It wasn't until Gustavo Arellano, our Ask a Mexican columnist, started researching the spread of Mexican food in this country -- or what passes as Mexican food in this country -- for his new book, Taco USA, that we realized Denver was not only home to a unique green chile, but was also the place where the Mexican hamburger was invented.
And possibly remains the only place where a true Mexican hamburger is served, as he detailed in his recent cover story, "Mexican Hamburger Helper," in which he called it the "greatest Mexican food served in the United States."
Not a hamburger smothered in chile, which reached its sloppy pinnacle in Pueblo's Slopper, and not the green-chile cheeseburger that was another fabulous Mexican export, but a beef patty tucked inside a tortilla with some refried beans, then smothered with green chile.
Arellano proclaimed the Mexican hamburger "the Holy Grail of Mexican-American cookery," and crowned the version at the original Chubby's, at 1231 West 38th Avenue, as his favorite. But the dish didn't get its start there. We traced the origin of the Mexican hamburger to Joe's Buffet, a long-gone joint at 753 Santa Fe Drive, in the late '60s, when it "was not a listed menu item but on the grease board she had for daily specials...and it was LINDA's famous Mexican hamburger!," remembers one regular.
Joe's Buffet (pronounced like Jimmy's last name) closed decades ago, but as one helpful tipster reveals, a longtime waitress at Joe's took her tip money and opened her own restaurant, which today serves a Mexican hamburger very true to the original version.
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SHOW ME HOW
So we stopped by Taqueria Mexico, the restaurant at 3800 West Colfax Avenue that Maria Estrada started in the late '80s, and found that the kitchen does cook up a remarkable Mexican hamburger -- smothered with a very, very hot green chile -- as well as more worthy dishes. (Although Maria often drops in on weekends, her son Gerardo Arredono and granddaughter Niki Gandora have taking over regular operations.)
And then there's that special dinner deal: $1 Coronas offered from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. We plan on drinking some with Gustavo next month, when he comes to town for a reading May 30 at Su Teatro. We'll spill more details as they become available.