By Jenny Paulson – A native once told me when I moved to Pueblo just over a decade ago, that Pueblo is a true melting pot. Sooner or later we all become “part Latino” 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 and food trucks.
If you are lucky, when you first move to or visit Pueblo, you’ll find a true Puebloean 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, which aren’t always featured in local guides or at the top of review websites and apps, but are some of the best spots to eat in our city.
Various versions of the slopper and Pueblo-style food is available at many “up and coming” and fashionable restaurants throughout town, as are other gourmet food choices at the hip places locals like to frequent, including a fabulous French cafe, a top rated Indian restaurant, a European style cafe, several breweries and several new hip joints along the Riverwalk. But most Pueblo natives have long whole heartedly supported their locally owned, historic restaurants, that might be labeled “dives” by those who don’t know better.
Pueblo gets knocked down for a lot of things, but one thing our town can’t be dissed for is what we are famous for statewide and nationally: our fabulous local chile, our unique-to-Pueblo sloppers and our growing annual Chili Fest, where thousands 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, bypassing both chain and high end restaurants, stopping instead at Romero’s Cafe, a locally owned Pueblo-style Mexican restaurant, having a true local smothered green chile lunch with Mr. Chile himself, Robert Romero (locally famous for his homemade award winning chile).
When ordering his breakfast, Obama told the restaurant’s staff, according to ABC news, “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 here in Pueblo.
There are things to know about Pueblo’s famous chile that locals smother on just about everything, including our famous sloppers, including that green chile is not totally 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 chiles 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.
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 was made up of two open-faced cheeseburgers placed in a bowl, with a ladleful of Pueblo green chile smothering them and a sprinkle of raw onions.
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 chile like the way he had it at home, where his family called it a “slopper.”
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 chile (probably intended as an exaggerated and exasperated maneuver), and the “sloppy” burger became Pueblo’s celebrated new menu item.
Today over 30 restaurants, taverns and food trucks in Pueblo serve some variation of the slopper. The Sunset Inn, rather then 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 green chile and original sloppers, that Pueblo has received more 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 jewels against one another for its Food Wars series, where Gray’s Coors Tavern and the Sunset Inn duked it out.
Pueblo has about 250 restaurants to choose from about about 30 food trucks, some of which are becoming very popular in the local food scene. To learn more about Pueblo’s local food scene join Authentic Pueblo Eats and Pueblo Food Truck Scene on Facebook and check out our food and restaurant sections at www.PuebloMag.com.
Photos of Obama at Romero’s Cafe, courtesy ABC, the shirt at Grey’s Coors Tavern saying “home of the original slopper” and an old story.