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What Is a Hatch Chile (and Where Can You Find Them?)

In the pepper world, the Hatch chile stands alone. With the spice of jalapeño and the smokiness of an Anaheim pepper, this is a truly unique fruit. Every year, spicy food lovers flock to stores during Hatch chile season to get their fix.

These peppers are so beloved there’s an entire festival dedicated to them. Interestingly, however, there’s not just one type of Hatch chile. In fact, there are several.

Follow along as we discover everything there is to know about this addictive hot pepper.

Let’s hit it!

What Are Hatch Chiles?

Hatch chiles are delicious, spicy peppers that grow in southwestern New Mexico. But unlike other peppers native to the American southwest, Hatch chiles aren’t one species of pepper. Instead, the term “Hatch chile” refers to numerous pepper varieties that grow in and near Hatch, New Mexico.

Dubbed the Chile Capital of the World, Hatch is a small town near Las Cruces. Only about 1,600 people live there. Yet, despite its small population, the tiny village is home to one of the biggest food festivals in the country. The Hatch Chile Festival takes place annually on Labor Day weekend near the Hatch Municipal Airport.

Hatch chile varieties include Sandia, Big Jim, and Joe Parker peppers. However, the Chimayo and Espanola peppers–the long green chiles many people associate with Hatch chiles–are the most common.

This part of New Mexico is a former floodplain, making it a unique environment for farming peppers. In fact, many farmers in the area have been growing these crops for generations.

Where Can You Find Hatch Chiles?

Every year, the Hatch area exports countless chiles and chile products around the country. For example, you might be familiar with Central Market’s annual Hatch chile celebration in San Antonio, Texas. But the town of Hatch is the best place to get your hands on these delectable peppers.

The little village is situated in the Hatch Valley, which stretches along the Rio Grande. This part of the state is sometimes called the Napa Valley of green chile. In addition, the region exports other crops like greens, nuts, potatoes, and wheat.

Despite its small size, Hatch is a lively place with lots to see and do. Pepper-themed restaurants and shops are everywhere! State parks, water sports, and other recreational activities are popular pastimes in this area.

Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Spend a Day in Hatch, New Mexico during your visit.

Women harvesting chiles
Head to Hatch, New Mexico for your pepper fix.

How Do You Eat Hatch Chile Peppers?

A better question might be, how don’t you eat Hatch chile peppers? These versatile fruits are spicy enough to heat a dish but pack enough flavor to complement pastries and bread.

If preparing your own meal, roast the peppers first. Roasting them helps round out their flavor and takes away the raw zing. They keep well jarred, frozen, or canned.

Once your chiles are roasted, the possibilities are endless. Use them to make salsa for enchiladas or to flavor soups and stews. You can also toss them in a casserole for an extra kick.

Hatch chiles are also great for condiments. Try making your own hot sauce by pureeing them and adding vinegar and other spices. Or blend them and stir the chiles into ketchup, aioli, ranch, and your other favorite dips.

What Is the Hatch Chile Festival?

The annual Hatch Chile Festival is a celebration of all things spicy. This popular event draws more than 30,000 visitors from around the world. With entertainment, activities for kids, and countless food stalls, there’s something for everyone.

For youngsters in attendance, the Hatch Chile Festival features a carnival with rides, games, and prizes. There’s also a parade that happens each Saturday of the festival.

The celebration even has its own beauty pageant! Each year, a Green Chile Queen and a Red Chile Queen are crowned. In addition, younger girls can compete in the Little Miss Chile Queen contest.

Of course, the Hatch Chile Festival also includes plenty of activities for adults. Mariachi bands, rock bands, and singers take the stage to provide music for the event. And an onsite beer garden offers beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages. The festival is open each day until 10:00 PM.

Hatch peppers
Enjoy all things spicy at the Hatch Chile Festival.

Where to Taste Hatch Chiles

Are you thinking of visiting Hatch, New Mexico? You’ll find no shortage of restaurants serving spicy chile-filled dishes. After all, it’s the town’s specialty.

Let’s look at two of the most popular places to try Hatch’s famous pepper.

Sparky’s Burgers

Sparky’s Burgers has been in business for more than 20 years. This eclectic joint is part coffee shop, barbecue and burger stand, and music venue. Even the building’s exterior is fun: quirky paint, fast-food statues, and neon lights make this restaurant stand out.

Sparky’s most notable dish is its World Famous Green Chile Cheeseburger. While you won’t find lettuce or onion as a condiment, the restaurant explains on its website that chile and cheese are enough. Green chile queso is also on the menu. It can be added to most dishes, including burgers.

This eatery also offers barbecue with green chile fixings. Truly adventurous visitors can try their milkshakes and Italian sodas, which include pepper as an ingredient. If spice isn’t your thing, their menu also contains many chile-free options. 

Valley Cafe

Valley Cafe specializes in both American and Mexican dishes. It’s a no-frills, friendly local diner. So if your group is in the mood for different things, Valley Cafe is a great option.

The menu features familiar homestyle items like chicken fried steak, hamburger steak, chicken tenders, and burgers. Mexican plates include tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, and chile rellenos. There’s also a kids’ menu for younger guests.

And, of course, Valley Cafe offers plenty of meals with Hatch chiles. Quesadillas come with a red or green chile sauce option, as do enchiladas. Even the cafe’s tacos al pastor include green chiles, a fun twist on a Mexican classic.

Pro Tip: Fuel up for an epic New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle Road Trip using our guide.

Best Camping Near the Hatch Valley

If you’re planning a trip to the Hatch Valley, you’ll have plenty of camping options to choose from. With tons of RV and state parks, it’s a breeze to enjoy the scenery and experiences in this region.

Here are a couple of great options for camping near Hatch, New Mexico.

Leasburg Dam State Park

Leasburg Dam State Park couldn’t get more scenic if it tried. This beautiful park is 25 miles south of Hatch and features mountain views, access to the Rio Grande, and hiking trails. In addition, visitors can go fishing, canoeing, and birding. There’s even an observatory onsite for guests who want to survey the stars.

According to Campendium, RV sites at Leasburg Dam State Park start at $18 per night. Campsites include partial hookups, a fire ring, water, and picnic tables. The park is ADA accessible and offers showers, a dump station, and restrooms.

Hatch RV Park

The Hatch RV Park is a great option for campers interested in an in-town experience. The central location is just minutes from dining and recreation. They offer amenities like Wi-Fi, water, and electricity and hope to include cable access soon.

Full-hookup campsites at the Hatch RV Park start at $25 per night, but they also offer weekly and monthly rates. Pets are welcome, and they even have a dog run onsite. Visitors also have access to trash disposal and a general store.

Spice Up Your Life

For pepper lovers, Hatch chiles are a special treat. These distinctive chiles are world-renowned for a reason. No wonder they’re an important part of Hatch, New Mexico’s identity. The annual Hatch Chile Festival celebrates the unique fruit that made the small New Mexico town famous.

Have you ever tried Hatch chiles? Do you plan to check out the Chile Festival? Let us know in the comments below.

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