While Denver is filled Mexican food outlets, restaurants that delve into the vast gastronomic offerings of the rest of Central and South America are in short supply. Still, there are some worthy spots specializing in the cuisine of Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador and the islands of the Caribbean.
In anticipation of the Best of Denver 2012, which lands in this city March 29, here, in no particular order, are the five best Central or South American restaurants in the city.
Tacos Acapulco (8890 East Colfax Avenue)
Really, Tacos Acapulco is only half Central American -- the joint serves a wide variety of Mexican dishes, and the tacos al pastor are reason enough to give that part of the menu your attention. But the owner's wife hails from El Salvador, and she's added a roster of fare from her home country, too. The Salvadoran pupusas are exceptional -- rounds of masa sandwiching meat, cheese, beans or loroco, a Central American flower bud, are griddled on the flat-top long enough that the outside gets crispy and golden and cheese oozes out the sides. The eatery serves the pudgy pouches with a pickled-cabbage coleslaw called curtido and watery tomato salsa.
Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe (12095 West Alameda Parkway, Lakewood) No matter how cold it is outside, the atmosphere inside of Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe, which I reviewed last week, is downright beachy -- this family-run spot in a Lakewood strip mall moves to its own island rhythm. The family turns out excellent ropa vieja, lechon, Cuban sandwiches and Cuban empanadas, plus an array of specials. Finish your meal with a slice of flan and cafecito, a superb shot of sweet espresso.
Empanada Express Grill (2600 East Street Unit G, Golden) The Empanada Express Grill started as a food cart and morphed into a restaurant after owner Isabel Campos hooked enough fans with her Venezuelan cooking to land a permanent lease in Golden. Since then, it's expanded to a third location. All of the spots serve traditional fare from Campos's home country, including Venezuelan empanadas, arepas, fried plantains and hallacas, Venezuelan tamales.
Buenos Aires Pizzeria (1319/1307 22nd Street) It may not serve the hefty platters of meat most people associate with Argentina, but if you're after a true sense of everyday eating in that vibrant, South American country, there's no better place to find it than at Buenos Aires Pizzeria. This Ballpark neighborhood restaurant is adorned with wall-to-wall Argentine knick-knacks and manned by a staff that runs on its own time. But the place serves up pizzas, pastas, empanadas and ice cream that taste as if they were plucked straight from the neighborhood cafes of the Argentine capital -- and you can wash everything down with Quilmes, the country's most popular beer.
1. Cafe Brazil (4408 Lowell Boulevard)Cafe Brazil just celebrated its twentieth anniversary; over the years, it's grown from a small sliver of space on Navajo Street into a vibrant corner joint at 44th and Lowell. The restaurant is owned by Colombians, and their menu showcases specialties from much of northern South America; we're particularly enamored of the feijoada, the dende oil-laced cazuela Colombiana and the Peixe de Angola, a delicate Bahian fish stew. That's what made Cafe Brazil our pick for Best Central/South American Restaurant in Best of Denver 2011 -- and what makes it the restaurant to beat in that category this year.
Have other favorites? Tell us about them in the comments.
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All of these lists are also available on our Best of app; see it in action at http://bestof.voiceplaces.com/denver-boulder.