It’s not quite green chile stew if you haven’t de­vel­oped at least a mild sheen of sweat or a runny rose af­ter sev­eral spoon­fuls. A ster­ling stew is a more sub­stan­tive — and trans­portive — ex­pe­ri­ence than a mere bowl of spicy soup.

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW -

like Goldilocks, that ob­ses­sive­com­pul­sive home in­vader who must try ev­ery avail­able bowl of por­ridge be­fore she finds one that’s up to her stan­dards. In my case, though, the por­ridge of late has been green chile stew, a sta­ple I find my­self crav­ing ev­ery fall as the as­pens turn gold and park­ing lots emit the nose-tick­ling aroma of roast­ing chiles. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been comb­ing Santa Fe for ex­em­plary ver­sions of the dish, a de­cep­tively sim­ple sim­mer of meat, pota­toes, and chile that is as en­demic to New Mex­ico cui­sine as sopaip­il­las and carne adovada. This has been no mild un­der­tak­ing — green chile stew ap­pears on menus all over town — but I’ve set­tled on a few stand­outs that are just right, each in their own way.

I weighed sev­eral fac­tors: Which meat is more suit­able (pork, chicken, or beef); should pota­toes be small or chunky; what’s the party line on ad­di­tions like car­rots, toma­toes, beans, or red pep­pers; and is there an ideal heat level? Af­ter the first round of con­tenders, I set­tled on my pref­er­ences. Pork, most tra­di­tional, seems par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate for green chile’s veg­e­tal fire, though chicken or beef can be rev­e­la­tory. Big potato cubes are best, but they shouldn’t be un­man­age­ably large. And a wider va­ri­ety of in­gre­di­ents is welcome, though not nec­es­sary. Broth should be on the thick side, in­cor­po­rat­ing rich fla­vors that have be­come in­ti­mately ac­quainted, hav­ing brought out the best in each other dur­ing their sim­mer to­gether. Most im­por­tant, it’s not quite green chile stew if you haven’t de­vel­oped at least a mild sheen of sweat or a runny nose af­ter sev­eral spoon­fuls. A ster­ling stew is a more sub­stan­tive — and trans­portive — ex­pe­ri­ence than a mere bowl of spicy soup.

The vil­lage of Chi­mayó is well known for its su­pe­rior chile. And just as the funky, san­tero-chic vibe of Casa Chi­mayó Restau­rant’s digs on Water Street presents a mi­cro­cos­mic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of that lo­cale, the kitchen does a su­perb job of max­i­miz­ing its most fa­mous ex­port. This stew fea­tures a smoky brown broth jam-packed with big, juicy hunks of pork, pota­toes, toma­toes, and car­rots. The chile’s heat lingers, tin­gling on the lips, the broth is ad­dic­tively sa­vory, and Casa Chi­mayó also serves an es­pe­cially fine tor­tilla. Thick, fluffy, and very slightly salty, it made a good ve­hi­cle to sop up the dregs of this ex­quis­ite con­coc­tion.

The Te­suque Vil­lage Mar­ket pro­duces a broth that en­cap­su­lates the magic of com­min­gled in­gre­di­ents cooked low and slow. This muddy stew is big on fla­vor, with a gravy­like tex­ture and large pieces of ten­der pork, pota­toes, and car­rots. The mar­ket is a good spot to take out-of-town­ers to soak up its mel­low coun­try-store am­bi­ence (we spot­ted Hilary Swank there on our out­ing); if I were look­ing to in­tro­duce a first-timer to a ro­bust, com­plex stew that wasn’t over­bear­ing in its spici­ness, I’d head to Te­suque.

Over at Pala­cio Café II, the Alameda Street off­spring of Palace Av­enue’s well-re­garded Pala­cio Café, the heat is on in a rust-col­ored broth that show­cases flaky bits of beef. The dis­tinc­tive chile had flecks of red, and the stew in­cluded toma­toes and small pota­toes. The fla­vor starts some­what sweetly, but the chile slowly flares, creep­ing along with an even­tual blaze. The over­all ef­fect is sin­gu­lar: I could eas­ily pick this con­tender out of a lineup.

El Para­sol’s riff on the clas­sic is slightly un­ortho­dox. Us­ing a more tomato-based broth, sa­vory pork and medium-sized pota­toes, it in­cor­po­rates ex­tras like green beans, corn, and red pep­pers. The chile has a warm­ing ef­fect that isn’t over­whelm­ing. This man­age­abil­ity, along with the idea that you might be get­ting in an ex­tra serv­ing of veg­gies, makes it easy to go back for sec­onds.

Still, I sought a bap­tism by fire — I had had some right­eous stew, but I craved a truly re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence. The Holy Grail was de­liv­ered unto me at La Choza: a well-sea­soned bowl of fear­some pale green chile, del­i­cate chunks of pork, and, best of all, an earthy med­ley of red, yel­low, and purple baby pota­toes. In all my wan­der­ings, I sam­pled none bet­ter than this trio of el­e­men­tal in­gre­di­ents, which re­quired some per­se­ver­ance to fin­ish due to the blaz­ing-hot chile. It may have been the fault of the strong mar­gar­i­tas, but af­ter my com­pan­ion had scraped his bowl clean, he turned to me, mop­ping his brow, and whis­pered, “I feel like I just had sex.”

At Caffe Greco on Canyon Road, the grass-fed ground beef hails from a pas­ture near Lamy, ac­cord­ing to the cook I asked. It’s quite tasty, too, soaked in Greco’s fiery green chile elixir and ac­com­pa­nied by yel­low pota­toes and pinto beans. This one had a clean, home­spun fla­vor; a fel­low sam­pler re­marked that it re­minded him of his childhood friend’s grand­mother’s ver­sion.

Mouth aflame, belly warmed, heart glad­dened, and sodium lev­els surely el­e­vated, I feel sat­is­fied that I’ve found my fa­vorites. But we’re all like that high-main­te­nance brat Goldilocks, aren’t we, with our idio­syn­cratic tastes? Try these, but seek on. This is the sea­son — and the town — for green chile stew.

Hon­or­able men­tions: Este­van (at Ho­tel Chi­mayó de Santa Fe), Posa’s, The Shed, Tia Sophia’s.

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