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Food critics to pick best cheeseburger

SANTA FE, N.M. — Come Saturday, some prominent outsiders get to help decide which local eatery can officially claim an important cultural distinction – producer of the best green chile cheeseburger in the Santa Fe area.

Food critics from newspapers in San Francisco and Dallas and from Food & Wine magazine will help judge Santa Fe’s first Green Chile Cheeseburger Smackdown at the Farmers’ Market in the Railyard.

As befits the City Different’s expansive food scene, the smackdown competitors include high-end hotel resorts and modest but beloved local burger joints.

Amateurs can also judge the burgers themselves by sampling the entries and casting votes for a People’s Choice award. There should be about 100 tickets available at $15 each at the Railyard on Saturday.

The event, a fundraiser for the Farmers’ Market and the Santa Fe Restaurant Association, starts at 10:30 a.m. at the north end of the Railyard along Market Street at Manhattan Avenue, concurrent with the market’s chile harvest festival. The winners will be announced at 1 p.m.

The contest was organized with the support of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Cynthia Delgado, the CVB’s marketing director, said the idea came from looking for ways to market Santa Fe by focusing on “what people really love about Santa Fe, the things that whether you’re a visitor or a local, you have some real passion for.”

“One thing we came up with was a passion for green chile,” she said. “We really own it and can get into a fight over it. And the other thing we love is the green chile cheeseburger.”

With no apologies to Albuquerque or tiny San Antonio south of Socorro (home to two chile cheeseburger diners with cult followings) or the rest of New Mexico, Delgado said, “We decided that Santa Fe is really the green chile cheeseburger capital of the world – we wanted to stake our claim to it.

“And we thought that one way to claim that was to start an annual competition.”

The group of restaurants that get to compete Saturday were chosen using a rather unscientific method. There was an “open call” that attracted 18 burger makers who launched social media campaigns. Then supporters of the various restaurants could vote once a day on the website.

The top six vote-getters got into Saturday’s smackdown: Terra Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort at Rancho Encantado in Tesuque and, from various geographical and demographic sections of Santa Fe, Luminaria Restaurant and Patio at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, Bert’s Burger Bowl, Cowgirl BBQ, the Agave Lounge at Eldorado Hotel and Spa, and Realburger.

A “lucky number seven” finalist was added recently after Carlos Duran, host of the Morning Mayhem show on Albuquerque’s KOB-FM, chomped through burgers from the 12 other entrants and awarded the final spot to Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, which has a food truck and now a diner at 2860 Cerrillos.

“He’s still talking about the burgers,” Delgado said of Duran and the radio exposure in the Duke City for the smackdown.

Varied judges

Judging Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market will be:

• Cheryl Jamison of Tesuque, a James Beard Award winner and well-known cookbook author, and a prominent authority on barbecue, grilling and smoke cooking.

• Michael Bauer, long-time food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

• Cathy Barber, food, travel and lifestyle editor for the Dallas Morning News.

• Kate Krader, restaurant editor for Food & Wine.

• Ellise Pierce, another cookbook author and a new Santa Fe resident.

• Ginny Sohn, publisher of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Delgado said Jamison helped with rounding up the judges with the idea of having a mix of locals and “some heavy hitters.”

The burgers are supposed be judged on appearance, “burgerability/eatability,” quality of ingredients, melding of flavors and chile flavor/heat.

Delgado says the chefs involved aren’t fooling around.

“This is as serious as a heart attack for them,” she said.