The aroma alone is worth the price of admission.
Beefy men turn the chile roasters. Sparks shoot out, flames tickling the sweet, spicy fragrance out of the fruit. The cylindrical grills glow hot white and orange in the dark, and the light gives a mythical cast to the men who tend the fires. You can almost smell their chiles from Colorado Springs.
This is what lures more than 140,000 visitors annually from the Front Range and beyond to the Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary Sept. 20-22 in the historic downtown of Colorado’s Steel City. What autumn leaves are to New England, chiles are to Pueblo: the definitive rite of the season. Always the third weekend after Labor Day, the festival coincides with chile harvest.
Not surprising, you’ll find the chiles everywhere in the fest: in jams, salsas, ice cream, spirits, beer. But if you’re a purist like I am, you’ll find a vendor selling a chile wrap—just a hot roasted chile, with a little cheese inside a soft tortilla. Ohhhh, yeah.
Buy a bushel or a half a bushel, and you’ll be a star chef all year long. And the festival can help you with that.
“Our culinary demonstrations have been really popular,” says Donielle Kitzman, vice president of the Visit Pueblo and Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re spicing it up this year with a new Chile Culinary Academy.”
The academy, run by Pueblo Community College’s award-winning culinary department, will walk you through some tasty recipes and give tips on storing your sacks of chile so they stay spicy for months. Unfortunately, some masochistic chile eaters take their love of chile too far. For them, there’s the Jalapeno Eating Contest, where entrants punish their bodies by eating dozens of chiles while crowds cheer.
“Everybody loves a train wreck,” Kitzman says.
Another increasingly popular event is the Chihuahua Parade. Folks dress up their Chihuahuas for a costume contest (sombreros are a popular accessory—surprise, surprise), because there apparently are no laws against it. Just show up with your pup and $5, and you’re in. There’s even a category for Chihuahua wannabes, where all breeds are welcome. At every corner of the street festival, you’ll find a couple of entertainment stages. Sixty acts, mostly bands, will perform during the three days.
My favorite memory from last year was stumbling upon the Tejano tent. A hot band with about a dozen brass instruments was playing for a huge audience that would not sit down. Grandmothers danced with grandchildren, couples were cheek to cheek, and everybody sang along in Spanish. I love Pueblo.
Insider Tips: Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival
Sept. 20-22, 2019
Find easy parking.
The construction is finally done, and the parking lot for the newly expanded Pueblo Convention Center (why don’t we have one of these?) will be open at 320 Central Main Street.
Explore the new convention center.
Including its Pueblo welcome center, Professional Bull Riders Fan Zone and more.
Take in Pueblo.
Why not make a day or weekend of it? Take a boat on the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk (how can we get one?), right next to the festival. Do some boating, hiking or biking at Lake Pueblo State Park 10 minutes west of the festival. Explore farm stalls and take your kids on a tractor ride 10 minutes east of the festival.
Eat a slopper.
It’s Pueblo’s signature dish. (Why don’t we have one?!) A hamburger patty in a bowl, smothered in green chile. My favorite is at Grey’s Coors Tavern.
Download the app.
The Visit Pueblo App will walk you through everything delightful around town, including pointing to some of the best Italian and Mexican joints in Colorado. (We do have one of these apps, thankfully!)