If you can't stand the heat, stay out of New Mexico: Here, chile is king.
Would you be surprised to know that the chile is so revered in New Mexico that it has even been named an official state vegetable? Always spelled with an e—regardless of what any gringo dictionary might say—these red and green flamethrowers add kick to America's most incendiary regional cuisine. Southwest cooking may have evolved from Native American, Spanish, and Mexican styles, but it's all-American now. In New Mexico, you'll see how salsa is really supposed to taste.
—Gil Garduño, Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) blog (nmgastronome.com)
Golden Crown Panaderia
At this bakery near Old Town Albuquerque, the signature creation is green-chile bread decorated with a coyote design. You'll also find the state cookie, the biscochito, with its hints of anise and cinnamon. 1103 Mountain Rd. NW, Albuquerque, 877/382-2924, goldencrown.biz, biscochitos $17/lb.
Mary & Tito's Cafe
Housed in the same adobe structure since 1971, this Albuquerque landmark was named a James Beard Foundation America's Classic in 2010. If you're in the mood for a major culinary fire drill, try the pure and piquant red chile sauce. Locals eat it on burritos with guacamole, beans, and rice or on the carne adovada (long-braised pork). 2711 4th St. NW, Albuquerque, 505/344-6266, facebook.com/maryandtitos, carne adovada burrito $7.
Benny's Mexican Kitchen
Most people wouldn't look twice at the nondescript Benny's Mexican Kitchen. You should. This unheralded neighborhood spot puts together a pleasantly spicy green chile cheeseburger that may be the best burger in all of New Mexico—no exaggeration. It comes served with guacamole, a tasty twist on a local classic. 1675 Bosque Farms Blvd., Bosque Farms, 505/869-2210, Benny Burger $5.
El Rancho de las Golondrinas
This 200-acre living museum celebrates the area's rich Spanish-colonial history. At the annual spring and harvest festivals, you can reenact life in the 1700s: blacksmithing, sheep-shearing, and sampling food grown on the ranch, such as fire-roasted chiles, mill-ground molasses syrup, and tortillas off the comal griddle.334 Los Pinos Rd., Santa Fe, 505/471-2261, golondrinas.org, festival admission $8.
Pueblo of Jemez
In this sovereign tribal community, an hour northwest of Albuquerque, it's all about the horno. Outside the Walatowa Visitor Center, residents set up stalls around adobe wood-burning beehive ovens and bake traditional bread. You'll want to try it slathered with green chiles. 7413 Hwy. 4, Jemez Pueblo, 575/834-7235, jemezpueblo.org, loaf of horno bread $5.
The walls here may be filled with neon beer signs and touristy antlers, but the Buckhorn Tavern means business. Owner Bobby Olguin puts his lip-tingling green chiles on anything: burgers, burritos, and the Rio Grande Special (ground beef, fries, and cheese under mounds of tomato and shredded lettuce). The restaurant is so beloved that then governor Bill Richardson declared July 24, 2009, to be Buckhorn Tavern Day to celebrate Olguin's victory in a green chile cheeseburger battle on Food Network's Throwdown With Bobby Flay. 68 U.S. Hwy. 380, San Antonio, 575/835-4423, socorro-nm.com/buckhorn.htm, Buckorn Burger $6.