Chile Madness

What’s more enticing on a crisp fall day than the smoky-sweet aroma of roasted chiles wafting in the air? So grab your sombreros and come along as we take you to three upscale eateries whose innovative chile creations will have you shouting “Olé!”

Crystal Park Cantina

At Manitou Springs’ Crystal Park Cantina, the Baja-inspired cuisine is the real deal. Owners Anne and Justin Armour spent seven years in the Baja peninsula absorbing Mexican tastes and flavors and couldn’t wait to open a Mexican-style cantina when they returned. One of Anne’s fondest memories in Baja was jumping in their car and following the Mexican farmers’ trucks after picking green chiles in the fields. When the chiles fell off the truck onto the dirt roads, Anne raced out to grab them.

Now, Anne loves taking fresh, seasonal chiles and adding her innovative twist to them. Her jalapeño poppers are instant sell-outs. The spicy-sweet mix of jalapeños, cream cheese, and chorizo causes an explosion of flavors in your mouth. The pork and avocado burrito, made with tender, slow-roasted, pulled pork and guacamole, literally melts in your mouth. Anne uses a combination of two types of green chile to give it that rich, spicy flavor. But don’t ask for the recipe; it’s top secret. Another crowd favorite is the tomatillo alfredo. Adding a creamy alfredo sauce to the tangy tomatillo adds an unexpected richness that’s simply addictive. It’s always standing room only at the Cantina, so plan to come early!

Crystal Park Cantina - 178 Crystal Park Rd., Manitou Springs,                                                  719.685.5999, crystalparkcantina.com

Dos Santos

Dos Santos is not just another taqueria. Inspired by brothers Kris and Jason Wallenta’s two wildly popular Cozumel eateries, it brings the flavors of the Yucatán in every bite. “I don’t think anyone is making tacos the way we do,” Jason says. “This is our style, our culture, and our interpretation.”

Executive Chef Kris, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, is a genius with spices, sauces, and flavors. His creative use of chile peppers adds an innovative touch to his cocktails and cuisine. Order the O.M.F.G. with its chunks of fresh, raw tuna, and you’ll be feeling those salt-sea breezes. Nestled in bib lettuce, the tuna is piled high with cabbage, avocado, poppy seeds, and pickled onions. The addition of a habanero aioli gives it a rich, spicy kick. The Tulum-style shrimp ceviche with succulent butterflied shrimp soars to the next level with a fresh tomato pico de gallo packed with serranos and jalapeños. The green chile margarita, with the addition of Ancho Reyes Verde chile poblano liqueur, offers a unique, smoky flavor with hints of sweetness and spice. Need some spice in your life? Come on down to Dos Santos.

Dos Santos - 70 E. Moreno Ave., 719.645.8069, dossantostacos.com

The Margarita at Pine Creek

For 47 years, the Margarita at Pine Creek has offered guests an oasis of tranquility with fresh, seasonally inspired cuisine that’s bursting with flavor and made with love. At this time of year when the green chiles are at their peak, Executive Chef Eric Viedt enjoys wandering through the Colorado Farm and Art Market, located right on the grounds of the Margarita, and choosing green chiles directly from the representatives at Larga Vista and New Roots farms. “Every year, the chiles are different,” Chef Eric says. “Sometimes they are hot as heck. Depending on the moisture and the weather, they can be little and spicy or bigger and milder.”

One of Chef Eric’s most popular seasonal green chile specialties is his innovative take on a chile relleno: the aged white cheddar polenta–stuffed roasted poblano chile relleno (see sidebar). Topped with a flavorful, roasted yellow corn-ahi amarillo sauce and sprinkled with cotija cheese, it’s hard to beat. In addition, Sunday brunch is always special at the Margarita. Chef Cathy Werle’s green chile huevos rancheros receive rave reviews. “The key to the pork green chili,” Chef Cathy says, “is using roasted Pueblo chiles, diced and simmered with a few aromatics, toasted spices, and a really good homemade stock left from slow-roasting pork shoulder.” For an escape from the ordinary, choose the Margarita at Pine Creek.

The Margarita at Pine Creek - 7350 Pine Creek Rd., 719.598.8667, margaritaatpinecreek.com