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MOUTHING OFF

Get it while it's hot: Now here's reason to celebrate. So far, the section of Larimer Street up near Coors Field--now known as the Ballpark Neighborhood--has managed to keep its classic character relatively intact. While nearby LoDo is suffering through the invasion of the insipid sports bar, the only new (reincarnated, actually) bar on Larimer is a real gem. In the past year Larry Wright, a veteran of the Manhattan Cafe, has managed to turn the legendary dive Herb's Hideout into a true late-night hangout for urbane urbanites. Even the normal NoDo (or no-dough) denizens who occasionally stumble in seem impressed by the change.

For most of the other Larimer joints, though, it's business as usual--even during these unusual times. Forty years into its month-to-month lease, La Casa de Manuel keeps turning out its memorable green chile--a thin, biting broth version best enjoyed smothering one of the restaurant's "wet" burritos or spooned up alongside a barbacoa taco. A few doors away, La Popular makes terrific tamales to go, and there's always something cooking in the Mexican deli department of Johnnie's Grocery, where Ed Maestas, the unofficial mayor of this stretch of Larimer, holds forth. Actually, Maestas has a few plans in the works: He's thinking about reconfiguring his store to emphasize the deli and make room for an expanded selection of spices, and he's also eyeing some new awnings for the storefront.

A block up and across the street, the lunch line forms early on Wednesday--"steak taco day" at the Mexico City Cafe. If the kitchen is out (as it almost always is by 1 p.m.), try a plate of the best green chile in Denver (25 cents extra for the extra-hot). Mexico City is also weighing some remodeling work, as is MexiDan's, still farther up the street. Although there are other deals cooking on Larimer, the neighborhood is officially mum.

To get a real taste of the place, head to the 2000-2200 blocks of Larimer on September 17-18 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. for the sixth annual Fiesta! Fiesta! Festivities include tours of Coors Field, plenty of music (as well as the final competitions of the 1994 La Quebradita dance contest) and some of the hottest food you'll ever find at a street fair.

You're darn Teuton: And the eating continues just a few blocks down the street, where Larimer Square will kick off its annual Oktoberfest celebration on September 16. The event, which continues through September 18 and then repeats September 23-25, features beer and more beer, music and German cuisine by such renowned German restaurants as Cadillac Ranch (buffalo brats with grilled ancho-chile roll), Champion Brewing Co. (beer brats with sauerkraut), Josephina's (hot Italian brats with peppers, onions and marinara) and the Mexicali Cafe (New Mexican chorizo brats with fajita peppers).

And sow it goes: Special bonus points to the National Pork Producers Council for coming to the aid of defenseless pigs everywhere--and blowing its own horn in the process. All that talk about nasty "pork" in the crime bill had been driving the council hog wild. "If the government could trim as much fat from its budget as we have been able to from pork, we'd all be a lot better off," said a spokesman.

 
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