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El Noa Noa

Order in the courtyard.

I love a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast. One of the reasons I know I could never again live happily east of the Mississippi is that I could never survive without breakfast burritos, steaming plates of machaca and day-old takeout green chile in my fridge.

There's one thing I love more than a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast: a Mexican restaurant that opens for breakfast and then continues to serve that breakfast all day long — a mercy for those of us whose notion of "breakfast" is somewhat more fluid, defining it as the first meal of any waking period, even if that first meal happens to be taken at, say, one in the afternoon.

El Noa Noa is one of those lovable places, a longtime neighborhood favorite that has survived not only the encroaching trade of the Santa Fe Arts District and the opening of restaurants like the Santa Fe Tequila Company (reviewed this week), but also being located right next door to El Taco de México, which has Denver's most authentic Mexican lunch-counter taquería vibe. El Noa Noa has survived because it has a beautiful shaded patio (complete with a waterfall) off to one side, a warren of dining rooms that bring to mind a fancy, stucco-walled Mexican estate restaurant — the kind of spot you'd always hoped to find while wandering through the border cities but never did — and a big menu.

The kitchen does Mexican shrimp cocktails and fish dishes, breakfast all day and enchiladas in several iterations. Depending on what you order, you can feel like you're in a raucous, coastal casa de mariscos, or an indubitably Coloradan thick-green-and-big-ass-burritos neighborhood joint. And unlike the Tequila Company, El Noa Noa has a carne adobada plate that I'd gladly return for: three pork chops cut in the Milanese style, boned-out and pounded flat, then marinated in chile, grilled and served under a canopy of sautéed white onions: rough, rustic and absolutely, addictively delicious.

I dropped in late last week for a post-noon breakfast of machaca con huevos made with tender, shredded desebrada and eggs that had been scrambled and cooked hard on the flat grill. They came with a side of rice and a double side of refritos that had been refried so smoothly they were almost like a purée and, consequently, the perfect sauce to glue the machaca in place. The plate was the best way to start the day — even if I ordered it several hours too late to be decently considered a start.

 
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