Why go now: It’s harvest season for the Hatch green chile, that spicy nightshade that enlivens most New Mexican cuisine.
Claim to fame: Hatch calls itself the Chile Capital of the World, and with 18,000 acres of the fiery fruit growing in the valley around it, who are we to argue?
Dress code: Knee-high cowboy boots and Wranglers.
Backtrack: Hatch (population 1,600) was a major stop along the Santa Fe Railroad line back in 1880, three decades before New Mexico became a state.
Papa pepper: The modern New Mexican chile was first bred in 1921 by horticulturist Fabian Garcia. It helped usher in the Mexican-food craze in America.
True colors: Green or red? That’s the age-old chile debate. But really they’re one and the same: Color and heat are determined by the ripeness of the chile when picked.
High C: One fresh medium-size green chile has as much vitamin C as six oranges.
Cool down: Hatch chiles are delicate, so bring a cooler with ice to protect your take-home bounty.
Your spicy souvenir: There are plenty of roadside stands and shops in town to pick up a ristra or two of chiles, but you can’t go wrong at Hatch Chile Express. A 40-pound burlap sack full of medium-hot ‘Big Jim’ chiles will run you about $30. 657 N. Franklin St.; 575/267-3226.
Hail the chile: During Labor Day weekend, the air is thick with the smoky scent of roasting chiles at the Hatch Chile Festival. The down-home bonanza draws 20,000 heat seekers and includes mariachi performances, chile-eating contests, and the crowning of the Chile Queen. Sep 3–4; $10/vehicle; hatchchilefest.com
Taste the real deal: For the best chiles rellenos in town, look no further than the Pepper Pot. The restaurant’s secret: Sisters Melba Aguirre and Rosario Varela use an old family recipe that calls for coating the chiles in regular white flour mixed with garlic salt and an egg white, then lightly frying them on a griddle. $; 207 W. Hall St.; 575/267-3822.
Shake things up: A local institution, Sparky’s dishes up incredible burgers with—what else?—roasted chiles, and BBQ pulled-pork sammies, but it’s the whipped cream–topped Heath Bar soft-serve milkshake that keeps us coming back. $; 115 Franklin St.; 575/267-4222.
Make it a weekend: A 17-room adobe built on an old Apache campground, Historic Pelham House makes the outside feel a world away. Weekend highlights may include a candlelit dinner in the center atrium or an in-house spa treatment. Book the quietest room in the house—the former maid’s quarters turned casita. From $250, includes 5-course meal for 2; historicpelhamhouse.com