This past year, Jerry Gallegos and his family added Jerry's Mexican Restaurant to the tiny empire that already included two Playa de Oro locations. These days, Gallegos is doing the cooking at Jerry's, while his brother Ismal cooks at the original 38th Avenue site and his nephew, Jose Rodriguez, works the #2 store at Federal and 72nd. But all three outlets follow the same recipe for their breakfast burrito, a wake-up call of a meal filled with soft, grill-crisped potatoes and scrambled eggs along with your choice of bacon, ham, sausage or chorizo. The most important component, though, is the medium-thick green chile that smothers the burrito, a Gallegos family secret that merges small, soft pieces of pork with just a few tomatoes and plenty of hot chiles. Good morning to you, too.


Since he started out in the kitchen of the Oak Alley Inn over two decades ago, Benny Armas has been winning fans with his cooking, and the sirloin-steak burrito at his namesake Benny's Restaurante y Cantina gives ample proof why. This is the kind of addictive fare that gives Mexican food a good name in this town -- and keeps you coming back, and back, and back for more. The burrito starts with long strips of steak, liberally seasoned, which are thrown on the grill until the edges char but the centers stay nice and juicy. The steak is then stuffed into a large tortilla along with tons of cheese; the entire package is smothered in Benny's signature hot, hot green chile and topped with fresh avocado. The steak and cheese meld together into one salty, greasy delight, and the chile helps take the edge off the richness.
It's hard to decide which taco we like best at Jack-n-Grill, because they're all great. In fact, so are the authentic Frito pie and the killer, fiery-hot green chile cooked up at this north Denver spot that excels at New Mexican-style Mexican. But if we could only choose one thing to eat at this happy, inviting place run by the entire Martinez family, it would be the vaquero tacos. They come four to an order, with a quartet of buttered soft taco shells filled with your choice of moist grilled chicken or succulent shredded beef. Either meat is finger-licking good, awash in a super-sweet, sticky, slightly spicy barbecue sauce. We'd go up the hill to fetch these anytime.


You don't expect to find decent Mexican fare, much less great Mexican, at a busy Littleton strip mall. But at El Lucero, a small but buzzing joint where the specials of the day are illegible on the dry-erase board and few of the employees speak English, the food needs no translation. In any language, your best bet is the tacos al carbón, three soft tacos filled with beef so soft and salty it's like eating buttery popcorn. Fresh pico de gallo comes with the tacos, and its sharp jalapeño bite is just right to play off the meat. For some added oomph, order a side of the green chile, and ladle on spoonfuls of this bright-orange fiery mix packed with big pieces of pork.


Take one fire-roasted poblano chile, jam it with Monterey Jack cheese, drop it into a bowl of eggy batter and then fry the heck out of it on the grill until the exterior forms a thin, crackly crust and the cheese just starts to peek out. Delicious as the final result will be, it will only hint at the delights of Taquería Patzcuaro's perfect chile relleno -- soft but not soggy, cheesy but not cloggy. Order two for an ideal meal, and wash them down with one of Taquería's luscious licuados.


Inside this unassuming but very brightly painted, salmon-toned building, the Sierra family makes fabulous Mexican food. The pork carnitas are melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the guacamole is always freshly mashed. But the real draw at this colorful spot is the crispy chile relleno, a long poblano filled with Jack cheese and wrapped in a won ton wrapper, then deep-fried until the exterior becomes a crunchy shell. What takes Mi Cocina's relleno over the top is the topping of green chile, a medium-thick, mildly hot concoction that coats every bite. Mi Cocina is our cocina.


When this family-run restaurant first opened on South Quebec, it was very small and had no liquor license. In its new digs, La Cocina de Marcos not only has room to move, but it also serves beer and wine -- all the better for washing down the well-executed, flavorful Mexican fare made from scratch. Everything is good here: Try the chiles rellenos, the refried beans cooked down with onions and the nicely grilled carne asada. It's all even better when smothered in the great green chile, a clean-tasting mixture that's light on grease and sweeter than most versions, with a faint chile bite and tiny bits of tomato. While the red is tasty, too, the green is downright mean.


Best Green Chile That's Actually Green

Pique

In Mexico, chile verde is actually green -- not red, not orange, not gray -- which helps explain its name. Since most Denver-born green chiles include tomatoes, some Mexicans -- Guanajuatan transplants Paola and Sergio Hernandez among them -- think it should rightly be called red. The Hernandezes can call the green chile they make at Pique, their teeny little strip-mall spot, whatever they want; I call it delicious. Packed with tomatillos and jalapeños and a little pork for extra flavor, this brew is a thin, flavor-packed, truly green-colored chile that begs to soak into a tortilla. One taste, and other Mexican joints will be green with envy.


Jack Martinez, owner of Jack-n-Grill, used to sell roasted chiles from Socorro, New Mexico, on Federal Boulevard, so he knows his chile. To make red chile, he takes a variety of the New Mexican pods and purées them into a deep, rich, rojo sauce that carries the sun-kissed flavors of the earth they were grown in. Try it smothering Jack-n-Grill's cheesy, lasagne-style enchiladas, and you'll be seeing red, all right.
The sign behind the counter of colorful goodies at Panadería & Pastelería Santa Fe reads "Bienvenido a su panadería," and patrons are made to feel welcome, indeed. Baker/owner Juan Acuña always has an extra minute to explain his intricate pastries -- sugar-coated conchas, ear-shaped orejas, lemon-flavored flautas, empanadas, cream-stuffed horns -- or discuss in depth the spices he carries, many of which have medicinal properties. A refrigerator case holds other Mexican specialties, including crema and homemade chorizo. And for a really sweet deal, pick up one of Acuña's tres leches cakes, the most toothsome in town.


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