ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The green chile cheeseburger has inspired culinary challenges, a tourism campaign and conflicting tales of its origin.
Now a state representative wants to make the fiery flavored sandwich the official hamburger of New Mexico.
“It’s really something that we can build on. Let’s highlight something we can do really well, let’s highlight green chile cheeseburgers,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, sponsor of House Bill 118, an act relating to state symbols.
He got the inspiration during last year’s Legislative session when someone delivered plain burgers for a working lunch. He thought, “That’s just wrong, they should be green chile cheeseburgers.”
The bill is currently in the committee stage. If passed, the green chile cheeseburger would join the state bird (roadrunner), state aircraft (hot air balloon), state cookie (bizcochito) state question (red or green?) and many more things deemed emblematic of New Mexico (official nickname: The Land of Enchantment).
“I think it’s a great idea. I fully support it,” said Lucy Rosen, director of marketing for Blake’s Lotaburger. The 65-year-old chain was winner of the 2016 Albuquerque Journal Readers’ Choice award for green chile cheeseburgers.
Bob Gontram, owner of Taos-based Five Star Burgers, the runner-up for the 2016 Readers’ Choice burger award, applauded McQueen’s bill.
“The green chile cheeseburger is so iconic. It should be the state burger. We should
all be proud of that,” Gontram said.
When he’s traveled to places like St. Louis, Mo., Denver, Colo., and cities in California, he’s noticed restaurants there have begun offering green chile cheeseburgers on their menus.
“People are picking it up because it’s so good,” Gontram said.
It’s unclear where the concept of putting green chile on a cheeseburger originated. James Beard Award-winning food writer Jason Sheehan wrote “The Birth of the Atomic Cheeseburger,” an article for Gilt Taste that claimed it was Frank Chavezï»¿ who opened what is now the Owl Bar & Cafe in San Antonio, south of Socorro, in 1945. It said Chavez started making green chile cheeseburgers at the request of scientists from Los Alamos who were involved in the Manhattan Project to make the atomic bomb.
Rosen disputes this version. According to her, Blake Chanslor, who opened his first Blake’s Lotaburger restaurant in 1952, was the green chile cheeseburger pioneer.
“Patrons of Blake’s used to bring their own green chile so Blake Chanslor began adding it. Blake’s is the first place to add it to the menu.”
Whatever the origin, restaurant menus statewide have their own version of the green chile cheeseburger, or, as food blogger Gil Garduño of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog puts it, “In the Land of Enchantment, the ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger can be found in restaurants, drive-ins, diners, dives, joints, cafes, roadside stands and bowling alleys. It’s the centerpiece of many a party and social function. It’s our favorite fast, casual food.”
The New Mexico State Fair holds an annual “Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge.” The state Tourism Department promotes it saying “the state didn’t invent the hamburger but this is the place that made it hot.” The Tourism Department even created a restaurant guide map called “The Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.”
The prospect of an official state hamburger has the Tourism Department excited.
“With the popularity of the New Mexico True Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, which USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards named the No. 1 food trail in the country in 2015, and the growing interest in cuisine that is unique to a specific destination, this bill opens the door for greater awareness of what makes New Mexico a destination worth craving,” said spokeswoman Heather Briganti.