La Popular
Danielle Lirette
To hell with rice cakes. Dr. Atkins says: Pass the pork. Which means you won't want to pass up La Popular, which fries curly bits of hog fat into zero-carb, unadulterated artery-clogging bliss. Although the freeze-dried pork pellets hail from Chicago, the cooks in this Mexican kitchen work magic with chile powder and 350-degree canola oil. The result is a thick, crackling bit of hog heaven only a few hairs short of the backyard matanza. They're perfect for guacamole or the ever-popular pork-rind cheese ball. And with no preservatives and the good doctor's blessing, what could be better -- or better for you? Get 'em while they're hot.

To hell with rice cakes. Dr. Atkins says: Pass the pork. Which means you won't want to pass up La Popular, which fries curly bits of hog fat into zero-carb, unadulterated artery-clogging bliss. Although the freeze-dried pork pellets hail from Chicago, the cooks in this Mexican kitchen work magic with chile powder and 350-degree canola oil. The result is a thick, crackling bit of hog heaven only a few hairs short of the backyard matanza. They're perfect for guacamole or the ever-popular pork-rind cheese ball. And with no preservatives and the good doctor's blessing, what could be better -- or better for you? Get 'em while they're hot.

Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chipotle got its start in Colorado, and although this homegrown chain is now running with the big dogs, it still serves up one massive puppy of a barbacoa burrito. To create the classic, Chipotle braises beef in a liquid rife with chipotles, cumin, cloves and garlic until it softens and shreds and absorbs every bit of flavor. The meat is then wrapped in a jumbo flour tortilla along with pintos, Chipotle's signature cilantro-lime rice and much-needed sour cream to cool the heat. If your stomach can take it, throw in the fiery tomatillo salsa. The winner and still the chomp.

Chipotle got its start in Colorado, and although this homegrown chain is now running with the big dogs, it still serves up one massive puppy of a barbacoa burrito. To create the classic, Chipotle braises beef in a liquid rife with chipotles, cumin, cloves and garlic until it softens and shreds and absorbs every bit of flavor. The meat is then wrapped in a jumbo flour tortilla along with pintos, Chipotle's signature cilantro-lime rice and much-needed sour cream to cool the heat. If your stomach can take it, throw in the fiery tomatillo salsa. The winner and still the chomp.

Alamos Verdes, a big, charmingly decorated Mexican eatery, has been serving up combo plates and big burritos for decades. But there's another menu item, a relative newcomer to the Tex-mix-and-Mex standards, that's the real standout here: fajitas. Alamos Verdes sends out a heaping helping of them, a platter loaded with juicy strips of charred-tip beef and tender, smoky chicken, along with green peppers and onions that have been caramelized on the grill. Everything's so warm that after you jam your tortilla with meat, veggies, lemony, hand-mashed guacamole, sour cream, freshly diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, you can throw in some grated good-quality cheese and watch everything melt deliciously together. After you've tried the fajitas, you'll remember the Alamos.

Alamos Verdes, a big, charmingly decorated Mexican eatery, has been serving up combo plates and big burritos for decades. But there's another menu item, a relative newcomer to the Tex-mix-and-Mex standards, that's the real standout here: fajitas. Alamos Verdes sends out a heaping helping of them, a platter loaded with juicy strips of charred-tip beef and tender, smoky chicken, along with green peppers and onions that have been caramelized on the grill. Everything's so warm that after you jam your tortilla with meat, veggies, lemony, hand-mashed guacamole, sour cream, freshly diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, you can throw in some grated good-quality cheese and watch everything melt deliciously together. After you've tried the fajitas, you'll remember the Alamos.

At the Painted Bench, chef Steve Rohs's duck tamales are such a marvel, with tender

duck meat playing off the sweetness of the corn, that you immediately wonder why someone didn't think of the combination before. But then, you also wonder why it took so long for Denver to get a restaurant as groovy as the Painted Bench. This at once divey and chic eatery boasts a mishmash of decorating styles that offer a little something for everyone. Much like the duck tamale appetizer, in fact, whose smooth, creamy tamal is paired with a relish of roasted corn and black beans and a chipotle-kissed chile sauce. Start with this appetizer, and you'll be in the swim.

At the Painted Bench, chef Steve Rohs's duck tamales are such a marvel, with tender

duck meat playing off the sweetness of the corn, that you immediately wonder why someone didn't think of the combination before. But then, you also wonder why it took so long for Denver to get a restaurant as groovy as the Painted Bench. This at once divey and chic eatery boasts a mishmash of decorating styles that offer a little something for everyone. Much like the duck tamale appetizer, in fact, whose smooth, creamy tamal is paired with a relish of roasted corn and black beans and a chipotle-kissed chile sauce. Start with this appetizer, and you'll be in the swim.

For proof that beauty is more than chile-skin deep, stop by Chelo's, a teeny little bakery that's open only until 6 p.m. each day. But that's plenty of time to score a plate of chiles rellenos, gooey, greasy and oh-so-good, served in a gritty setting that only enhances their flavor. Order your meal at a bakery display case crammed with fruit-filled empanadas and

cookies, and while you wait the six minutes for them to whip up the rellenos, munch on the tortilla chips and hot, cilantro-dotted salsa that come with your meal -- which costs a whopping $4.50. But you'd normally pay twice as much for the two poblanos that come stuffed with that requisite, fabulously nebulous white cheese; they've been coated in a loose, eggy batter that soaks up the grease and then cloaked in a chunky, tomato-heavy green chile. There's no point in wasting your time on the refrieds that come with the chiles, but the rice is good, and you get two flour tortillas to sop up the juices. Prepare to leave stuffed --

but first, grab a sugar-dusted blueberry empanada for the road and take a gander at the impressive selection of dried goods, including purple posole and salted corn.

Readers' choice: Benny's

For proof that beauty is more than chile-skin deep, stop by Chelo's, a teeny little bakery that's open only until 6 p.m. each day. But that's plenty of time to score a plate of chiles rellenos, gooey, greasy and oh-so-good, served in a gritty setting that only enhances their flavor. Order your meal at a bakery display case crammed with fruit-filled empanadas and

cookies, and while you wait the six minutes for them to whip up the rellenos, munch on the tortilla chips and hot, cilantro-dotted salsa that come with your meal -- which costs a whopping $4.50. But you'd normally pay twice as much for the two poblanos that come stuffed with that requisite, fabulously nebulous white cheese; they've been coated in a loose, eggy batter that soaks up the grease and then cloaked in a chunky, tomato-heavy green chile. There's no point in wasting your time on the refrieds that come with the chiles, but the rice is good, and you get two flour tortillas to sop up the juices. Prepare to leave stuffed --

but first, grab a sugar-dusted blueberry empanada for the road and take a gander at the impressive selection of dried goods, including purple posole and salted corn.

Readers' choice: Benny's

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