“Women, melons, and cheese should be chosen by weight.” — Spanish proverb
CINCO DE MAYO, a time to pay homage to our neighbors from the south, those with the sun-drenched skin that brings us a unique cuisine to challenge our taste buds. It’s the day we honor the brave Mexican soldiers who, on May 5, 1862 at Puebla, Mexico, defeated a superior French invasion force. We celebrate the day with festivities and dine on an abundance of Mexican fare.
In honor of friends and family of Hispanic descent, most notably my roomie and current spouse, G, and her mother, The Cuda (first name, Bara), I thought I’d comment on muh favorite Mexican eateries. The list includes only those places that offer Mexican fare as their main offerings, not just a few items on their menu. And because I’m nice I’m not gonna say anything bad about any of ‘em ... maybe. I ought to be nice once a year, doncha think? The list is alphabetical.
• 3 MARGARITAS (All over town; www.3margaritasxvi.com):
I’m perty good at searching the web for eateries and stuff, but this one sure has me befuddled. I’m not sure of the correct name, but either 3 Margaritas or 3Margaritas or Three Margaritas are popping up all over the metro area; I can think of five of them right off the bat that has opened in the past several years. The grub is very good, the service is generally very good and they all look different which is kinda good thing. Stop in at one near you.
• ALAMOS VERDES (5304 Vance Street, Arvada, 303-422-5528; www.alamosverdes.com):
The mondongo, chunks of sautéed beef tenderloin with mushrooms, green peppers, and erotic — oops — exotic spices, and some vino, is one of their signature dishes. But all the grub is super delish. And it’s perty. Try the chicken fajitas. Shucks, try all the grub. They’ve been doing it right since 1979. They got this green dessert…and this maavelous Champurrado…
• BANDIDO’S (4550 S. Kipling Street, 303-979-9746):
An old fav for over twenty years, I’m they’re often cuz its five minutes from the office. The food and service are terrific. The burritos are extra yummy. Try the chicharron burrito. I think they may have the best soft chile rellenos in town. Oh, my.
• BENNY’S CANTINA (301 E. 7th Avenue, Denver, 303-894-0788, www.bennysrestaurant.com)
Some of the finest Mexican grub in town. Benny’s been here a month short of forever. The breakfast burrito is killer. Try the tacos al carbon, with flour tortillas. Don’t like dem corn tortillas. The shredded beef here is awsum. The website offers special promos. Right now they’re promoting the awesome giant breakfast burritos on weekends. It’s also open ‘til 10 pm or later every nite.
• BLUE BONNET CAFÉ (457 S. Broadway, Denver, 303-778-0147, www.bluebonnetrestaurant.com):
Been there over 40 years — longer than G and I have been married ceptin G and I can’t agree on how many years. Or maybe it’s just how many good years. It’s all great, but you gonna wait for a table: George and I guarantee it. The Blue Bonnet chimi changa is the best deal in town, and it is NOT deep-fried. Comes with either chicken or grilled sirloin. Heck, it’s all good.
• BREWERY BARS II, III & IV (150 Kalamath Street, 303-893-0971; 9228 Park Meadows Drive, 303-708-9333; 6482 S. Parker Road, 303-699-1544; www.brewerybar3.com):
Usta be you didn’t go at the end of the week cuz the green chili got hotter day by day. Now they’re so busy they make it every day and it’s hot every day. But it’s sooo good! You’ll wait in line unless you’re there b4 11:30 am. The rellenos are killer. There’s a number 2 and number 3 store but they all make the same great product. It’s just a mite hot for some folks but you can ask for the milder version. But the mild version is damn near hotter than anything else in town. Have a cold brew to cool it off. I think BB V, VI and VII are coming any day. BB II is now open Sundays.
• BUENOS AIRES PIZZERIA
(1307-1319 22nd Street, 303-296-6710, www.bapizza.com):
The website sez “A taste of Argentina in Denver!” That of course assumes I want to taste something Argentinean. Not being particularly fond of pizza, I was pleased to note they serve other fare: Sangies (always a fav), empanadas and gelato. Now I luv all three of those foods, but have never seen them in the same restaurant. With or without pizza. The huge menu on line has been up-dated and looks terrific. I’m gonna get some empanadas and gelati. Maybe tonite.
• CAFE DEL SOL (608 Garrison Street, Lakewood, 303-238-7999):
Owned by a coupla Greeks, located in Lakewood, you wouldn’t think the Mexican food is any good. Not true. Primo value and superb food is the rule; this place is no exception. Great Mexican pizza. And a mighty fine bugger, truth be known. Arguably the best fries in town. But Mexican fare is the specialty of the house and it’s all great.
• CASA BONITA (6715 W. Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, 303-232-5115, www.casabonitadenver.com):
Just kidding folks. But if you go, bring your own dinner. A dark chocolate Milky Way bar is always good. Or maybe two or three. The house wine is fine as are the sopaipillas. Last time I was there, they served the food from the dishwashing room window. Yuk! Notice I even listed their website. Take the grandkids…once. Just think of the price of dinner as an admission to a truly fun place, but eat first. It’s a great show. Don’t believe the website when it sez, “Great Mexican food.” I’m not sure its even food, much less Mexican. Don’t know of anyone of Latino descent who would claim it as authentic. Did y’all notice that on their website their “most popular” dinner is their only dinner?
• CHELO’S (2012 Larimer Street, Denver, 303-294-0676):
What was a teeny bakery is now a real eatery but with a limited menu. The food’s wonderful; the prices are very reasonable. Ain’t many tables, but service is first rate, the menu changes daily. They still bake super desserts and breads. Open til 6 pm daily except Sunday. Try the maavelous rellenos or the tortas.
• CHILI VERDE (3700 Tejon Street, Denver, 303-477-1377, www.chiliverde.net):
This new eatery opened last summer serving traditional southern Mexican fare from Puebla, Mexico. The owners brought their parents recipes from Mexico. Those who enjoy ceviche will relish in this restaurant’s presentation. Several critics rave about the dish. While I haven’t been yet, G and I plan on getting here soon. Thinking of the poblano crepes or the chili Verdi plate. G is allergic to cilantro, but everything here is prepared fresh when ordered, so the kitchen can leave this popular spice out of her dish. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday. Since I got a note from Warren Byrne, Mr. Restaurant Yakker, praising this eatery, G and I headed over for dinner. We were blown away by the service and the food. We’ll be back very soon!
• EL JARDIN (6460 E. 73 Avenue, Commerce City, 303-288-3500, www.iloveeljardin.com):
The website leads off with, “You’ll love our food...or it’s free.” Well, they’ve been serving great grub since 1982, so must be some folks luv it. I sure do. Ain’t been in a while but when folks talk about the truly good real stuff, El Jardin is always on the list. And just cuz it’s in Commerce City ain’t no reason not to go. Try the grilled pork chops, the posole or maybe the wondrous pork carnitas. Ever eat dessert in a Mexican restaurant? Most serve very little if anything, but here dessert is the tradition. Go for the chimi ala mode. Serving a huge Mother’s Day buffet brunch.
• EL TEJADO (2651 S. Broadway, Denver, 303-722-3987):
Always busy, the grub is super yummy. The menu is huge. Lots of seafood dishes cuz it’s a specialty of the house. The carne adobada is fab. Service is fast and efficient. Live mariachi music every Sunday noon to 3 pm. You can have your car hand-washed across the street at Alexander’s Hand Car Wash for a moderate fee while dining. They do a terrific job. I’m there most every Saturday. To wash muh car. Check out the new offerings from Colima, Mexico.
• EL TEPEHUAN (3457 S. Broadway, Englewood, 303-781-0243):
Upon the recommendation of muh fab massage therapist — who is fantastic — G and I stopped for dinner one night. Terrific food, inexpensive, and super fast service. There was one waitress and one bus person, but they covered the restaurant without a problem. The staff was friendly and made terrific recommendations. The place is always packed. Read the web reviews — can’t find a bad one.
• EMILIO’S (338 E. Colfax Ave, Denver, 303-953-4694):
Formerly a mobile lunch truck and now in a real store, this low cost Mexican food eatery serves breakfast lunch and dinner 8 a.m. — 8 p.m., Monday thru Saturday, and 8 a.m. — 2.p.m. on Sunday. Stop in or have it delivered. Free delivery within two miles. They specialize in carne asada and crispy rellenos.
• GREGORIO’S (1910 Wadsworth Blvd, Lakewood, 303-462-2400):
This great eatery is not far from home so G and I eat here regularly. Thursday nite is mariachi nite, and the 192-piece orchestra (me exaggerate?) will blow your mind ... and your ear drums if they get too close. The food is superb and service is first rate. They’ll even cook a steak to order and there’s lots of ‘em on the menu. Try the huge, stuffed dessert sopaipilla. Fast Eddie sez the margaritas are dandy. I’m into the steak chili rellenos and G can’t stay away from the carnitas. Neither is ever over-cooked.
• HOLLY INN WEST (3490 Youngfield Street, Wheat Ridge, 303-232-9964):
While some think this is Americanized Mexican fare, I find it authentic, and besides, I luv the marinated spicy shredded taquerito. Portions are large and the margaritas are tasty. Salsa varies from mild to hot depending on what the cook sipped on. The sign now sez La Fonda de Asebo but it’s the same great grub and the hostess still answers the tele Holly West. The names might confuse you but the food won’t. It’s been that way for over forty years.
• JACK ‘N’ GRILL (2524 Federal Blvd, 303-964-9544; 2630 West Belleview Ave, Littleton, 303-474-4242; www.jackngrill.com):
Having arrived from Albuquerque twenty years ago, Jack and Anna Martinez get rave reviews from one and all. I don’t know where to begin cuz all the grub is great. The Rocky Mountain News even listed their bugger (yep, buggers in a Mexican joint) in the Top Ten in Denver. But the green chili is so good I don’t have a bugger. Well, not all the time. The second location opened a few months ago.
• TAMALES DE LA CASITA (3561 Tejon Street, Denver, 303-477-2899):
Paul Sandoval serves the world’s best tamales. During the holidays, you gotta order weeks ahead. Paul tore down the old place and built a new, full service restaurant. So now, you can try their other fine food. Try it, you’ll like it. No, you’ll love it. G goes there all the time and never takes me any more. The other restaurant at 44th and Tennyson is now a vacant lot with a sign that sez the restaurant will be rebuilt on the site. Someday.
• LA FOGATA (5670 E. Evans Avenue, 303-753-9458; 8090 E. Quincy Avenue, 720-974-7315; 16600 Washington Street, Thornton, 303-252-5530; www.la-fogata.com):
A first store is in a small but very popular eatery in an unappealing building since 1990. The second store opened some years ago on that street where the numbers are all screwed up, in the mall just north of the Tamarac exit off of I-225. But the kitchen and staff are definitely not screwed up cuz they serve great grub in a fast and efficient mode. The latest store is in Thornton. Check em all out.
• LA SANDIA (8340 East 49 Avenue, 303-373-9100; 8419 Park Meadows Drive, 303-586-5511; www.modernmexican.com):
Famed chef Richard Sandoval’s second eatery in Denver, located in Northfield Center off of Quebec, this upscale eatery has some of the most unusual Mexican fare not found elsewhere in Colorado. If you love Tamayo, you’ll love this place as well. The third storein town opened in the Vistas at Park Ghetto Mall. The dude’s even got an eatery in Dubai.
• LOS DOS POTRILLOS (8251 S. Holly Street, Centennial, 720-529-0299)
LOS DOS POTRILLOS NO 2 (10065 West San Juan Way, Littleton, 303-948-1552; www.losdospotrillos.net):
On my first visit, the purple booths scared me, but the first bite of a chile relleno told me that I was home. I don’t get down to that area as often as I like. One of the very best shredded beef burritos in town: nice and spicy. Their second store opened in South Jeffco a few months back and the new place is huge and gorgeous. Secondo and muh sometimes fav Daughter-In-Law eat there regularly cuz it’s sooo good. Open 7 days, 9 to 9.
• MARIA ELENA’S (999 Wadsworth Blvd, Lakewood, 303-239-8952):
Mexican fast food at its best, ‘ceptin no shredded beef. It’s all order at the counter, set your butt down and pig out or take-out stuff. No Bud, no Coors: no beer. Sure is good.
I’m told their breakfast burritos are the best in town.
• RED TANGO – BISTRO LATINO (5807 West 38 Avenue, Wheat Ridge, 303-420-2203):
A set of cozy rooms, white linen napkins and some of the friendliest service in town almost makes this a fine eatery. But it’s the grub that completes the deal. The menu is different from most eateries. Cheese empanadas, ceviche, fresh salmon, roast pork, empanadas and a variety of other dishes show off the talent of the chef-owners. Try the potato latkes — don’t know why they’re on the menu but what the heck? No Web site yet.
• SABOR LATINO (4340 W. 35th Avenue,
While the menu is more South American than Mexican, its close enuf for horseshoes, so try it out. Still, some of the friendliest service and the finest food from Mexico, Chili, Spain, Columbia and the Caribbean. The flan is good, the empanadas very, and the paella great, but the latter is only available Friday and Saturday nite. Read about this hard-to-find dish on their website menu.
• SENOR BURRITO’S (12 East 1st Avenue, 303-733-0747; 2553 N. Kipling Street, Lakewood, 303-202-1185):
They put potatoes in all the burritos unless you tell ‘em otherwise, and the prices are abit high, but the food is sure good. Try the burrito adovada or the fantastic chile relleno.
• TACOS JALISCO (4309 West 38 Avenue, 303-458-1437):
This place is hot stuff! Fabulous french fries smothered with green chili, super tamales and lots more. This is a great addition to the Mexican dining scene. Menu is huge. Great soups. Even the chips and salsa are yummy. Raves from Bon Appetit Magazine shows their strength.
• TAFOLINO’S (2001 Youngfield Street, Lakewood, 303-232-5118; 1901 Youngfield Street, Lakewood, 303-237-3165; www.tafolinos.com):
Fantastic shredded beef and shredded chicken burritos smothered red or green. The ultra popular chili rellenos are as good as any in town and you can have them soft or crispy. G has a coupla super-size margaritas and a giant platter of grub, bout ten bucks worth, and I get to drive home. Watch out for the hot chili. It’s HOT. Check out the fab Burrito Pablano. Owners Juan and Josie Tafoya still watch over the staff — even when they’re hiding out of town. The Shadow knows…
• TAMAYO (1400 Larimer Street. Denver, 720-946-1433; www.modernmexican.com):
The menu here is upscale southwestern fare. The place is always packed. They offer lots of fresh seafood and other elegant fare. The guacamole is the best I’ve had, as are the house-made chips that accompany them. One of Richard Sandoval’s many modern Mexican restaurants — I guess that’s where the Web site name came from. Duh? I’m not just any dummy.
SOME OLD FAVORITES are gone from the list cuz I ain’t been in a while and I don’t hear anything about ‘em and there are many new ones that need to be mentioned. I noticed that I raved about the chili rellenos at a number of restaurants. I didn’t realize I like them at that many eateries. Why don’t you send me your fav, and tell if you like soft or crispy — I’m a soft fella myself. If I left out your favorite, drop me a line; send me a bill of fare. Tell me what you like and what you don’t like. But most of all enjoy the festivities of this grand day. Tenga un gran día!
Jay Fox covers the food beat for The Colorado Statesman. He can be reached at Jay@jayfoxcpa.com.