By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
Still, to be honest, people in Denver do things with and to green chile that would get them shot anywhere south of Santa Fe.
In Raton, we stopped for dinner at a little roadside joint called the All Seasons Family Restaurant that had reached a sort of culinary detente. This place serves the chopped green chile familiar to New Mexico, as well as the stewish green sauce of Colorado. Both offerings had good heat and a nice bite, with the sauce featuring large pieces of chile in a thickened base studded with pork chunks. Mmmmm. Pork chunks...
Inching our way along I-25, the little car whining like a sick donkey on any uphill grade steeper than half a degree, we decided to take a break at a tumbledown roadhouse outside of Trinidad. We had high hopes for our first bite of Colorado verde, but alas.
2616 W. 32nd Ave.
Denver, CO 80211
Region: Northwest Denver
"Sin!" I cried after the first bite. "An absolute sin!" This weak, tainted dish was an abomination. The sauce was thin, with little flavor, less kick and no burn whatsoever from the pathetic little shreds of chile floating around in a greasy ocean of pintos.
Back out into the night and farther north to Pueblo, a city that again elevates the preparation of green chile into an art -- although one markedly different from that practiced in the dry heat of the Chihuahuan Desert. At this point on the map, green chile is no longer served as a recognizable fruit, or even a thin sauce, but has been thoroughly incorporated into a thick, gelatinous stew. The heat is variable, depending more on preparation than the raw fire that lives within the chile itself. Cooking time matters -- the longer any sauce is reduced, the more powerful the influence of the chile -- as do thickness and viscosity. It's a new world to me, strange and exciting.
By the time we hit the outskirts of Denver, my lovely wife had had enough of the green-chile trail.
"If you love me, you'll let me stay home," she said.
Going solo now, I headed out the next day with the intent of eating my way through Denver. Could there be such a thing as too much green chile? That's like asking if there can be too much good tequila or why a speedometer would need to go past 100 mph.
My introduction to Denver green came at local favorite Benny's Ristorante y Cantina (301 East Seventh Avenue), where I ordered the green-chile plate, along with some chicharrones and extra tortillas to mop it up, as my "welcome to the neighborhood" meal. The verde was thick and messy -- which, I'm quickly learning, is just the way you want it in this town -- and had a long, scorching burn compounded by the fact that I was washing it down with hot coffee. For a first-timer, seeing the big lumps of meat and a few random vegetable bits thrown into the mix was shocking, but as a food writer, I fear nothing.
Not even a cow's head. At Taquería Patzcuaro (2616 West 32nd Avenue), another Denver institution that's even earthier than Benny's, I was scrutinized by the Mexican revolutionaries whose pictures covered one wall. They watched me gobble down three tacos filled with the very tender meat from the cheeks of the cow, wonderfully marinated and so full of flavor that I forgot all about my green chile until I'd already devoured two of them. The verde here is a bit milder than at Benny's but more complicated, with the tang of smoke, soil and maybe even a little lime (or something equally bitter/sweet) lurking stealthily beneath the heat. Throw in an excellent adovada (red chile, I know, but it was still very good) and a killer strawberry licuada, and I was in heaven.
But I wasn't done. By now I'd given up the highway in order to explore Federal Boulevard on foot, wandering here and there to taste empanadas, sip mango juice, order some green chile to go. I ate with my fingers, scooping up chile with tortillas hot out of the press. I made a mess of myself and must have looked like half a madman, walking blindly and being led by my nose and gut. Through all that day and most of another, nothing topped Patzcuaro.
Finally I came up for air at La Fiesta (2340 Champa Street), where I walked inside to the radio playing the Spanish-language version of ABBA's "Dancing Queen." In a crowded, noisy, echoing room that reminded me of some of the lesser-known joints around Juarez, I ordered the green-chile chicken enchiladas, extra verde on the side. The enchiladas arrived hanging off the plate, mounded high and wide with lettuce, tomatoes and an ocean of gooey, clinging, thick sauce. I was fairly sure I could see my death at the bottom of that plate.
I remember the first bite, that burn of honest, genuine chile melting across my tongue -- mild at first, then cranking up the temperature, then slowly fading -- but not much else. Don't get me wrong: This green chile was good, but I'd gone the distance. I'd reached my limit. I was done. Like Gomez before me, I'd put on a lot of miles and eventually reached a point where I could go no further.