LAS CRUCES -- In New Mexico, it's almost a requirement. If you're ordering a burger -- at a fancy restaurant or a fast-food chain -- you'll get a funny look if you don't top it with green chile and cheese.
Everyone has their favorite place to get a green chile cheeseburger, and restaurants around the state have made a name for themselves by perfecting their unique recipes.
Now, to help visitors to New Mexico find the best burgers in every nook and cranny in the state, the New Mexico Tourism Department has launched its "Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail," and interactive map on the department's Web site that pinpoints some of the top restaurants for our favorite spicy twist on the cheeseburger.
Three area restaurants are among 48 selected for the map: The Double Eagle in Mesilla, Day's Hamburgers in Las Cruces and Blake's Lotaburger, with 76 locations around the state, including Las Cruces, Silver City, Bayard and Deming.
Mike and Sandra Graves chowed down on green chile cheeseburgers at the Valley Drive Lotaburger in Las Cruces on Monday. Sandra Graves said they're big fans of the place, though it's not the only burger joint they frequent.
"There's just a Blake's Lotaburger
Jerry Harrell, general manager of the Double Eagle, said Dick's, El Sombrero and other worthy restaurants in the area didn't make the map, which was determined by popular vote and a selection panel.
"We feel a little challenged, that more restaurants in Las Cruces and Mesilla weren't named to the list," Harrell said. "We're going to have to make an effort to change that next year, and get some more votes for Do-a Ana County."
All of the nearly 200 nominees are listed on the Web site, and those that didn't "make the trail" this year will have an opportunity to next year, said Cheryl Alters Jamison, who is developing the Culinary Trails initiatives with the Tourism Department. The Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is the first of the planned campaigns, and Jamison said ideas for future trails include recognizing culinary treasures that have been around a long time, highlighting contemporary chefs in New Mexico or focusing again on a single item, like wine or enchiladas.
Nominations for the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail came from patrons and restaurateurs from late August through the end of September, according to the Tourism Department Web site. Voting was done online and at events like the Whole Enchilada Fiesta in Las Cruces. The selection panel also looked at a combination of other criteria, including overall quality and ingredients, geographic location, diversity and appeal to visitors, the Web site states.
Of course, the map features green chile cheeseburger icons like the Owl Bar & Café in San Antonio and Bobcat Bite near Santa Fe, so Harrell said he's pleased and proud to be included as well.
"We're really in some pretty good company," he said.
Deney-Rae Herron, who owns Day's Hamburgers with her mother, Donna Lee, said she hopes putting her restaurant on the map will - for lack of a better phrase -- put her restaurant on the map. She said the restaurant's name is pretty well-known locally, but more out-of-town visitors would be a boost to the 70-year-old establishment.
Herron said it's the freshness of the ingredients at Day's that sets its burgers apart.
"Not many people order fresh meat daily from a local vendor," Herron said. "And there's something about our griddle that gives it a certain flavor."
Harrell said unique ingredients are the key to the Double Eagle's chile cheeseburger success, too; aged beef from filets and ribeyes and slow-melting ranchero cheese give a distinct flavor to the burgers, which come in regular or extra-large, world-record sizes.
He said the goal of the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is to introduce travelers to restaurants that are off the beaten path.
"We're trying to get people to stop and try a local place instead of McDonald's," Harrell said.
Linda Miramontes, store manager of the Blake's Lotaburger on Valley Drive, said the green chile cheeseburger is the New Mexico chain's bestseller, and keeps the locals coming back every time they visit.
"Anyone can move away from New Mexico, but you always come back, and it's the first thing you want to eat," Miramontes said.
The Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail map is available on the New Mexico Tourism Department Web site, at www.newmexico.org/greenchilecheeseburger.
Amanda L. Husson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; (575) 541-5460
Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail winners:
Blake's Lotaburger: 700 S. Solano Drive; 2915 N. Main St.; 1300 S. Valley Drive
Day's Hamburgers: 295 N. Main Street; 5155 N. Do-a Ana Road
Double Eagle/Peppers Cafe: 2355 Calle de Guadalupe