Five o’clock finally rolled around, and it was time for the restaurant to open. We were standing at the front door the moment it opened, and got the first table of the evening. The waitress already knew who we were, and verified that I wanted the chile relleno platter. I asked if we could shoot some video of the preparation, and without hesitation she declined. She said their recipe was a family secret that they would not share under any circumstances. That’s what I wanted to hear. She took our orders and disappeared into the kitchen. While we were waiting I looked closely at the menu, and started to understand what made this dish different. First I noticed they used Hatch green chiles instead of Poblano or Anaheim chiles. I was familiar with the unique, complex flavor of the Hatch chile and immediately thought it might be a perfect fit. The other unique aspect was that they used Hatch chiles in the salsa verde. I started to think about the reputation surrounding this dish. If it was anything short of perfection it would be a terrible disappointment. I had a few tortilla chips and some water to make sure my palate was as clean as possible, and then waited for what seemed like forever.
The waitress finally emerged with our food. The only way I could describe the anticipation would be similar to if you were slightly intoxicated, in a biker bar, and everyone there was telling you how great the food was for two hours. It was like that, but worse. She set the plate in front of me, and like any good foodie the first thing I did was take a picture. It was the most beautiful mess of Mexican food I had ever seen! You could just barely see the fried egg batter beneath the pool of salsa verde and cheese. There was only one thing left to do. Inhale this culinary masterpiece and try to taste it on the way down. The first bite was divine! I made sure to include all of the components to gauge the balance of flavors. I could tell right away that they used spicy Hatch green chiles, which gave it just the right amount of bite. The cheese blend on top and inside was exceptional. I could tell they used cheddar and Monterey Jack, but the taste was so robust there had to be another white cheese that I couldn’t pick out. The chiles were extraordinarily fresh. Very fresh roasted chiles are easy to identify. There’s a crispness to the flesh that you can’t get from fresh frozen chiles, and the pungency is unmistakable. The salsa verde was good enough to eat alone. I could probably spend an entire day just standing over the simmering pot and basking in the aroma. I didn’t even want to look at the refried beans or the rice. This was too good to ruin with side dishes. Each bite was followed by a drink of water or beer. There was no way I was going to reduce the character of the chiles with back to back bites. I wanted to find flaws. I wanted to say I’ve tasted better, but I couldn’t fool myself or anyone else. It lived up to the hype. There are very few meals that I would say I could eat every day for the rest of my life, but this was one. I spent the time after dinner back in the bar reminiscing with everyone about my meal like it was a dearly departed old friend. Whether or not I found the best chile rellenos on the planet is debatable. However that evening in La Mesa, New Mexico; I experienced relleno nirvana.