First, a little about the Hatch Chile. The Hatch is not actually a variety of pepper but is a term used to describe peppers of several different varieties grown in the Hatch, New Mexico area. The variations are given names such as Big Jim, Joe Parker, Sandia, and others.
These peppers are grown in southern New Mexico around the tiny town of Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World.
Attracting over 30,000 visitors from all over the United States, the Hatch Chile Festival was an event I knew I had to check out for myself.
Located off Interstate 25, between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences (a town named after the old NBC Radio show of the same name), the Village of Hatch population is registered at around 1,600 people. It’s a small town with a big personality.
After crossing over a small bridge that takes you over the Rio Grande, you immediately become aware that the entire town smells like roasting chiles. Everything in the village is about the chiles when it’s Labor Day weekend. The traffic may be heavy along the main street into town, but the slow drive gives you the opportunity to view all the eclectic little shops selling their chile pepper creations.
Check out the roof Hatch Chile Express. Yes, those are all chilies, drying in the sun.
Or this guy, showing off his prized green chile.
One famous hot spot in town is Sparky’s Burgers. Having one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the world, Sparky’s also has colorful, over-the-top, Route 66 style decor: giant burger toting statues, colorful murals, and live music makes dining here an event. During the Hatch Festival, the wait here can be up to two hours. Get there early or visit when it’s not festival time.
Signs will lead you through town to the festival, along with the tell-tale line of cars.
The event is held slightly outside of the main town at the Hatch Municipal Airport, one mile west.
It can be quite hot out there! When walking around the vendor booths, there isn’t much relief from the sun. I would recommend wearing a hat, load up on sunscreen, and you may even want an umbrella for some shade.
Many of the vendors offer local arts and crafts, but the main reason for the event is to celebrate and purchase from the harvest of chiles. You can get bags of roasted or fresh chiles, and jars of salsa each vendor has prepared.
The roasters go non-stop all day. Most vendors will let you taste their chile before buying. Some offer Mild, Medium, Hot & X-tra Hot varieties.
Here’s a video of one of the vendors roasting chiles. In the late Summer, you can see these roasters working outside of many local grocery stores all over New Mexico.
If you love ristras, the strings of chiles you’ve likely spotted all over New Mexico, then this is the place for you. I’ve never seen so many at one time. Besides just being beautiful, ristras serve a practical purpose. This arrangement of drying chili pepper pods preserves the peppers for later use.
The ristra is somewhat of a trademark of decorative design in the state of New Mexico.
Many vendors in town and at the festival have gorgeous ristras ready for purchase. The typical price is $12 – $15 for a one foot strand, and about $15 – $20 for a two foot ornament.
There is a large covered barn where the main stage is located. You can grab a seat, take in the shade and enjoy the day’s entertainment lineup.
You’ll find more vendors in the barn as well.
The annually-themed festival T-shirt will be on sale.
If you’re feeling parched, some much-welcome, locally-crafted, cold beer is served up in an enclosed area. Beer cannot be taken outside of this zone, but it does have tables and chairs within view of the stage. The festival is not a “walk around with a beer” event, but there are many vendors selling fresh lemonade, tasty teas, sodas, and bottled water.
The barn is also home to a ristra making demonstration area which takes place every couple hours throughout the day.
The Festival has the feeling of a county fair, but with our favorite obsession as the centerpiece. There’s plenty of great food to be had: roasted corn, funnel cakes, caramel corn, plus many authentic Mexican offerings. There is a carnival midway for the kids featuring all the classic rides and games.
The Hatch Chile festival was a must-attend event for me and could be the perfect spicy finish to a hot summer for any chile fan.