in New Mexico? Don't miss these fun foodie events:

1. NM Brew Fest (October)