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Seafood, Eat It

Los Reyes brings an underappreciated taste of real Mexican cooking to Denver.

Is heaven located on tatty West Colfax? Well, maybe. To find out for yourself, try this: Seated at your sun-drenched window table at the cozy, two-year-old Los Reyes, beneath a lovely watercolor depicting a hacienda kitchen, order a plate of sopitos. A specialty of west central Mexico's state of Michoacán, from which proprietor Francisco Granados hails, these are crisp, delicate little pastry shells filled with dabs of requesón (spiced Mexican cottage cheese), pastor (marinated pork), beans, lettuce, grated cheese and salsa. They have the textural balance and perfectly commingled flavors of great peasant cooking. No Presbyterian tacos, these little beauties. They are works of art, pure and simple.

Not convinced yet? Gaze out the window at the Big (formerly Bugs) Bunny Motel across the street, contemplate the dalliances conducted behind those walls over the decades and then have at a huge, steaming bowl of caldo de camarón. No soup for the faint of heart, this stuff, but a heady sea of tomato broth awash in carrots, celery and green pepper -- and more than a dozen big, firm, fresh shrimp. Hearty and dense, this is the true taste of coastal Mexico, magically transported to el norte. If you can actually finish the enormous bowl, more power to you. Better, perhaps, to split one with your luncheon companion, then career on to other things -- a fat carne asada burrito, perhaps, the marinated and charred beef subtly seasoned, the tortilla cloaked in sublime red chile and a little hood of melted cheese. Or a pair of genius-level chiles rellenos, the peppers fresh as this morning, lightly battered and fried golden brown.

Ever had zincronizadas? Neither had we. Another delight of the Michoacán regional style, this aptly named dish comprises a flour tortilla folded in half around a filling of white Mexican cheese, crumbled pastor and a hint of cilantro. That mini-dog hawking the chalupas at Taco Bell never conceived of a thing so splendidly synchronous and never will, poor devil. Nor will he get within sniffing distance of Los Reyes' surpassing vuelve la vida, a cold cocktail of octopus, oysters, shrimp and scallops that will stir the soul of the true seafood lover. And one bite of huachinango(red snapper) marinated in garlic and quickly fried, and you'll swear you've just come off the boat with your catch. You won't find concessions to the gringo temperament here: Mr. Snap has kept his head and his tail, and he doesn't mind staring at you.

Los Reyes' lengua (tongue) tacos may require a native palate, but the bowls of spicy menudo you get here on Saturday and Sunday mornings do exactly what they're designed to do for diners of every nationality: chase away the whips and jangles inflicted by the previous evening's indiscretions. Still thirsty? Get the old blood sugar up there with a Coca-Cola, then move on into the Tecate course. Before you know it, the new day will look wonderful.

"La mejor comida Mexicana en Denver!" the management submits. "Lo esperamos!" No hoping necessary, Señor Granados. If this isn't the best Mexican kitchen in the city, we don't know what is. Keep that caldo kettle simmering for us, won't you?

 
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