Chile Today

Rocky Mountain oysters aside, Denver food is hot.

At this time of year, in this part of the country, heated arguments break out at the drop of a spoon. No, not over the election, but over green chile. On street corners around town, the last of the chiles -- the genuine article from Hatch, New Mexico; the counterfeits not from Hatch, New Mexico; the hot peppers from the farm just up the road -- are being roasted, then bagged for a winter's worth of Denver's greatest, and perhaps only, true local cuisine.

Yes, there's a monument to the cheeseburger over on Speer Boulevard, where it was allegedly invented, but other cities have staked a claim to the augmented burger. And while you'll find chili con carne in Texas and a green chile that's just chopped green chiles in New Mexico, only in Colorado -- and specifically, Denver -- will you find green chile elevated to an object worthy of worship, a heady brew almost as hot as the debates it inspires.

You can trace Denver's history through its restaurants. Through the big-splash restaurants named after athletes that have come and gone -- Lyle Alzado's, Dante Bichette's, Elway's (you know you're in a sports-crazy town when you have to take your photo ID to the invite-only opening of a restaurant) -- and the more sophisticated spots involved in Westword's Menu Affair this Thursday night, but especially through the Mexican restaurants that have colonized this neighborhood and that. The Las Delicias chain that started at 19th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street thirty years ago and now stretches across town. Benny's Restaurant & Cantina (and maybe Tequila Bar), which got its start back when owner Benny Armas was a cook at the old Oak Alley Inn. Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe, which started as a little storefront window and now occupies half a block at 33rd Avenue and Tejon. Casa Bonita (if you must), which just marked its thirtieth anniversary of making Lakewood safe for bland refried beans. You can trace Denver's history, and you can trace your own.

When I first stumbled into the Bamboo Hut one Sunday morning, The Silence of the Lambs was on TV, and my anal friend was irritated both by my vague directions and the fact that the place wasn't listed in the phone book. But one bite of that mean green was enough to make him forgive both me and the Hut.

J.R. Perez bought the hole-in-the-wall bar at 2449 Larimer Street 25 years ago, and while he didn't bother to change the name, he did bring in some of the peppers that the Perez family grew, and still grow, on their farm in Commerce City. (Too bad John Edwards didn't stop there after his town hall meeting on Tuesday.) Junie Garcia, J.R.'s niece, started cooking at the Hut soon after, coming in early every morning to make enchiladas and tacos and that addictive green chile. But then, it was in the blood: Her mother, J.R.'s sister, was an owner of the Mexico City Lounge, a few blocks farther down Larimer, and somehow El Toro on Colorado Boulevard figures into this food family tree, too.

While this block of Larimer looks like the land gentrification forgot, there are now pricey loft projects, artists' studios and coffeehouses nearby. And change has even come to the Hut. Two years ago, Junie's son, Phil, took over Our Place, a bar at 35th and Larimer that he renamed Phil's Place, painting a giant Broncos logo on the side of the building and constructing a kitchen for his mom inside. A few months ago, Junie moved over, bringing her green chile recipe with her, and she now cooks here twelve hours a day, six days a week ("breakfast burritos $2, free coffee," reads the scrawled message on a piece of cardboard propped up against a car out front), turning out food that tastes just like it used to at the Bamboo Hut, even if everything is served in takeout containers.

For the past few months, a group of folks in the restaurant and hospitality industries have been meeting to brainstorm Eat Denver, a program to push this city's cuisine into the national consciousness. "The way we think of Boise is how they think of Denver," says Rich Grant, the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau spokesman who's also pitching Eat Denver. And according to research on what prompts convention-site decisions, "the single most important thing is restaurants." To convince the rest of the country -- and everyone who's already here -- that Denver's restaurants are worthy, Eat Denver will be pushing a "Restaurant Week" at the end of February, when eateries around town will offer special deals. So far, there are no plans to offer a guided tour of this town's homegrown green chile trail.

Someone new is making the green chile at the Bamboo Hut, which now has both its phone number and its address on the menu. And even though J.R. is still in the bar every weekend, the place just isn't the same. You can taste Denver changing. Fall -- and roasting chile -- is in the air.


Scam I Am

Patrik Nassimi, aka Ali Patrik Pahlavi and born Valliola Gnassemi-Dakdare, has had a very busy month. When last we caught up with this prince of thieves ("Fingered Prince," September 9), he'd failed to con his way into a few of the priciest units at the Beauvallon, including the penthouse, and then been foiled in his attempt to buy a $5.75 million house near the Phipps Mansion.

Still, even a fake Iranian prince -- the nephew of the late billionaire Shah of Iran, he'd told people when he first hit town four years ago -- has to live somewhere, right? So next he tried to worm his way into a $4.75 million house in Byers, even calling designers out to the property to talk about how they'd decorate the place for Nassimi and his alleged wife and teenage daughter. Perry Moss of Designs of the Interior, an interior-design studio/home furnishings store near Park Meadows, took a crew out to Byers, but realized something was funny the second Nassimi scoffed at making a down payment. Nassimi's mug shot in the September 9 Westword was another clue. So was a last call from Nassimi, saying that the Byers deal was off because the home's owner refused to sell the entire 2,000 acres of land around it. "He's got very expensive taste," Moss says of Nassimi, or whatever his name might be next week. "It was a great training exercise, and we kind of got a kick out of it."

But then, unlike several of the people Nassimi conned in suburban Washington, D.C., after his release from a German prison five years ago, and again in LoDo in the fall of 2000 before the Denver District Court finally sent him off to prison for another two years, Moss didn't lose much money in the process -- maybe the fifty bucks he spent on getting fabric samples. Even so, he called the Denver District Attorney's Office, which told him that Nassimi hadn't done anything against the law -- yet.

Nassimi still needed a place to call his own, so naturally, he next headed for one of Denver's most exclusive penthouses, a $3.5 million beauty on top of Riverfront. Steve Angelo, the owner of that property, was just getting off a plane when he heard from his realtor that someone was interested in the place, and since two previous deals had fallen through when the athletes involved were traded out of Denver, he hurried over for a walk-through. "I spent an hour and a half with this guy," he remembers. "He asked a lot of questions. He was really interested in my rugs, kind of flipping over them."

Angelo and the prospective buyer -- a foreigner who'd brought his wife and teenage daughter along -- went out on the deck, where Nassimi smoked a cigarette and took several calls about some custom Cadillacs, and suggested that he might be interested in also acquiring a loft Angelo had on the fifth floor.

Forty-five minutes after Nassimi and company finally left, the realtor called with the good news: Nassimi was interested in both places, was offering close to the combined asking prices, and wanted to move fast -- to sign papers the next morning, in fact. Angelo called his lawyer to get him started on the paperwork, then popped some champagne.

By nine the next day, he was ready to sign off on the deal. But there was some problem with escrow. After an hour and a half, "a lightbulb went off," Angelo remembers. He found a computer, googled a few key words about his buyer -- and "boom, this is the guy." And not only was Angelo out time and attorney's fees, but Nassimi had "been in my personal space, and really inquisitive as to access to the building," he remembers. "That really alarmed me."

So Angelo, too, called the Denver District Attorney's Office, which told him that Nassimi hadn't done anything against the law -- yet. After all, Angelo still had his penthouse. And this week, real people bought the two penthouses next door, for a record $600 a square foot. They'll make much better neighbors than a fake shah. "He's going to burn someone who can't afford to be burned," says Angelo. "I tried to get as proactive as I could."

So where will Patrik Nassimi land next? Prison, with any luck, for violating his probation. Someday soon there could be a jail cell with his name on it -- whatever that name might be. In the meantime, let the seller to this buyer beware.

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