LoDo's two new Mexican-oriented eateries replace a pair of long-timers that recently departed the scene. Shortly after Rio Grande moved into the neighborhood last year, Las Delicias, the third (and best) link in a homegrown chain that got its start in the mid-'70s, left its space on Blake Street when the landlord raised the rent. But Las D is still serving that great, gravylike green chile at five locations, including the original at 439 East 19th Avenue and the latest addition to the group, the former Riviera at 4301 East Kentucky Avenue in Glendale. As for 1530 Blake, it's now the home of the new Lemon Sisters Market. Two blocks away in Larimer Square, the Mexicali Cafe closed earlier this year after a decade of pouring margs and serving up enchiladas; the Del Mar Crab House, another Larimer Group venture, opens at its 1433 Larimer Street address this week.
The Wall Street Journal doesn't often come knocking on the doors of small, family-owned businesses in Denver -- not even institutions as beloved as Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe. But on March 9, the Mexican eatery at 2005 West 33rd Avenue was featured on the cover of the esteemed newspaper's "American Opinion" section, complete with a color photograph of the Aguirre family, and things have been buzzing ever since.
"It's funny how it happened," says Oscar Aguirre, the oldest of Virgil and Rosa Linda Aguirre's five children. "The reporter from the Wall Street Journal was at the coffee shop next door, and she was asking the owner over there, Lucia Guzman, about the upcoming school-board elections and how the community feels about local politics, 'cause Lucia's on the school board and everything. And Lucia said, 'Hey, if you really want to take the pulse of this particular community, you need to go over next door to Rosa Linda's and ask them."
So reporter Jackie Calmes did, and boy, did she get an earful. Calmes was researching a story on the GOP's current push to reach middle-class Hispanic voters, which manifested itself locally when a friend of Rosa Linda's asked her to host George W. Bush for a campaign event. "Why?" Rosa Linda asked her friend. "I'm not a Republican." And that was the end of that -- until Rosa Linda repeated the story to Calmes. "My mom likes to start these things," Oscar notes, "so she told the reporter that I'm a Republican and that she and I disagree on everything, and that just got things going."
But since the Journal piece appeared, it's Rosa Linda herself who just keeps going, with requests for interviews pouring in from radio stations and Hispanic newspapers across the country. "She was already so busy, and she's even busier now," Oscar says. "A lot of people saw the article and have been calling or stopping in, and business has picked up, even more than before."
"The reporter was really trying to get a sense of where me and my family stood on politics," Rosa Linda explains. "And then she had something to eat."
With any luck, that something was a shredded-beef burrito, a Rosa Linda's specialty since the Aguirres started their restaurant in 1985. Both of them have been working there nearly nonstop ever since, often with the help of their kids, and they're famous around town for their assorted good works, including a free Thanksgiving feast -- now in its fourteenth year -- that feeds about 2,000 people every November. But even before the family gained national attention, they were thinking of taking their restaurant to the next level. Much of that thinking is being pushed by Oscar, who's been attending culinary school and plans to finish his degree at Johnson & Wales. "I want to be like the Barolo Grill of Mexican restaurants," he says. "Okay, maybe not that fancy, but we want to distinguish ourselves from Las Delicias and El Noa Noa."
To that end, Oscar has come up with a roster of Mexican dishes rarely seen in these parts, such as cactus dishes and seafood preparations; these offerings will supplement rather than replace Rosa Linda's regular menu. "We're also adding more vegetarian dishes," he says. "We're really seeing that this neighborhood is changing, and the younger, healthier folks want that kind of food." But he promises that the most exciting addition will be his mom's family specialties: "You know, sometimes she makes something for us, like a Mexican meatball stew, and we think, 'Hey, this should be going out to the dining room.' So we're going to do that. If she makes something we love, we're going to send it out as a special."
Oscar is also working on a wine list that will pull heavily from South American countries, as well as such Mexican-food-friendly domestic wines as sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. "I'd also like to find a really good riesling that would go well, be sweet with our food," he adds. "Now, are you gonna find that at Las Delicias? I don't think so."
Spoken like a true Republican.
Look for Rosa Linda's revamped menu to debut in the next two weeks. And when it does, be sure to check out the photograph of the Aguirres on the back. They're posed in the same spots where they sat for their portrait on the last menu -- but they're all a decade older. And wiser.
More northwest-side story: Three blocks away at 2257 West 32nd Avenue, what had been the 32nd Avenue Grill (and El Chalan before that) is about to become La Casa de Pollo Rico. The building's owned by Gabriela Watts, who also owns Denver's two Papa's Pizza outlets -- one of which is located at 3212 Wyandot Street, right behind the impending La Casa, and is due to get patio seating this summer. Her other Papa's is at 540 East Alameda Avenue; Watt intends to put a La Casa de Pollo Rico on that block, too.
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"Both will be roasted chicken, grilled chicken, a lot of chicken," says Watts. "Nothing but chicken. Well, sides like rice and French fries. But the main focus is chicken. No burgers. No pizza. Chicken."
Reader Scott Murdock thought he had an answer for the nostalgic East Coaster looking for pizza bread. "At Famous on Colfax, all of the heroes are served on (what seems to be) what you desire," he writes. "They're awesome." Awesome, yes, but those buns still aren't the mythical pizza bread we're searching for. While we continue the quest, though, we could do worse than bite into a slice of Famous Pizza's truly awesome pizza. Although there are Famous outlets at 90 South Broadway and also 2035 South Broadway, Murdock was referring to the store at 1528 East Colfax Avenue. "Yes, we're better," a clerk there assures us.