Move over, New Mexico. Southwest Colorado has green chile fever.
Three local restaurants are on the leader board in a USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice contest to name the best chile verde in Colorado.
An expert panel chose 20 restaurants in Colorado to compete for top honors via an ongoing voting process. Voting will continue through April 16, and a winner announced will be announced April 20.
As of Monday, the chile verde rankings had Oscar’s Café in Durango as No. 2, Beny’s in Cortez at No. 5, and Absolute Bakery and Café in Mancos at No. 7.
Oscar’s has been family owned and operated for nearly four decades. Owners Bruce and Paula Berg have been serving up their classic chile verde version over burritos, eggs and crispy hash browns for 35 years.
“We make it in the traditional Spanish Southwest way, combining New Mexico chiles with roast pork loin that has been slow-cooked,” Paula Berg said.
Only family members know the rest of the secret recipe, she said. After the chiles are combined with pork, onions and garlic, Paula Berg and her daughter go into a room and mix together a savory variety of spices from memory to finish off the simmering goodness.
They strive for mild to medium hotness, and cook up about 45 gallons per week.
“Being chosen as one of the best is nice, and verification of a good product,” Paula Berg said.
Down the road in neighboring Mancos, Absolute Bakery owner David Blaine has a simpler philosophy to preparing his popular green chile.
“We rely on the chile to do the work, rather than adding a lot of different flavors,” he says. “We make it vegan style with no meat products.”
Without revealing too much, he said the recipe enhances the natural flavor of the chile and does not try to disguise it. The exact type of chiles are a secret, but they come from New Mexico, Blaine said.
“It’s a combination of hot and mild chiles, and we sample each batch to insure it is not too spicy,” he said.
The Absolute is a culinary icon in Mancos that draws regulars in every day to dine on popular green chile-infused burritos and The Stack, a pile of crispy hash browns, eggs and bacon smothered with the bright green chile.
In the summer, hordes of tourists on their way to Mesa Verde National Park hear the good word and fill the restaurant, which has been expanding and is set to grow again.
“We’re in the Southwest, so green chile is part of the lifestyle,” Blaine said. “We introduce it to a lot of tourists who have never tried real green chile.”
From Mancos, continue west on U.S. Highway 160, and you’ll drive up to Beny’s, a large-capacity Mexican diner in downtown Cortez.
The Nuñoz family has been serving up Mexican classics in the area for 11 years and has a loyal following.
Owners Victor and Maggie Nuñoz work alongside their kids, including chef Beny, the youngest at 22.
Victor created the chile verde recipe while working in restaurants in California. His style uses a combination of Anaheim green chiles, tomatillos, jalapeños and slow-roasted pork. A meatless version also is available.
“People love it, they want it smothered on everything — over burritos and hash browns, on top of burgers and fries, even over biscuits and gravy,” said his son Vic.
“The hot and sour combination of the tomatillos and chiles is really nice,” his dad says. “We keep it on the milder side, because we want our customers to enjoy the rich flavors and not get overwhelmed by too much heat.”
They roast and peel their own chiles and make more than 100 gallons per week to keep up with demand.
“The support from the community has been awesome. We are so thankful for our customers, everything our parents have taught us in this business,” Vic said between delivering steaming orders of “smothered” huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos to eager customers. Try the traditional Al Caballo – enchiladas topped with eggs and green chile.
“People clean their plates here,” he said.
To vote in the USA Today 10 best chile verde in Colorado, go to the contest website at www.10best.com