SANTA FE’S HORSEMAN’S HAVEN IS THE STUFF OF LEGEND, known from here to Hatch for its fiery green chile. Owned and operated by the Romero family since 1981, this is the place that brought Anthony Bourdain—the late no-fear chef, culinary explorer, and adventurous world traveler—to tears with its Level 3 chile on his Parts Unknown TV series.

But like the other locals filling up the booths, long tables, and counter overlooking the semi-open kitchen, I’ve come for Saturday breakfast. Black coffee. Carne adovada and eggs. Since it’s my first time here, how can I not at least try a side of the Level 2 green chile, right? What kind of New Mexican would I be?

So when our orders come, I dip my fork into the chile, scoop up some hash browns, and take a bite. Almost instantly, my body produces some kind of culinary fight-or-flight response. As Bourdain says in the Parts Unknown episode: “First, you think it’s going to be okay. Then it’s not.”

My eyes water, my face hurts. I start hiccuping. I look around the room, hoping no one is watching. Only then do I notice a couple of other warning signs: servers all wearing T-shirts printed with “Hottest Green Chile Around” and vintage boxing posters (yes, it feels like I’ve been punched in the mouth) sprinkled among the horse-themed decor.

The Horseman's Haven, in Santa Fe, draws a lively crowd on weekends for the "hottest green chile around." Photograph by Steve Gleydura.

Bourdain’s advice? “There’s nothing to do but wait it out.” I try. The coffee makes it worse. More potatoes? Nope. Tortilla? Nada. Only a bite of the carne adovada’s smoky-sweet red chile helps curb the torrent. The hiccups stop, but my right eye continues to water. Eventually, it passes.

With some experimentation, I find that a bit of the Level 2 mixed into the red hits just right, and I devour every last bite. Saturday-morning mission accomplished.

In this month’s “¡Viva la Cocina!” cover story, we dig into what makes a restaurant a New Mexico classic. Like the food itself, the ingredients are simple: cherished recipes and time-honored techniques, generations of family welcoming guests, longtime and trusted employees, deep roots in the community, and a passion for hard work. But it takes just the right amount of love to make it all come together—and the right amount of award-winning green chile. Enjoy!

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