At Albuquerque's Isotopes Park, green chiles are one of six toppings provided at the concourse condiment bars. They are New Mexico's favorite foodstuff, and you can put them on literally anything.
But just because you can put chiles on everything, it doesn't mean that you necessarily should. Heading into the 2019 season, Isotopes executive chef Ryan Curry risked the fans' wrath by creating the Tumbleweed Burger: an Angus beef patty on a green chile pepper-infused bun, topped with ghost pepper cheese and a "poof" of red chile cotton candy.
"When we posted [The Tumbleweed Burger] online, it was like I had violated the sanctity of the chile. Like, 'How dare you!'" said Curry. "But why not? We're not making a mockery of it -- we're embracing it. We're doing something different with the chile. We're proud of the chile."
The Tumbleweed Burger soon garnered nationwide -- and even international -- media attention, appearing on outlets as diverse as Fox News and the BBC. While Curry acknowledges that the Tumbleweed Burger is ridiculous looking, he maintains that his creation boasts an appealing mix of flavors and is, in fact, good. John Traub, Isotopes general manager, concurs.
"I'm the guy who has to do the interviews about [new concession items], so I have to sample these things to know what they're like," said Traub. "When I first heard about [the Tumbleweed Burger], it was 'Oh, this is an interesting concept.' But when I took my first bite into it, 'Wow, this works!' Because the cotton candy crystalizes and it's like this sugary taste combined with a little bit of spice. ... When I see someone having one for the first time, I kind of just wait to see what their reaction is and, by and large, it's been excellent. I think people are surprised by their own reactions."
When I visited Isotopes Park last month, I recruited a fan by the name of Marcos Castillo to be my Designated Eater. In this capacity, he would be responsible for consuming the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits. We began with the Tumbleweed Burger, of course. Would Marcos be surprised by his own reaction?
"I've got to admit I was skeptical, but holy cow that exceeds my expectations for sure," said Marcos, an Isotopes season ticket holder and Albuquerque resident. "People [in New Mexico] put chile in all sorts of stuff where it doesn't belong and where it doesn't work. But this works. The little bit of heat and little bit of sweet offset each other."
Next up was the Comfort Burger, a burger and chicken strips doused in country gravy, served atop a biscuit and devoid of chiles of any kind. Castillo, surely feeling far removed from his day job as recreation supervisor for the village of Los Lunas, was ready to give it a try.
"It's everything you love about biscuits and gravy, with a burger and chicken thrown on top," said Castillo, seeming a bit overwhelmed. "You should definitely be hungry if you're getting this. It weighs about three pounds."
The Comfort Burger -- not for the faint of heart.
After several bites of the Comfort Burger, Castillo ran it back to his seat to share the leftovers with his friends. Curry, meanwhile, procured another new creation: the Elote Dog, a hot dog topped with Mexican roasted corn, chipotle mayo, queso fresco and Taijin seasoning.
Curry said the Elote Dog was inspired by Mexican food vendors, and Castillo said that was just what it tasted like.
"It's just like from a food truck. And you throw in a hot dog, it's really good," he said.
But of course, it all comes back around to chile. The Isotopes occasionally change their name to the Green Chile Cheeseburgers, so of course they offer them at the ballpark.
Green chile cheeseburgers are a New Mexico staple.
Curry warned Castillo that the green chiles used for the cheeseburgers were "fire" and joked that he should sign a waiver before eating them. But Castillo, a New Mexico native, was profoundly unfazed.
According to Castillo, the Isotopes' green chile cheeseburger goes "toe-to-toe with some of the more renowned places."
"But if you ask 10 different people, they'll all say their grandma makes the best green chile. And those 10 people will then give you 10 different favorite restaurants," he said. "I've had a lot, but this is up there with some of the best."
So who makes the best green chile cheeseburger? Castillo said that's "the million dollar question." Within Albuquerque city limits, his choice would be Monte Carlo Steakhouse. Expanding the parameters to all of New Mexico, he picked San Antonio's Owl Cafe.
Curry, meanwhile, will keep searching for creative ways to incorporate New Mexico's most iconic ingredient into Isotopes concessions items.
"Chile, it's a religion here," he said. "We're going to keep having fun with it. It's what we do."