Second Helpings

It's not gravy-like green, but Chile Billy turns out some worthy green chile

Green chile-heads, I've noticed, divide into a couple of camps when it comes to debating who makes this city's best version of a food that graces just about every Mexican restaurant's menu in town: half swear by the Colorado-style gravy-like green; the others won't touch it if it's not in the chile-forward fashion most closely associated with New Mexico.

Personally, I've got room in my heart for both versions, which is why I was so eager to try the chile hawked by Chile Billy, a street cart that hit the pavement last year and recently took up regular residence on the corner of 16th and Boulder streets in the Lower Highland neighborhood Wednesday through Friday.

Owner Bill Yalch is a Pittsburgh native, so he's an unlikely candidate for turning out good green. But the guy became obsessed with New Mexico-style chile while traveling frequently to the southwest and took it upon himself to learn the secret to cooking up his own batch. Once he mastered it, he hit the streets, using his special recipe to smother everything from burritos to sausages as well as offering up a trough of the stuff.

I sought Chile Billy out during one of his regular stops at Denver Beer Co., ordering just a bowlful of chile, which came in a styrofoam box with a couple of warm, griddled flour tortillas on the side. It was immediately clear that Yalch's research and obsessing paid off. He makes a thick version of pork-infused green; the earth and smoke from roasted Hatch green chiles mixes with the nip of onions and zing of cumin.

Best of all, the chile packs some wicked heat, the type that caused me to take bigger and bigger bites in my attempt to put out the fire, only to surrender when I was about to asphyxiate. Luckily, after spooning it up became too much, the lard-packed tortillas gave me an ideal way to mitigate the burn.

I also tried the chile on a Continental sausage, which came slit down the middle and packed with melted cheddar. That was also a good vessel for the green -- especially because it played up the porkiness -- but I think I prefer the chile in its pure, unadulterated glory.

Any way you want it, though, it's definitely worth seeking out.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk

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