What defines an essential restaurant? Several opinionated friends and I were recently discussing that topic during dinner at a trendy newcomer that's amassed a flurry of flattery since opening its doors. It's a restaurant-of-the-moment, but will it still be relevant in six months? Will the crowds continue to jam the doors? More important, will it have made an indelible mark on Denver's dining landscape ten years from now? As a prelude to our annual Best of Denver issue, we're spotlighting, in no particular order, fifty restaurants -- old and new, classy, cool and conventional, strip mall and belle of the ball -- that are the Mile High City's most essential places to eat. These are the places that every foodnik in Denver should have on his or her feed-me list.
No. 48: El Taco de Mexico
"For truly amazing flavors El Taco de Mexico is a must," wrote Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, shortly after he and his film crew touched down in the Mile High City last year to chow their way through some of the town's most iconic grub houses. El Taco de Mexico, he continued, is "Denver's quintessential taqueria," serving the "best menudo and tacos in the city."
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And Zimmern isn't alone is his assessment of the authentic Mexican dive that occupies a special place in the heart of just about every local who's ever plopped their butt down on one of the canary-yellow stools that overlook the kitchen earthquaking with the thud of cleavers that assail the meats with a decisive thud. The superlative green chile, which continues to outshine its competition, even as more and more Mexican joints dot the pavement, is an obsession that's impossible to break, despite the fact that the stoic women who serve it, do so with pursed lips that rarely part into a smile. Still, this is a joint that's not just liked, but absolutely glorified by its legion of fans, and the love fest is deserved. Everything at El Taco de Mexico -- from the smothered chile relleno burrito to the tongue tacos specked with cilantro and onions and streaked with a dark red salsa that packs a lasting wallop -- is a journey through bawdy Mexican food culture that's worth the schlep from anywhere.
Secret stash: Unbeknownst to most people, the kitchen also turns out a remarkably good jalapeno salsa, but trying to get a bowl of it is a little like convincing Andrew Weiner to keep his package in its protective casing. Nonetheless, if you speak Spanish and are persistent, you can usually convince one of the kitchen guards to spare a small portion.
Can't-miss dish: The enchiladas, smothered in green chile, are unlike any other in Denver.