"They're fresh roasted and fill the place with an incredible aroma," says restaurant owner Chrystal Handy, who's baking the chiles in green enchiladas and mixing them into an aioli for burgers. She's also serving them up by the bowlful to patrons who request side orders.
Hatch chiles, kin to the more common Anaheim, are grown beyond New Mexico's Mesilla Valley, but acolytes maintain the area's hot days, cool nights, elevation and volcanic soil produce an unparallelled flavor.
For more than 40 years, Hatch, N.M. has annually celebrated its signature crop with a Labor Day weekend festival, but the seasonal craze has lately reached national proportions. Grocery stores across the country - including Seattle's Whole Foods locations - now mark the end of the Hatch harvest by roasting chiles in their parking lots, just as supermarkets in the Southwest have done for at least two decades.
The ascent of the Hatch chile is relatively recent. Spanish explorers imported chiles to North America in the 16th century, supplementing the chiles that ancient Anasazi Indians had grown for the previous millennium, but the New Mexican pod wasn't standardized until 1912. Hatch's farmers turned their attentions to chiles in the 1960s, when the cotton market faltered.
Although late August is considered prime Hatch chile time, the chiles hold up well when frozen, which is why New Mexicans buy 100-pound bags of Hatch chiles while they can.
Handy has family connections to Hatch, where her grandfather, Ray Clear, served as sheriff.
"We have lots of Southwesterners come in for a "taste of home," says Handy, who flies three New Mexican flags outside her restaurant. "That's exactly what they say to me when they are thanking us."
Handy anticipates the Hatch chile season will last another three to four weeks.