Ah, Benny's, how do we love thee? From your sprawling expanse of dining rooms to your potent margaritas to your gringo-friendly menu, it's no wonder you pack 'em in from morning to night. Straddling the fence between the old-world Mexican of Chihuahua and the modern culinary horrors of Taco Bell and squeeze-bottle salsa, you stand firm, giving legions of hungry Denverites Mexican food with the Rocky Mountain twist they crave. In particular, we love you for your green chile. There's nothing better for burning off a low-grade hangover than a plate of thick, almost stew-like verde with its big chunks of chewy pork and hotter-than-hell afterburn. Give us a couple of tortillas, maybe a side of chewy chicharrones, and we're ready to face the worst the world has to throw at us. We love ya, Benny's. Don't ever change.
For decades, El Taco de México has been the place to go in Denver for a real taste of Old Mexico. It's a gathering place for the Spanish-speaking community, an after-church destination for big bowls of menudo, a hot spot for wasted musicians looking for some quick grub after the gig, and a jumping lunch joint that attracts a generous cross-section of Denver diners. The big menu, which runs the whole length of the long counter, details offerings as tame as tacos al carbón and chicken fajitas, but also offers some peasant classics like the aforementioned menudo (an excellent version, thick and spicy and served with a half-dozen sides in tiny three-footed bowls), and tacos made with cheek meat and brains. The small army of deadly serious ladies working in the big, open kitchen pound out hundreds of hot, solid meals a day using spice mixes, recipes, mops and marinades straight out of an abuelita's playbook. This stuff puts the Mark Millers and Bobby Flays of the world to shame, and it's as close as you're gonna get to authentic Mexican cuisine without crossing international borders.
El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook
For decades, El Taco de México has been the place to go in Denver for a real taste of Old Mexico. It's a gathering place for the Spanish-speaking community, an after-church destination for big bowls of menudo, a hot spot for wasted musicians looking for some quick grub after the gig, and a jumping lunch joint that attracts a generous cross-section of Denver diners. The big menu, which runs the whole length of the long counter, details offerings as tame as tacos al carbón and chicken fajitas, but also offers some peasant classics like the aforementioned menudo (an excellent version, thick and spicy and served with a half-dozen sides in tiny three-footed bowls), and tacos made with cheek meat and brains. The small army of deadly serious ladies working in the big, open kitchen pound out hundreds of hot, solid meals a day using spice mixes, recipes, mops and marinades straight out of an abuelita's playbook. This stuff puts the Mark Millers and Bobby Flays of the world to shame, and it's as close as you're gonna get to authentic Mexican cuisine without crossing international borders.
Mmm...botanas. If there's any better bar food than tapas, it's botanas -- the little bites and appetizers served with firewater all over Mexico proper. At Tamayo -- Richard Sandoval's upscale Larimer Square homage to the Mexican Riviera of his youth -- you can sample the flavors of Acapulco and beyond for free during the hora feliz (happy hour) that runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and then, emboldened by a couple of sharp nips at the fancy-pants margarita menu, dive deeper into this rich culinary territory with dinner. Tamayo is only expensive when compared with other Mexican restaurants in town, but with entrees running in the twenty-dollar range, some people tend to get spooked. Rather than pay two bucks for a squishy enchilada all glopped up with Cheez Whiz somewhere else, though, we'd rather save up our nickels and dimes for tacos de camarón, with shrimp sautéed in achiote paste and a black-bean puree, or the costilla de cordero -- rack of lamb, marinated in adobo and huitlacoche (a corn fungus that tastes much better than it sounds), then roasted and served with wild-mushroom risotto and sweet potatoes. Tamayo also does a wicked mahi-mahi ceviche, offers a three-course prix fixe lunch menu in under sixty minutes for $16.95, and puts out beautiful plates that would have done the late Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (after whom both the Denver and Palm Beach locations were named) proud.


Tamayo
Matt Ritscher
Mmm...botanas. If there's any better bar food than tapas, it's botanas -- the little bites and appetizers served with firewater all over Mexico proper. At Tamayo -- Richard Sandoval's upscale Larimer Square homage to the Mexican Riviera of his youth -- you can sample the flavors of Acapulco and beyond for free during the hora feliz (happy hour) that runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and then, emboldened by a couple of sharp nips at the fancy-pants margarita menu, dive deeper into this rich culinary territory with dinner. Tamayo is only expensive when compared with other Mexican restaurants in town, but with entrees running in the twenty-dollar range, some people tend to get spooked. Rather than pay two bucks for a squishy enchilada all glopped up with Cheez Whiz somewhere else, though, we'd rather save up our nickels and dimes for tacos de camarón, with shrimp sautéed in achiote paste and a black-bean puree, or the costilla de cordero -- rack of lamb, marinated in adobo and huitlacoche (a corn fungus that tastes much better than it sounds), then roasted and served with wild-mushroom risotto and sweet potatoes. Tamayo also does a wicked mahi-mahi ceviche, offers a three-course prix fixe lunch menu in under sixty minutes for $16.95, and puts out beautiful plates that would have done the late Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (after whom both the Denver and Palm Beach locations were named) proud.
Hungry throngs from all sides of town flock to La Fiesta's cavernous dining room for the chips and powerhouse salsa, for the crisp chiles rellenos, for enchiladas so big they come hanging off the edge of the plate, and for verde done not in the raw, unadulterated fashion popular on the southern end of the green-chile trail, but in a more gooey, Mile High fashion. The service is fast, the crowd is loud and laid-back, and while the vibe is pure Juarez, the grub will be recognizable even to a native who's never ventured any closer to Mexico than a drive down Federal Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon. Fair warning, though: La Fiesta is only open for weekday lunch.


Hungry throngs from all sides of town flock to La Fiesta's cavernous dining room for the chips and powerhouse salsa, for the crisp chiles rellenos, for enchiladas so big they come hanging off the edge of the plate, and for verde done not in the raw, unadulterated fashion popular on the southern end of the green-chile trail, but in a more gooey, Mile High fashion. The service is fast, the crowd is loud and laid-back, and while the vibe is pure Juarez, the grub will be recognizable even to a native who's never ventured any closer to Mexico than a drive down Federal Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon. Fair warning, though: La Fiesta is only open for weekday lunch.

Best Freak-Show, Acid-Trip, "I Certainly Didn't Come Here for the Food" Mexican

Casa Bonita

Hunter Thompson once said of Circus Circus in Las Vegas, "This is what the whole hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war." Well, that was then -- and today, Casa Bonita is the place to see what would really become of the world if the radical fun police ever had their way. Sure, we all know the food is, er, questionable. But that can be said of a lot of places where there aren't strolling mariachi bands and teenage cliff divers, so everyone just give Casa Bonita a break, okay? Will anyone who's ever been there soon forget the smell of the swampy, chlorinated backsplash that could grace your gooey tacos if you're lucky enough to get a seat behind the waterfall? For sheer "I can't believe this place is real" thrills, nothing beats Casa Bonita -- the closest thing in Denver to a Terry Gilliam film come to life. And hey, any place where you can buy Coronas by the bucket can't be all bad.


El Tejado serves great, authentic Mexican fare -- camarones cocktails, whole red snapper, carne asada tacos -- as well as such north-of-the-border innovations as a thick, hot, gravy-like green chile. But somehow, everything tastes better at Sunday brunch and on Wednesday nights -- when meals are accompanied by strolling mariachis, who walk between tables and take requests. How about "Strum Enchanted Evening"?


El Tejado's potato tacos
Mark Antonation
El Tejado's potato tacos
El Tejado serves great, authentic Mexican fare -- camarones cocktails, whole red snapper, carne asada tacos -- as well as such north-of-the-border innovations as a thick, hot, gravy-like green chile. But somehow, everything tastes better at Sunday brunch and on Wednesday nights -- when meals are accompanied by strolling mariachis, who walk between tables and take requests. How about "Strum Enchanted Evening"?

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