Chasing Chile: Pueblo’s Infamous Green Chile and Sloppers

in Chili/Cooking/Recipes/Food by
President Obama at Romero’s Cafe eating Pueblo style green chile in 2012. Photo courtesy ABC.

A native once told me when I moved to Pueblo about a decade ago, that Pueblo is a true melting pot. We all become “part hispanic” with time, due to our amazingly diverse, mixed culture, she explained. A part of how newcomers “melt” into our culture is by going out to eat often, like locals do, enjoying our unique cuisine at various restaurants.

While Puebloeans love to wine and dine at the many “up and coming” new fashionable restaurants downtown, which includes a fabulous French cafe, an Indian restaurant rated the best online for travelers and a new wine bar along the Riverwalk, they also whole heartedly support their locally owned, historic restaurants, that might be labeled “dives” by those who don’t know better. 

If you are lucky, when you first move to or visit Pueblo, you’ll  find a local kind enough to “initiate” you into our local culture by sharing where you can go (aka, those dive type of restaurants) to find the best of what our city is most famous for: green chile and sloppers. Most Puebloeans will kindly share with you types of places they frequent, that aren’t usually featured in our local tourist guides, but are some of the best spots to eat in our city.

Pueblo gets knocked down for a lot of things, but one think we can’t be dissed for is what we are famous for statewide and nationally: local green chili, 0ur unique sloppers and our growing annual chile fest, where visitors travel from all over the United States to get a taste of Pueblo. Even President Barack Obama explored Pueblo’s local culture and cuisine in his 2012 trip to Pueblo, and was featured in the national news, for bypassing the chain restaurants and stopping in at Romero’s Cafe, a locally owned mexican restaurant, and having a smothered green chili lunch (photo of Obama with the Romeros). 

When ordering his breakfast, Obama is said to have told the restaurant’s staff, “You better take the onions out because I’m going to be kissing babies,” in reference to a campaign event scheduled for later that day.

There are things to know about Pueblo’s famous “green chile” that locals smother on just about everything, including our famous sloppers, including that the chili is not green. That’s because red tomatoes are mixed with chile peppers, pork and onions to create the soupy sauce that our city is famous for. Our locally grown green chili’s are so famous that thousands pack in from all of the state and country to get a taste of Pueblo at our annual Chili Fest, where local farmers roast and sell chile peppers to an eager public. 

A hand written version of the story of how the “slopper” originated

It’s always fun to research the history of what makes our city unique. And our local “sloppers,” that originate here, are right on top of the “all things to know about Pueblo” list. Various forms of our local slopper recipes have been replicated at restaurants from Denver to New York. Either created at Gray’s Coors Tavern or the Star Bar in Pueblo some 40-odd years ago (which restaurant first served the slopper is disputed), the original slopper is made up of two open-faced cheeseburgers placed in a bowl, with a ladleful of Pueblo green chili smothering them and a sprinkle of raw onions.

This shirt at Greys Coors Tavern says “home of the original slopper”

According to Grays Coors Tavern, the slopper originated there in the 1950s, when the tavern was called Johnnie’s Coors Tavern. The name slopper is said to have derived from a comment by a customer named Herb Casebeer, the owner of Herb’s Sport Shop, who told one of two brothers who owned the tavern, Johnnie Greco, that he wanted his burger smothered in chili like the way he had it at home, where his family called it a “slopper.” A local hand wrote this version of the story (pictured here). 

However, Juan Espinosa, a retired local journalist, reported another version of the story, saying that “Herb” was dissatisfied with the amount of chili on his chiliburger, and to quell Herb, the staff covered it in chili (probably intended as an exaggerated and exasperated maneuver), and the “sloppy” burger became Pueblo’s celebrated new menu item. 

Today over 25 restaurants and taverns in Pueblo serve some variation of the slopper. The Sunset Inn, rather than serving the slopper open faced, serves their burgers enclosed in a bun like a sandwich, then tops it with shredded cheese and hot green chile. 

It is primarily because of our original sloppers, that Pueblo has received a lot of attention in recent years for our food scene.  Pueblo was once rated tenth on Livability’s list of “Surprising Food Cities”, and was also featured by the Travel Channel, which came through town pitting two variations of the city’s culinary crown jewel against one another for its Food Wars series, where Gray’s Coors Tavern and the Sunset Inn duked it out. 

Here are pictures of the sloppers from Grays Coor Tavern, the Sunset Inn and others who have variations on their menus. Enjoy!

Greys Coors Tavern slopper
Sunset Inn slopper
Musso’s restaurant slopper
The Hangar slopper
Coyote Grill bowl of green chili which can be smothered on a burger
Cactus Flower slopper
Gold Dust Saloon slopper

Pueblo Magazine’s Jenny Paulson is a 20 year veteran niche magazine publisher, an independent journalist, photographer, publisher, blogger, activist, world traveler and a proud mom. She has worked as a political activist, for a lobbyist, a pr firm, the governor and for a representative in Washington DC. She has lived in her home of Pueblo, CO for just over a decade.

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