The Quest for the Ultimate Green Chile Cheeseburger
By Dan Jones, Inspired by Jim Price, Albuquerque BMW Zs ZSCCA Area Rep
New Mexico is the only state with an official State Question: “Red or Green?” which is asked whether one prefers red or green chile when ordering New Mexican cuisine. To the New Mexico Zed Heds, the NM BMW CCA and ZSCCA owners of multiple generations of BMW ‘Z’ cars, the answer is a resounding “GREEN” when they order a Green Chile Cheeseburger, the Zed Heds’ Holy Grail. Finding the Ultimate Green Chile Cheeseburger somewhere in New Mexico is the focus of the Zed Heds quest.
The Zed Heds count as their own, anyone who owns a BMW Z Series sports car in any generation, including the Z1, Z3, Z4, and Z8. A BMW Z1 would be welcome to the group, but this low-volume, 1989-91 two-seater with plastic body panels and retractable doors that lowered into the bodywork is rarer than rain in New Mexico. Likewise, 1999-2003 BMW Z8s, the V8 sports car designed to evoke the classic styling of the BMW 507, were present but never commonplace in New Mexico. They have all but disappeared now due to the skyrocketing values of these exquisite motorcars.
The 1995-2002 BMW E36/7 Z3s are popular among the Zed Heds and are praised for agile handling, responsive steering, and overall fun-to-drive nature. The Z3 M variants are particularly desirable with either the N52 or N54 engine and a five-speed manual transmission.
While Hagerty is reporting increasing values for Z3s, that is not the case for the 2002-2008 BMW E85 Z4s, making them particularly attractive to New Mexico Chapter members who wish to add a two-seater convertible to their BMW stable. The E86 coupe, on the other hand, is somewhat rare and increasing in value, especially the M variant. The E85/E86s are slightly larger, stiffer, and the rear suspension uses a multi-link design instead of the semi-trailing approach used by the Z3. Automatic as well as five- and six-speed manual transmissions were available, but examples with manual transmissions are now more difficult to find. The Z4 M Coupe/Roadster has the S54 engine, which was on Ward’s 10 Best Engines list for 2001 through 2004.
The second-generation BMW E89 Z4, sold from 2009 to 2016, has a retractable, two-piece, lightweight aluminum hardtop. Unlike the Z3 and first-generation Z4, which were manufactured at Spartanburg in the U.S. the E89 comes from Regensburg, Germany. There are no awesome third-generation BMW G29 Z4s among the Zed Heds yet.
The Zed Heds love their BMW Z cars and enjoy group drives in pursuit of the Ultimate Green Chile Cheeseburger. Last summer, they went to a biker bar in Bibo, NM, to check out the legendary Bibo Green Chile Cheeseburger. The bar was closed, but the group backtracked to Historic Route 66 and the Laguna Pueblo 66 Pit Stop to try the award-winning Laguna Burger.
On a visit to try the Green Chile Cheeseburger at the Mine Shaft Tavern in the coal mining ghost town of Madrid, the group discussed future Zed Hed destinations. Possibilities include the Black Bird Saloon in the gold mining ghost town of Los Cerrillos on the Turquoise Trail Scenic Byway; Cafe Abiquiu in north-central NM, near Georgia O’Keeffe’s iconic home and studio; and the historic Magdalena Hall Hotel Cafe, near the Very Large Array radio telescope on the Plains of San Agustin in central NM. Also mentioned was Sparkys in the green chile “Mecca” of Hatch, NM, but that would involve a long interstate highway drive, and the Zed Heds prefer the backroads to enjoy their BMW Zs.
The group had an opportunity to experience a nice drive on a recent visit to the Original Owl Bar & Cafe in tiny San Antonio, NM. The bar was founded to serve the Manhattan Project workers at the Trinity Site and is the possible origin of the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger. Legend has it that during World War II, the owner of the Owl Bar ran out of dishes to place green chile on the side and just slapped it directly on cheeseburgers. Customers loved it, and the rest is history.
At the Original Owl Cafe, the Zed Heds discussed a rating system for Green Chile Cheeseburgers based on a scale of one to five ‘Z’s, in homage to their beloved BMW Zs. After finishing their Green Chile Cheeseburgers and rating it, the group returned to their BMWs, pausing to glance across the highway at the Buckhorn Tavern, whose Buckhorn Burger was once the winner of the Bobby Flay Throwdown on the Food Network. Perhaps someday, the Buckhorn will also proclaim “Home of the Coveted Zed Hed Five-Z Green Chile Cheeseburger”.