Red Tango

It takes two to tango -- and create a great Latin American restaurant.

Here's everything I ate at Red Tango in one sitting last week, an enthusiastic order so large that the dishes could not fit on the table at one time, forcing the kitchen to stagger courses, the floor manager to wonder aloud if six or seven more people would be joining the table, and the very friendly waiter to give joking assurances that he had plenty of to-go boxes in back, just in case:

A bowl of ceviche, the chunks of orange roughy and tiny rock shrimp acid-cooked in a broth of lime juice and raw chiles, tasting alternately hot and sweet and sour and astringent but always so fresh that it made my tongue jump.

Fresh chips, still hot from the oil, which came with a smoky-hot chipotle salsa but also served as the perfect transport vehicle for the ceviche when I wasn't just picking through the bowl with my fingers like some kind of savage.

Ulises Santiago and Jose Divas keep Red Tango cooking.
Mark Manger
Ulises Santiago and Jose Divas keep Red Tango cooking.

Location Info


Red Tango

5807 W. 38th Ave.
Denver, CO 80212

Category: Restaurant > South American

Region: Northwest Denver


5807 West 38th Avenue, Wheat Ridge
Hours: 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5 p.m.- close Monday-Saturday

Black-bean ravioli: $15.95
Potato cakes: $12.95
Relleno, torta and enchilada plate: $12.95
Empanadas: $5.95
Ceviche: $5.95

Fried plantains, thick-cut and buttery, crisp at the edges and gooey in the middle. Plantains are hard to do even moderately well, and these were the best fried plantains I've had in Denver. Since I eat fried plantains everywhere I can, that's really saying something.

Arepas con something-or-other. Arepas (corn pancakes, more or less, both sweet and starchy at the same time) are the comfort food of South and Central America, as recognizable in Peru and Chile and El Salvador and elsewhere as cheeseburgers are here and rice is in Asia. The stack of perfectly grilled arepas came topped with (and I think were also made with) strong, dry goat cheese, a chipotle rémoulade and a rough salsa of onions and tomatoes. I eat a lot of arepas when I'm out roaming -- often after having been forced to sit through a meal of nouvelle Kazakhstani cuisine or five courses of a chef's tasting menu that all tasted like ground-up back issues of Architectural Digest in pretension sauce -- and these were so good that I wanted to stick my hands inside and wear them around town like edible mittens. Unfortunately, by the time I came up with this brilliant idea, I'd already devoured the entire stack.

Empanadas, two kinds. The first was chunks of marinated beef inside a crisp pastry shell, the second a sort of South American cheese stick -- and who doesn't love cheese sticks?

A simple potato-and-bacon soup that was actually a potato-and-bacon purée thinned with cream and therefore accounted for three of the four levels of the Irish food pyramid (the fourth being whiskey). Since Red Tango serves only beer and wine, I was drinking bottles of Pacífico, but I don't think anyone is going to revoke my Skinny Micks of America membership card for that. And while it might seem weird to find such a Hibernian-style soup on the menu at a South American restaurant, it makes perfect sense. Like the Chinese and Italians, the Irish emigrated to and washed up on just about every foreign shore imaginable -- including the east coast of South America -- and everywhere they went, they took their potatoes and bacon with them.

Also: goat-cheese-stuffed poblano rellenos; a giant, crisp torta covered with fresh and verdant avocado salsa and Mexican crema; and a fat cheese enchilada in a delicious cocoa mole so heavy on the bittersweet chocolate and ground nuts that it would've made a passable dessert.

Potato cakes (mashed potatoes shaped into a patty and flat-fried like the arepas) filled with rough-cut chunks of perfect, rare tenderloin and white onions. So simple, so consoling, so overwhelmingly generous in portion and so smart in its restraint that, inasmuch as food can express emotion, this plate was a happy smile and a firm handshake from the kitchen -- comfort and plainness and honest goodness doing all the work that complexity and flash technique so often fail to do in more ambitious entrees. It was the kind of food I want when I'm feeling bad, the kind I could imagine throwing together for an old friend who arrived at my door unexpectedly in the middle of the night with the law on his trail.

Four homemade white ravioli filled with crushed black beans and topped with a white béchamel, salty shredded parmesan and raw white onions, with each ravioli bearing a large, butterflied tiger prawn tasting of grill char and ancho chile. The combination was so unusual that after one bite, I thought I hated it. I continued to think I hated it until I'd finished half the plate and realized I couldn't stop picking at it. For the sake of science, I ate the other half and decided that, in fact, what I really wanted was another plate.

I asked about dessert instead. There was flan. I'd decided a couple of weeks ago that, even though I've been eating flan for most of my life, I don't actually like it. Red Tango's flan did nothing to change my opinion, but that wasn't the kitchen's fault. As flan, it was perfectly serviceable: sweet, gooey, caramel-y and with a texture like a poached sponge. I'm not going to eat flan anymore.

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