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El Diablo serves regional specialties in devilishly fun surroundings

Slide Show: El Diablo photo tour

El Diablo serves regional specialties in devilishly fun surroundings
Mark Manger
Steak TampiqueŮa at El Diablo. Slide Show: El Diablo photo tour

I got my first glimpse of El Diablo one late-summer night last year, soon after the restaurant opened its doors. The place was packed, with groups crammed into the tables and booths that line the sides of the vast space and more people standing around the bar, which anchors the center. The room was dark, with shadows cast by candles and red-glass lanterns hanging from the ceilings; the hum of a sultry Latin American soundtrack played in the background.

I scored a bar seat and asked for a margarita, falling quickly for the delicious decadence of the spot. If the devil is in the details, El Diablo had all those just right.

Owner Jesse Morreale is a veteran of Denver's nightlife scene, and this wasn't his first Mexican restaurant. He'd created a kitschy Mexican pop-culture concept at Mezcal, then at Tambien, where he was joined by new partner Sean Yontz. And while Tambien closed last year and Morreale is no longer part of Mezcal's management, he put the lessons he learned at those spots to good use here.

Chef Sean Yontz and his steak Tampiqueña at El Diablo. Slide Show: El Diablo photo tour
mark manger
Chef Sean Yontz and his steak Tampiqueña at El Diablo. Slide Show: El Diablo photo tour

Location Info

Map

El Diablo

101 Broadway
Denver, CO 80203

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Central Denver

Details

El Diablo
Chips and salsa $2
Cazuela de queso fundido $6.95
Tacos (3) $6.95 to $7.95
Tampiqueña $14.95
Molcajete $12.95
Mole negro $14.95
101 Broadway
303-954-0324
Hours: 7 a.m.-4 a.m. daily

Three years ago, he purchased the old First Avenue Hotel, intending to restore it to landmark glory. He tucked a stylish wine bar, Sketch, into one part of the vast first-floor space, then did a major renovation of the corner area that would become El Diablo, contracting with local artists to create murals for the walls, hunting down artifacts, and, with Yontz, putting together a menu that featured upscale versions of regional specialties, including mole, sopes, molcajetes and, above all, street tacos, which are available through a side window until 4 a.m. And together they came up with a beverage program heavy on tequila, which fit both the fare and the devilish profile of the place.

When the construction paper finally came off the big windows last summer, it revealed a space that's almost theme park-like in its attention to detail, offering a delightfully hedonistic ride with the devil, filled with adult beverages and adult possibilities.

On my first few visits, I became well acquainted with the house margaritas, a classic blend of blanco tequila, triple sec and lime juice, so refreshing that it's too bad you can't buy them by the pitcher. I tried several variations, too, including the excellent Picoso, with muddled jalapeño. But oddly, the El Diablo — a blend of mezcal and cherries — has only been available once in the two dozen or so times I've attempted to order it.

Slide Show: El Diablo photo tour

While I was an instant fan of El Diablo's margs, I was less enthusiastic about the first dishes I sampled: tacos stuffed with dry meats, guacamole that was an under-seasoned pile of mush, sauces that were sickly sweet. The attention to detail in the design and the drinks just didn't seem to extend to the food.

Last month I decided to give the kitchen another try, and showed up with friends for dinner one Friday night just as the sun was going down and this stretch of Broadway was beginning to crawl with bar-hoppers. As soon as our somewhat frantic server approached the table, we asked for chips and salsa and the cazuela de queso fundido; the starters showed up just seconds after our drinks. The basket of freshly made tortilla chips came with three kinds of salsa: mild tomatillo, racy habanero and smoky morita. While they were all fine, the queso got most of our attention — and our chips. The melted cheese, blended with mushrooms, peppery chorizo and spinach, was sharp, slightly astringent — as though goat cheese or possibly sour cream had been added to the mix — and totally addictive. It came in a flat ceramic dish ringed by lightly toasted triangles of flour tortillas that quickly became flaky and floppy, making them less than ideal for scooping up the dip; fortunately, we had those chips.

We followed up the apps with several orders of tacos. The pescado was overpoweringly fishy, despite its supposed pairing with habanero peppers; the carnitas and al pastor versions were both too dry. While the pork belly had been cooked well, it need more accoutrements — onion, cilantro or lime — to move beyond boring. The winner was the cochinita pibil: succulent pork that had been simmered in a sweet, peppery achiote sauce, then piled on two stacked corn tortillas and topped with black beans and tart pickled green beans, which balanced the sweetness of the sauce.

Polishing off the cochinita pibil tacos and pushing the others to the side, we ordered another round of margaritas, settling back into the rhythm of the restaurant while we waited for our entrees.

I'm a sucker for molcajetes, which feature a variety of meats and vegetables cooked in a stone mortar bowl, so I'd gone with the El Diablo version. It was a good choice: A bubbling tomato broth, laced with heat, covered tender, juicy chicken breasts, chunks of soft carrots and potatoes, and a cob of corn. While the dish was hearty, it was also delicate enough for a summer night. We'd also gone with the Tampiqueña, a skirt steak topped with buttery guacamole and sided with a cheese enchilada in a robust, nutty red mole sauce and rice and beans. Skirt steak can be impossibly tough, but this was cooked perfectly, and the kitchen had nailed the optimum medium-rare temperature. I just wish the prep cook had backed off a little with the marinade, which was reminiscent of soy sauce.

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16 comments
dakjalja
dakjalja

I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from : BidsBit.com

juliaal
juliaal

I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.Here is the website we use to get it all from : http://BidsBit.com

juliaal
juliaal

I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.Here is the website we use to get it all from : http://BidsBit.com

Realdiablo
Realdiablo

Sean Yontz is a douche bag. How many restaurants can this guy lose, or get kicked out of?

Yvonne
Yvonne

Shunk is an excellent writer and "Taco Kisses" come with bad breath.

dan5280
dan5280

I think this review is spot on. The food, especially the tacos are dry and underwhelming, but there is a few bright spot: for me it is the Pozole, filled with a tasty broth, hominy and well-seasoned pork bits (although down the road at El Tejado it's even better with shredded pork shoulder). Their food all comes with a superfluous and unappetizing drizzle of creme as well, which makes sense when you realize that this restaurant is all about the flare (image) and not about the sizzle (flavor).

That's fine for now, however. It really is a good place to grab a drink and chips, since until Argyll opens in this neighborhood there are very limited choices outside of the dive bars. Hornet is very decent but a bit tired (or I'm tired of going there), and Delite/Deluxe doesn't open until 4, and even then it's hard to get a seat.

At Diablo they offer a cheap can of Tecate (although Modelo would be better) and often have good and very hard to find tequilas on special (Maestro Dobel, Oro Azul to name a couple). The chips and salsa is very good, and sometimes that's all I need.

But if it's the meal I'm going after, that's not the place. El Taco de Mexico has killer tacos and burritos, and if I want something a bit fancier in that category, well, Southwest is running a $9 special to Albuquerque, and from there it's only an hour to Pasqual's.

Joey B
Joey B

Haters hate all you want; I love this place and think it's a terrific value, especially the house specials like the Puerco Pibil which is a ridiculous amount (2 meals worth) of fantastic pork for like 15 bucks. Service is spot on, friendly and conversational (especially about their mescal selections) even when busy and I love the vibe. We're there constantly. Keep it up guys.

Taco Kisses
Taco Kisses

Skunk is just a terrible writer. She should have just said, 'the food sucks, but I had a great time."

Greg1701
Greg1701

That review is a bit confusing... normally on Team Laura but on this one the commenters have a good point.. but if a Mexican restaurant makes shitty tacos, I'll be going elsewhere no matter how good the drinks are...

Guest
Guest

If the devil is in the details, El Diablo had all those just right. EXCEPT

1. less enthusiastic about the first dishes.2. Dry meats3. Under saeasoned4. Sickly Sweet5. Less than ideal6.Overpoweringly fishy7. Too dry (two more times)8. Reminiscent of soy sauce

Each one of these DETAILS is a seperate complaint by Ms. ShunkIt is now obvious just how much of a scenster she is. As well as a hack. Maybe she should stop drinking during these restaurant visits where food should be the center of attention.Laura I don't care that you drank a negro modelo at a Mexican restaurant, save that shit for Facebook. Taco Bell tastes good when drinking for fuck's sake. I was pleasently surprised there was no mention of the mass exodous from TAG tough, thank you for no longer beating that dead horse.

Rouxarts
Rouxarts

I will not patronize El Diablo. There is a lawsuit filed against them for discriminating against people with disabilities. They remodeled their restaurant in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and refused to correct this, instead, choosing to hire high priced lawyers to defend them. Not only is it a federal law to construct fully accessible venues, but it speaks to the character of the owner who chooses to discriminate, rather than simply fix the situation to accomodate with fair and legal access. His "scene" doesn't include people with disabilities apparently.

Jessehall
Jessehall

I don't understand how places like this do well. Maybe it is the hipster scum and neophyte foodies who keep the cash registers going. You can drive 5 minutes up to federal and get food ten times as good for less than half the price. It blows my mind.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Sorry, I live in the 'hood and have been here many times and want them to be successful. I think that, despite truly mediocre, overpriced food and margaritas, they are indeed succeeding because of the "scene". Says a lot about where we set the bar in Denver. If you want to see and be seen - this is the place for you. If you want good Mexican food and margaritas at a reasonable price, you can do so much better.

Dfradon2
Dfradon2

NO SHE IS NOT. An alright writer, maybe. Excellent writers get publicity outside of their city. This will never happen to Laura.

dan5280
dan5280

Make that "one" bright spot.....

dan5280
dan5280

Yeah Joey, I though it's worth seconding that their service and staff are excellent...it's a smooth operation and almost everything about it is really great (vibe, decor, drinks, chips, etc), which is why I still go. I disagree with you on the food however. I don't care if it comes with an entire pig, the meats are just flat-out dry every time I've tried. That's the reason I'm pretty much a happy hour drinks and chips customer.

 
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