I was sitting at the bar at Taqueria del Sol (2165 Cheshire Bridge Rd., 404-321-1118, taqueriadelsol.com), feasting on my favorite dish there, only available six weeks of the year. At the end of the bar, I heard a woman ask the perennial question raised by the delicate of palate: “Is it spicy? Will it burn my mouth?”
The man behind the bar began an instant poll of those of us eating the dish, repeatedly asking, “How spicy is it? Medium or hot?” Everyone answered medium.
The scary dish was a chile relleno, but these are not made with the usual poblano peppers. They are made with Hatch green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico. They come to the table fried with a thin, crispy-like panko coating, stuffed with a luscious, melting white cheese, served over a small pool of a roasted-tomato sauce. Every year, Taqueria del Sol buys a couple thousand pounds of the infamously delicious chiles during the annual August-September harvest. Chef Eddie Hernandez incorporates them in regular, changing specials for six weeks. He also freezes a lot of them for dishes later in the year. But nothing compares to the fresh ones.
What’s so good about them? The Hatch is a long, relatively narrow chile with an unusually intense flavor that holds up quite well to roasting, not yielding all its taste and texture to other ingredients. Many chile rellenos you find around town turn into virtual mush even when made with the usual poblanos. And, yes, Hatch chiles do come with a nice blast of spicy heat. You can’t always predict the heat’s intensity, but I don’t recall ever eating a super-spicy one in my many years of appearing at the bar several times a week to eat them.
The Hatch chile relleno is not on the regular menu. A few signs are posted that they are available, evenings only, making them kind of an open secret. They’re about $5 each and you can easily make a meal of two of them, especially if you get some chips and salsa to start or a side, like my favorite corn and shrimp chowder.
Now, if you want to taste the Hatch chiles cooked in numerous ways, you need to attend the madcap Foxeria del Sol Hatch Chile Fest (4-8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28). Co-sponsored by Fox Bros. B-B-Q, it’s held in the large parking lot in front of Taqueria del Sol’s Westside location (1200 Howell Mill Rd.).
The menu of about 15 dishes is insane. The most compelling to me, besides the chile rellenos is the smoked pork-belly steamed bun with Hatch tomatillo jam and pork cracklins. There are green-chile cheeseburger sliders, green-chile jambalaya, and a short-rib taco with Hatch chile slaw. On the sweet side you’ll find peach and Hatch chile kolache, assorted chile cookies, and a fried Hatch chile and apple pie.
Tickets are $30 and entitle you to eat your heart out. Alcohol drinks are separate. I do encourage you to buy tickets immediately on xorbia.com. I also suggest you show up early. The last one I went to a few years back was like trying to get some grub amid a plague of locusts.
Finally, be aware this madness is a benefit for Hogs for the Cause, an annual fundraising barbecue competition and music festival that raises money for families with children fighting pediatric brain cancer.
(Cliff Bostock is a former psychotherapist now specializing in life coaching. Contact him at 404-518-4415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)