We didn’t go looking for the Little Red Hamburger Hut (1501 Mountain Rd. NW, Albuquerque, 505-304-1819). We just stumbled across it when we were on our way to the Golden Crown Panadería (also on Mountain Road) for breakfast. Like road runners and skinks (about the only other critters out in the August sun in Albuquerque), we were on foot.
Call us suckers for graphic art, but the six-foot-wide rendering of a double burger with red chile sauce would have been enough to hook us. Then we saw the dancing chile peppers. Various signs proclaimed the Little Red Hamburger Hut as the home of the red chile hamburger. Hey, it would only be lunch. What was there to lose? The posted hours were a little confusing, but the most recent revision suggested noon to around 8 p.m. on the day we were there.
After breakfast, we walked back up Mountain Road to the Albuquerque Museum at the edge of Old Town and killed a couple of hours until we could eat again.
That’s unfair. While the museum’s local history section is perhaps of more interest to residents than visitors, its art holdings are pretty terrific—including a great contemporary weaving by the Santa Fe Hopi weaver Ramona Sakiestewa. We weren’t the only ones with food on our minds. There was an excellent painting from the 1930s of a (probably) fictional Chili Queen Restaurant. It was karmic proof that wherever you look in New Mexico, you’re likely to encounter chile cuisine.
The proof is on the plate—or in the basket
We have to admit that we were just as smitten by Little Red’s once we got inside. It was the kind of greasy spoon lunch place that seemed to scream “only in Albuquerque.” The menu is limited to hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. The burgers are offered on buns or in taco shells with lettuce and tomato. The taco versions only come with red chile. The bun versions can be ordered with green chile instead. We got one of each, but both with red chile, since that’s the sauce that the establishment is named for. The taco version was a nice variant, since the shell provided some crunch and a good corn flavor. We ordered lemonade fountain drinks. That was a good choice, since the acidity of the lemon helps tame the heat of the chile sauce. The beef in the burgers was fine, but the sauce proved to be the real star.
Here’s our basic recipe for New Mexico-style red sauce. Level of heat depends on which chiles you use. In the stores, ground chile comes labeled as hot or mild. It’s best to buy one of each and make a blend to suit your palate. At farmers’ markets, ground chile may carry the name of the area where it was grown. Hint: chiles from Chimayó are almost always very hot. The recipe can be doubled or quadrupled to make a larger batch.
NEW MEXICO RED CHILE SAUCE
2 teaspoons lard (or corn oil)
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup ground New Mexico chile
1 1/2 cups water
salt to taste
In a heavy covered pan (a cast iron skillet is perfect if you have a lid), heat the lard over low heat until melted and add the onion and garlic. Sweat the onion and garlic slowly—about 20 minutes—to bring out the sweetness. Try not to brown them.
Add the ground chile and water. Raise heat to medium and simmer for a half hour or more until sauce is medium-thin consistency. Season lightly with salt.