The Brown Palace has always stirred up a nostalgic longing for the martini's golden era, when the drink wasn't mixed with chocolate or blueberries and the concept of "class" meant more than a big wad of disposable income. When the hotel's Atrium, always an elegant choice for tea or a quiet cocktail, recently revamped its after-work menu options to include such tempting tidbits as house-smoked salmon tart and chilled, poached asparagus, it wisely retained its popular martini cart, which enables servers to offer swillers handmade martinis done tableside. You name the poison -- your choice from three vodkas and three gins -- and the cart- tender shakes or stirs according to your whims. Throw in a citrus twist, a jalapeño or an olive from the garnish assortment, and sit back in the refined ambience of the Brown's lobby as the hassles of the day slip away. Or is that sip away?


You may feel as though you're sitting inside a big lime in Lime, a trendy, way-cool space, but that just makes you crave a marg all the more. Pucker up: Lime's Mighty Margarita is 21 ounces of frozen glory, a mix of Sauza Gold tequila, Grand Marnier and a signature (and secret) lime mix that's more like a breath of citrus-kissed air than a slug of sweet-and-sour. The menu promises that "one is all you need," and it's right. Yowza! (Lightweights can have a "Mini Mighty.")


Just add tequila and go, go, go. Those beautiful bad boys at the Boulder Beverage Company created a real liquid asset with Margarita on Tap! Each box holds enough non-alcoholic juice -- a combo of lime and lemon -- to make 24 five-ounce margaritas on the rocks. Available in local liquor stores, the marg mix is about to go national: BBC's Brian Gansmann will be talking it up on QVC April 28. Tap in while you still can.


One sip of the strawberry lemonade at Julia Blackbird's, and you'll be transported to Santa Fe. No packaged-mix drink that looks all pretty and pink and tastes like Kool-Aid, this lemonade is made fresh with fat chunks of strawberry. It's just sweet and tart enough to cool the tongue through a plate of spicy enchiladas. Bottoms up!


They're baaaack! At Mexican restaurants around town, baskets of chips and salsa are suddenly reappearing. Eateries that still feel the economic need can cash in on their chips -- and let the rest fall where they may.
The snappy Little Anita's is owned by a family from New Mexico, and the restaurant's reliance on chiles from that area makes all the difference. Chips come freshly fried, slightly oily and hot, so it's a pleasure to dip them into the cool salsa, fired with red and green chiles and hot enough to make you sweat, but also boasting layers of flavor from fresh cilantro, diced onions and lime juice. The chips and salsa run $1.50 an order, but Little Anita can be forgiven for that, because the rest of the fare is so inexpensive: Platefuls of enchiladas, chiles rellenos or burritos cost only $5.25 each. So c'mon, chip in.


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.


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