100 Favorite Dishes: Molcajete a la Mexicana from El Paraiso
Lori Midson

100 Favorite Dishes: Molcajete a la Mexicana from El Paraiso

As a countdown to the Best of Denver 2010, coming April 1, Cafe Society is serving up a hundred of our favorite dishes in Denver. Send your own nominations to cafe@westword.com.

Number 57: Molcajete a la Mexicana from El Paraiso

Despite a voluminous menu of more than 400 dishes, maybe 500, El Paraiso's regulars, of which there are hundreds, never seem to crack the laminated book open. They'll spend five minutes agonizing over whether they should order a margarita, agua fresca or cerveza, but to them, the menu doesn't harbor the mysteries that it holds for newcomers, the people who sit there for hours on end leafing through the pages, mouthing the ingredients, most of them written in Spanish, sniffing the oval pictures, delusional that they're the scratch-and-snort variety.

The balm of griddled fresh corn tortillas -- flour, too -- garlic, blazed meats, onions and chiles that waft across the cavernous dining room is often too much to bear, but it's the scent of the sizzling molcajetes -- lava-hot mortars overflowing with splatter and stain -- that the regulars are after; if you scour the tables, you'll see a molcajete on nearly every one. They're all fantastic, but there's a clear champion among the contenders, and that's the molcajete a la Mexican, a deep heap of housemade chorizo, smoky carne asada, grilled cactus petals, sheets of tender chicken, spring onions, their grilled bulbs the size of ping pong balls and ropes of Oaxacan cheese melting into the stewy mix of chiles and tomatoes. Try it.

Hungry for more? The dishes in our countdown thus far are linked below:

No. 100 Chicken-fried steak from Lola No. 99 Alaskan reindeer sausage from Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs No. 98 Mac-and-cheese fries from Jonesy's EatBar No. 97 Soft egg ravioli from Prima No. 96 Pho - any pho -- from Pho 95 No. 95 Assiette de charcuterie maison from Z Cuisine À Côté No. 94: Cheeseburger from Larkburger No. 93: BBQ Masher from Cabin Creek Smokehouse No. 92: Apple pancake from the Original Pancake House No. 91: Burrata from Osteria Marco No. 90: Eggs Benedict from Devil's Food Bakery No. 89: Chile Relleno from La Fiesta No. 88: Deviled eggs from Steuben's No. 87: Corn-in-a-cup from Jack-n- Grill No. 86: Enchiladas from Taco House No. 85: Pupusas from Pupusas Sabor Hispano No. 84: Baklava from Ali Baba Grill No. 83: Masa-fried oyster shooters from Deluxe No. 82: Tacos al pastor from Los Carboncitos No. 81: Salsa bar from Tacos Y Salsas No. 80: Dim Sum from Star Kitchen No. 79: Green chile cheeseburger from Cherry Cricket No. 78: Fries from Encore No. 77: Shanghai-style dumplings from Chopsticks China Bistro No. 76: Chile relleno burrito from El Taco de Mexico No. 75: Fish fry from GB Fish and Chips No. 74: Posole from Tarasco's No. 73: Sausage, ham and egg biscuit from Table 6 No. 72: Bacon flight from the Berkshire No. 71: Tasty Treats from Gaetano's No. 70: French dip from Udi's No. 69: Panang curry from US Thai Cafe No. 68: Pineapple upside-down pancake from Snooze No. 67: Saag paneer from India's No. 66: Udon noodle bowl from Bones No. 65: Grilled corn soup from Lola No. 64: Sesame pockets from Lee's Garden No. 63: Whiskey-braised beef from Steuben's No. 62: House special from Viet's No. 61: Sultan Combo from Phoenician Kabob No. 60: Cake and a shake from D Bar Desserts No. 59: Caprese salad from Gaia Bistro No. 58: Fried chicken from Tom's Home Cookin'

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