Pepper and passion 

Green chile is Colorado Springs' way home

Though you might not think it, Colorado Springs is a small nexus of food culture, with military types and their various culinary heritages coming through or settling down. But if you had to pinpoint one food that defines the region, it'd be green chili.

You can argue about the best pepper, you can argue about the best preparation, and you can argue about the spelling — for our purposes, "chili" is the dish, "chile" is the plant — but you can't argue that green chili is a regional obsession. (And no, chile verde is not the same thing.)

It probably all stems from the Spanish pushing a mix of farming cultures north to Santa Fe, and it spreading from there, but specialties have developed on their own. You can get a good preview of varieties at the Denver Chili Fest each September.

Radio station KUNC reported last year that Colorado State University's Mike Bartolo, who developed the popular Mosco chile, "has been quietly working on developing the next great Colorado green chile," apparently called the Pueblo Popper. And the city of Pueblo is pepper-crazy, with its Chile & Frijoles Festival (also in September), where big, black roasters tumble-fire the chilies into a roasted delicacy in the middle of downtown. The Mira Sol, or Pueblo chile, is its cultivar of choice, beating out the better known (but, of course, less delicious) Hatch variety.

Family matriarch Margie Vasquez has long used Pueblo chiles in her flour-laced, gravy-like recipe at the Bean Bandit (320 N. Circle Drive, 634-9945). "We have been doing ours since 1966," she says. "Hatch chile is from New Mexico, and it's fine, but I use [the] Pueblo chile all my life. And there is a difference, and the difference is the Pueblo chile has a little more spice."

You can't talk green chili without talking Western Omelette (16 S. Walnut St., westernomelette.com). Manager Gaylene Suiter says the restaurant buys Anaheim chilies from Pueblo, in some versions mixing them with stinging habaneros. "It's got the nice flavor," Suiter says. "It's hot. You have options. It's a little thicker than most other chiles, and people seem to like that a little bit better, so it's not running all over their food and making it soggy."

Those two nicely represent two ends of the spectrum locally. Everybody says the best green chili is the one in their kitchen — I say the best green chili is the one in my mouth — but you do have a Pueblo-style chili, which is more like a sauce, and the fruitier, chunkier versions like those at the Omelette or King's Chef Diner (131 E. Bijou St., 110 E. Costilla St., cosdiner.com), another local heavyweight. Shredded pork, ground pork, no pork ... now there's another argument.

However you like it, however you make it, you can't go wrong making chiles a part of your world. Some more places to do it: El Taco Rey (330 E. Colorado Ave., eltacorey.com) is another pupil of the thicker, Pueblo-style school, and liberally spreads it on Anaheim chile rellenos and more. Salsa Latina (28 E. Rio Grande St., salsalatinas.com) is run by a Taco Rey family member, and the quality is similarly high. The west-side Amanda's Fonda (3625 W. Colorado Ave., amandasfonda.com) can give you its thick stew on a covered, heated patio next to a babbling creek. Plus, as one employee notes, it comes with "pork embedded" in the goodness. Hallelujah.


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