With so many things to love about the Southwest, it’s hard to choose just one, but if you’ve ever visited during the fall, you know that nothing quite compares to green chili roasting season. Iron cages spinning over open flames, roasting the bright green flesh of this famed regional pepper to perfection. The familiar, comforting scent that permeates the air as they flock to farmers markets to grab that first bag of the season is unmatched for locals. While apple picking may be considered by some as fall’s favorite pastime, harvest season means the return of green chili to those near Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley.
The high desert climate of this area is a chili-farming mecca, giving generations of local farmers a hand in growing the varieties we enjoy today. Believed to have been brought to the area by Mexican traders in the late 1800s, chili has a rich and fruitful history in the San Luis Valley and surrounding parts—notably Pueblo, which hosts an annual chili festival—and is considered one of the best places in the Southwest to enjoy the famous pepper. Green chili is so embedded in the culture down here, you won’t get far without hearing from locals all the best places to grab a bite, including at fast food chains where its served on more than a few menus.
Green chili can be chunky, smoky, and juicy with varying levels of spice and sweetness depending on how it’s prepared. Its versatility gives Southwesterners an excuse to use it in just about everything. From burgers to breakfast—even desert—there’s virtually nothing people wont happily add it to, from a sauce to cooked right into the meal. Unlike Indian curry or Japanese matcha, green chiie isn’t tied to any one culture or style of cooking and can be found in dishes all over the country. In fact, the father of the Mosco chili pepper, grown in Southern Colorado and used in much of the local fare, is Italian-American farmer, Michael Bartolo, who says his family has been adding green chili to their spaghetti for generations.
The slightly hot, slightly sweet Mosco pepper is what most locals say they prefer to New Mexico’s famous Hatch green chili, found in abundance just south of the Colorado border. Those just visiting are smart to leave this debate to the locals as it can get pretty heated. If you want a chance to taste test for yourself, you can do so by taking part in Alamosa’s Green Chili Trail. Just head over to the Colorado Welcome Center to pick up your trail card and start eating your way through the trail. With nine participating restaurants, and a bunch of classic and creative green chili dishes to try, forming an opinion shouldn’t be hard!
At My Brother’s Place, a New York-style pizzeria on Alamosa’s Main Street, visitors will find green chili added to comfort food fave, Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo, while barbecue lovers can add chopped green chili to their BBQ nachos over at Woody’s Q Shack. The traditional bowl of green chili at Juanito’s Mexican Kitchen should not be missed, and be sure to save room for a smothered green chili cheeseburger while you’re at it. You can sample two versions of this local favorite at both the 4th Street Grille and family-owned Mexican restaurant, Lindo Jalisco. Don’t forget to get your trail card stamped at each location you visit and claim your prize at the Welcome Center when you are finished!
A trip to the Southwest just isn’t complete without several helpings of green chili, so if you’re looking for something new to explore this fall, don’t miss your chance to taste your way through Southern Colorado. Completing the full Green Chili Trail is not only a fun and tasty way to experience some of the best cuisine in Alamosa, it’s a chance to earn bragging rights and be part of a long-standing, seasonal tradition.