Happy-hour conversation usually doesn't turn to debates over authenticity. However you want to define culturally appropriate cuisine, it's rarely an issue when cheap tacos or pork buns are coming fast and furious. There are plenty of deep happy-hour cuts beyond the sangria and Brussels sprouts syndicate — and Paxia Authentic Mexican Cuisine is one of them. (The restaurant even has "Authentic Mexican Cuisine" in its name.) From 2 to 6 p.m. every day, you can check out a humble little happy hour with the charms of a taqueria and the cred (and not just the street kind) that comes with Paxia's take on Mexican fare.
Paxia is an upscale concept from the people who own three Los Carboncitos taco joints: down the street on Pecos, in Lakewood and in Aurora — all decidedly more cocina de la calle. In opposition to most messy Mexican diner menus, Paxia offers more lavish options, like Yucatan-style grilled salmon ($18) and bubbling molcajetes ($20 to $22), ideally split between a snazzy couple knocking back glasses of wine. The pleasures of the happy-hour bocaditos here are simpler, with tacos, tamales, flautas and more, all for $5 each.
But of course, there are plates here that won't show up on just any happy-hour menu, like shrimp empanadas and mini tinga tostadas. Teensy little morsels these tostadas are, cute as a button with a shower of cotija confetti. The shredded, chipotle-braised beef is tender, with more than a hint of heat, which is quickly cooled by cheese and crema on top of a crunchy housemade tostada. You can even see the tortillas being spread out and grilled before you, through the window overlooking the kitchen (an actual window, not the kitchen pass).
I was absolutely giddy to see tlacoyos on the menu, street snacks not easy to find on these Denver streets. These bean-stuffed masa pockets are griddled to gather a fine crisp, then piled with mounds of chicken (or beef), diced jalapeños, pickled cactus and onion. The ever-increasing spice level is sharpened on the astringent cactus, with more cotija to ensure you feel the burn and the brine. It's a unique evening snack, with one tlacoyo each to split the plate with someone whose taste you trust. A pair of Lety's pork tamales are decidedly un-fancy, but are still a filling bit of business enlivened with jalapeño masa.
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Depending on the time of day, a $5 margarita or michelada might be your bag, or perhaps a $3 can of Tecate is more your speed. Even though Paxia aims for the higher-end of Mexican, happy hour attracts neighborhood diners of any type and configuration, especially as the clock ticks into dinnertime. Whether you opt for a can of beer and a basket of Paxia's fantastic chips and salsa, or tostadas and margaritas for an anniversary party, Paxia feels "authentic" to any experience.
Don't Miss: A showstopper dessert like the sorbet ($8) seems appropriate for a classy place like Paxia. A favorite of Andrew Novick's, it's a tower of fruit flavors, with scoop after scoop of sorbet on a pile of fresh fruit, with a kaleidoscope of sweet sauces and spun sugar dangling on top. Sure to lure any distracted child or pull inattentive dates away from their phones.