Red or green? Hot or mild? These questions can only describe one thing: New Mexico chile. And the best New Mexican chile can be found in the Mesilla Valley.
Only in Las Cruces will you find the Chile Pepper Institute – the world’s only international, nonprofit organization devoted to education and research of chile peppers. Travelers can tour the institute’s public Teaching Garden, where 150 of the world’s hottest chiles from around the world are grown. The Chile Pepper Institute Teaching Garden is open seven days a week from June to October. To take a piece of the institute home, visitors can purchase chile seeds, food items and other merchandise in the visitors center and gift shop on the New Mexico State University campus.
Some of the most authentic Mexican food north of the border can be found in the Mesilla Valley, which was once part of Mexico itself. Taste for yourself on the city’s new salsa trail, whose 26 participating restaurants were voted on by local experts. Visitors can download a Las Cruces Salsa Experience trail map at www.VisitLasCruces.com.
To sample the other flavors of the Mesilla Valley, don’t miss the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, a major attraction in the area. What began as a small gathering of local farmers in 1971 has evolved into the “No. 1 Large Farmers Market in the Nation,” as named in America’s Farmland Trust’s 2011 prestigious nationwide poll. The market today comprises more than 300 vendors across seven city blocks on downtown Main Street, selling local foods and produce, arts and crafts, jewelry and other handmade items. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
It may surprise wine lovers to learn that New Mexico – not California – is the nation’s oldest wine-growing region. The first vines in New Mexico were planted in 1629, well before the first California vines in 1769. Today, New Mexico’s sunny climate, cool high-desert nights and ideal soil produce award-winning wines, many of them from the Las Cruces area. One such producer is Rio Grande Vineyard & Winery, whose 10-acre vineyard contains 12 European grape varieties. Travelers can visit Rio Grande’s tasting room Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays or by appointment six days per week.
For craft beer lovers, Pecan Grill & Brewery is a must, offering 12 craft brews that speak to a variety of palates. From smooth, malty lagers to hoppy IPAs and chocolaty stouts, the menu include specialties like the Las Cruces Lager, Aggie Amber Ale and Green Chile Ale. Another local pub specializing in craft beers is High Desert Brewing Company, whose 27 handcrafted, small-batch ales and lagers are produced on site. High Desert visitors can even take their favorite brews home with them.
Las Cruces Culinary Attractions
Chile Pepper Institute Visitors Center and Gift Shop
Gerald Thomas Hall, Room 265
945 College Ave.
The Chile Pepper Institute Teaching Garden is open seven days a week, June to October, at 113 W. University Ave.
Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market
Downtown Main Street
Rio Grande Vineyard & Winery
5321 Highway 28 (at mile marker 25)
Pecan Grill & Brewery
500 S. Telshor Blvd.
High Desert Brewing Company
1201 W. Hadley Ave.