I love Frito Pie. I know I just lost most of my audience with those opening words, but I can't help but be drawn to this simple dish of corn chips covered in chile and topped with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese. For those of you still with me, hear me out: I think I may have found the best Frito Pie in the state of Colorado.
In my past journeys I have pondered the origins of the Frito Pie, so I won't bore you with that now except to say that there is a good chance it is a descendant of the Mexican chilaquiles. I will, however, tell you a story that you may or may not find funny, depending on how much you know and care about obscure iconic regional ethnic dishes. Years ago when my wife and I were in New Mexico we stopped at a roadside taco stand and were surprised to see chilaquiles on the menu. While my Mexican wife pondered her order, the pimply-faced kid behind the counter asked what she was deciding between. When she told him, he responded, in his deep New Mexican Chicano drawl, that the chilaquiles were pretty good. "In fact," he told her to give her a frame of reference, "they're kinda like a Frito Pie, but with tortilla chips." My wife smiled, and told him that this indeed was what she would order.
This story is funny because chilaquiles most certainly came first. My point is that the Frito Pie, however silly this may sound, is a deeply-rooted and classic piece of New Mexican and therefore American cuisine. I have written several times about Frito Pies in Colorado, and I really think that to enjoy a proper Frito Pie in our great state, you must journey south of Denver into the San Luis Valley towards New Mexico, or that is, into Frito Pie Country.
That brings me back around to where I started. On a recent road trip to Santa Fe, I found the best Frito Pie in Colorado at G6, a roadside stand in the town of Antonito, CO, the last bastion of colorful Colorado civilization going south on 285 into New Mexico.
It is not readily apparent that there is actually a name to this anonymous walk-up eatery. There is no sign anywhere on the building and there is no advertising on the highway coming into town (a good sign of course). But the parking lot has always been full in the times I have passed by, and there are always plenty of people waiting in line or eating on the picnic benches under the side awning. The only indication that you are eating at G6 is the iron screen door that guards the side entrance to the kitchen, where the mark of this family's cattle branding iron is displayed humbly in the center.
This time around we ordered a green chile and a red. I always think that red chile is a better option when choosing a Frito Pie topping, and most places will default to red if you don't specify. The green here was good, and came with a layer of refried beans on the bottom, which was a nice touch to the more watery green chile. But the star was clearly the red.
A common problem with Frito Pies is the salt-factor, oftentimes being way too salty. It makes sense, as most places don't think about easing up on the salt in the chile in order to compliment the Fritos, which have about 150% of your recommended daily allowance on their own. At G6, the red chile is salted just enough so that when poured over the Fritos, the resulting combination does not overwhelm the palate (though they do throw in a couple salt packets for those determined to raise their blood pressure). Instead, you are left to savor what is a delicious chile con carne: thick and rich in texture, smoky and sweet in taste, with a wonderful mild heat at the finish.
There is also plenty of chile in this Frito Pie. Many Frito Pies leave you with a few stray, dry Fritos and no sauce left to dip them in. At G6, there is more than enough chile and the Fritos are perfectly soggy but still hold a nice texture, which is of course why this thick and processed food-product is the perfect chip for the job.
For those of you who made it through this post with me, you now know have read more than you thought possible about this great dish. I truly do love Frito pies; not only for the taste, the perfect combinations of contrasts that are the crunch and soggy, the fresh toppings and the not-so-fresh corn chips; but also for the tradition and the culture it represents. And I love places like G6, where locals frequent, signs and advertising are unnecessary and the simple, straightforward food is cheap, hearty and good.
Don't speed through Antonito next time you are headed South on 285 because you will miss G6 at 210 Main St, 719.376.5520. Then again, you might miss it anyway. Look for the red and white hamburger stand on the East side of the road at the South end of town. And don't speed through the Northern part of New Mexico either. Stupid speed limit is 55mph, and even when they drop the violation to 5 mph over, it still rings in at a lofty $76.
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