Sun Set

You could get burned by the wrong El Señor Sol.

An Applebee's is an Applebee's is an Applebee's. In fact, one of the primary reasons people frequent chain restaurants is their predictability: The Applebee's doesn't fall far from the tree. Those absurd riblets you love at the outlet back home will taste just the same, look just the same and cost just the same at the restaurant's clone halfway across the country.

Homegrown chains are a very different deal. They have a lot more character, a little more charm, a lot less corporate attitude - and not nearly the consistency of the major chains. Big chains get bigger because they must keep growing in order to survive. But single restaurants become chains at the risk of losing any success they once enjoyed as solo enterprises.

No one knows this better than Felipe Duran. He and his brothers started Villa del Sol on West Alameda Avenue back in 1993, after they'd spent two decades in the United States going to school, working and cooking for themselves. "I moved here, right to Denver, in 1973 with just my brother," says Felipe, who is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. "I was fourteen years old, and he was older than me, but we were still on our own. We did all our own cooking, making our own tortillas by hand, while I was going to high school." Within a year of moving to Denver, Felipe was also working in restaurants, and "the food and hospitality industry always had me, you know?" he adds. "It was going to be a part of my life no matter what, even if I became an accountant."

Unlike its Denver counterpart, the El Señor Sol in Golden gives diners something to smile about.
Q Crutchfield
Unlike its Denver counterpart, the El Señor Sol in Golden gives diners something to smile about.

Location Info


Villa Del Sol Mexican Food

6026 W. Alameda Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80226-3537

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Southwest Denver


Villa del Sol
Huevos rancheros...$4.95
Shrimp cocktail...$8.95
Chiles rellenos...$6.75
Tacos al carbon...$7.95

6026 West Alameda Avenue, Lakewood
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

El Señor Sol
15900 West Colfax Avenue, Golden
Hours: 10-9 Sunday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Closed location

In fact, he did become an accountant - which must come in handy when adding up the pros and cons of the current Sol empire. In addition to the original spot, there's an El Señor Sol in Golden, which opened in 1997; a second Villa del Sol on West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, which Duran opened just over a month ago after closing the year-old El Señor Sol in Black Hawk; and the Villa del Sol that his brother, José Duran, has owned at 1874 West 92nd Avenue since 1985. And then there's the El Señor Sol on East Colfax, which Felipe Duran has owned for the past year and a half with Miguel Ceballos, the managing partner.

That easternmost El Señor Sol is definitely feeling a bit under the weather these days. During repeated visits, we never managed to get a decent meal - either because of lousy cooking, or servers who seemed to be walking around with their heads in the clouds, or both. Sometimes we didn't get our food at all, which may not have been a bad thing.

For starters, the eatery was never very clean. We could forgive the haphazard decor -- with red, white and green placemat-like banners hanging from the ceiling and painted furniture in need of repainting and repair -- but not the grime. And the greeting we received every time we walked into the place wouldn't have been any less welcoming had we been wearing dead fish on our heads. Granted, it's a rough neighborhood. But that's part of the problem: To folks coming out of the new, improved Lowry complex desperate for some decent, authentic Mexican food, the large, sunny sign of El Señor Sol looks like a true beacon.

It's just so much false advertising, though, unless your idea of authentic Mexican is carne asada made with beef so overcooked it looks like the gnarled fists of a corpse in the final stages of rigor mortis, served with refried beans so runny we thought they might be a side of green chile. Then we spotted the actual green chile, which was even runnier and tasted like chile-infused water. It ran all over the chiles rellenos, which sported a runny egg batter coating two chiles that may or may not have been living organisms at one time, since their texture more closely resembled melted plastic; they were stuffed with cheese that was runny and had both the smell and the taste of car exhaust. And in this city of big-burrito-boasting billboards, it was unnerving to encounter a limp burrito bearing such a miserly portion of shredded beef -- beef so fatty that at first we thought it was pork.

After that first meal, it became a game to see if I could find anything resembling decent food at El Señor Sol. No such luck. The enchiladas tasted like they'd been wrapped days ahead and left to sit on the plate until the tortillas became so soggy they disintegrated; the tacos al carbon featured ribeye so fat-filled it couldn't have been ribeye, along with brown-edged avocado and a pico de gallo that contained nothing but tomatoes and onions. And the shrimp cocktail was nothing but old, chewy shrimp in a broth that tasted like a Bloody Mary mixed by someone who kept getting the vodka and the tomato juice confused.

Not surprisingly, then, the actual drinks were no better. My margarita was a strange orange color and had an oddly fizzy quality, as though someone were trying to bring a little sunshine into this dismal place by dropping food coloring into a glass of tequila-spiked (barely!) 7-Up. The color did not relate to anything in the natural world, and questioning our server about its origins led nowhere.

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