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By Nate Hemmert
"Thanks for not sucking."
That was the handwritten sentiment on the back of my check the last time I ate at Mezcal, penned by an attentive server who was friendly, unpretentious and a little irreverent — the same combination of traits that characterizes the restaurant these days.
The place feels tamer than it did when Jesse Morreale and Sean Yontz were running the show, when late nights brought in hordes of Colfax bar-hoppers and concert-goers leaving the Bluebird. Although off-hours have always been mellower here, now they're downright family-friendly, and definitely suitable for the ten-year-old who was with my group.
3230 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80206
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Central Denver
Still, you can see the influence of Morreale — who was there when the doors opened in 2003, brought in Yontz, and was forced out by partners on the eve of Mezcal's sixth anniversary — both in the colorful Mexican pop-culture decor (tequila posters, photos of masked Mexican wrestlers, mural-like paintings) and the menu. Roberto Diaz, who'd worked with Yontz in kitchens for years, stepped up when Yontz left, and he's kept dishes similar to those of his predecessor on the board, the kind of upscaled Mexican classics that now grace the menu at El Diablo: tricked-out tacos, burritos and enchiladas. He's added some new ones, too, and changed the preparations of others, pulling from recipes he grew up with.
I beat most of my group to Mezcal that night, so I grabbed a couple of banquette tables and asked for a margarita and chips and salsa while I waited. I've always sworn I could survive on a diet of chips and salsa, and Mezcal makes that seem possible, since an order is bottomless and the smoky red salsa is irresistible.
But I'd ordered an entree anyway: the Tampiqueña, which paired skirt steak with guacamole and a cheese enchilada smothered with mild, cinnamon-y mole. The sweet, savory and spicy flavor combination was smart, but the steak was overcooked and tough. After wrestling with a few bites, I gave up on the meat. The chicken on my friend's mole rojo plate was also dry, and even the earthy, sweet sauce covering it couldn't bring it back to life.
My boyfriend's tacos were much better: warm, white-corn tortillas heaped with bits of peppery carne asada and tender, chile-rubbed pork. But the best dish by far was the huarache, a fried shell of masa piled with refried beans, carnitas, pickled jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and salty queso fresco. It was like a mess of nacho toppings, without the distracting chips.
It was late by the time we paid our check, and Mezcal had a lazy, mellow vibe — a far cry from the raucous edge it used to gain as the night went on, but far from unpleasant.
Thanks for not sucking.