Denver is home base for a number of chains specializing in Mexican food, most of them resembling Felipe Duran's modest empire in size (see review). Certainly, the most successful is Chipotle, which now has more than thirty locations in Colorado, beating also homegrown Qdoba by at least a dozen outlets (I hesitate to get more specific, because both seemingly sprout branches by the day). During recent back-to-back visits to a Chipotle (the original, at 1644 East Evans Avenue) and a Qdoba (the one at 550 Grant Street), though, Qdoba definitely ranked higher.
For starters, Qdoba got my order right - something Chipotle often has trouble with. And the problem isn't the language barrier, either, because both chains rely heavily on Spanish-speaking employees to custom-assemble their big, big burritos. But Qdoba has streamlined the ordering process by making signs that explain your choices, then posting those signs in the order the choices arise along the assembly line. As a result, I got my barbacoa burrito from Qdoba ($5.19) in half the time it took for Chipotle to assemble the same thing ($4.95) - when there was no one else in line. Before big, freshly made burritos were a big business, there was Las Delicias, the family-run Mexican restaurant that started in a small storefront at 439 East 19th Avenue back in 1976, expanded through much of the block and then branched out into several more locations. The most recent is at 4301 East Kentucky Avenue, the address that formerly belonged to the old Riviera, a classic dive that proclaimed itself "Glendale's Country Club" decades ago, and lived up to the name -- if your idea of a country club includes pool tables, giant fish tanks and free-flowing margaritas. Although the Las Delicias group promised to keep the Riv's irreplaceable atmosphere when it purchased the joint last year, it's instead replaced the entire structure, keeping only the original sign. Alas, the bright and shiny new Riv looks like a glorified Taco Bell. Although it may be a more wholesome spot than the original, it's still a sad loss for an area badly in need of some non-chain (even local chain) outlets.