El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook
Long touted as mankind's only guaranteed cure for the common hangover, menudo is a hearty, spicy, slow-cooked stew made from hominy, chiles and tripe, feet, knuckles or any other unattractive cut requiring several hours of cooking to bring out its more subtle charms. On weekends at El Taco de México, these lowly ingredients are brought together into something far greater than the sum of their parts in one fine menudo. The kitchen is wise enough to use honeycomb tripe (the darker, more strongly flavored muscular lining from the cow's second stomach) along with the fattier first stomach, which gives the soup a strong, heavy flavor and reduces the greasiness you get from using only smooth tripe. The menudo is spicy enough that you'll work up a good sweat, but it comes with tortillas to cut the heat and little bowls bearing limes and a red-chile sauce in case you feel up to tinkering with the flavor.
Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant and Bar
Courtesy Sherpa's Adventure Restaurant & Bar Facebook
It's papadum, not tortillas, and the salsa isn't a cruda or a fresca, but a spicy-sweet tomato chutney. And it's served in a Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant, not a storefront dive on Federal. Still, the chips and salsa at Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant are deserving of not only this prize, but many others. For starters, they're free; there's been a disturbing trend lately of some places charging for their chips and salsa, which, in our world, is tantamount to a dive bar charging for bowls of stale pretzels. Second, they're good. The papadum are crisp, light and nutty, and the broken-up pieces fill a generous-sized basket; the salsa is smoky-hot, complex in flavor, and layered with an underlying sweetness that makes it absolutely addictive. And third, the world is changing. So let Sherpa's award be the clarion call. Cuisines are no longer as distinct and insular as they once were, and those Mexican joints that used to be the sole purveyors of the chips, salsa and three-beer lunch are now in contention with comers from around the globe.
At Brewery Bar II, there's no element of Mexican cuisine that cannot be improved by the addition of melted cheese. No ingredient that can't be wrapped in a tortilla or deep-fried, no weakness in flavor or texture that can't be bullied up with a liberal dose of the house's custom chile -- a red-and-green blend that's heavy on the pork, but so far from the pure heat and flavor of traditional verde that comparison is nearly impossible. If, like us, you've strayed a bit from your Hatch-purist prejudices, then you, too, can grow to love this biracial chile without reservation. Sweet, watery, hot without being numbing, it kicks the endorphins into overdrive, then throws in that killer jolt of chile flavor right at the end to make everything it touches taste better.
Jack Martinez is the green-chile king, and until someone comes along who knows his pods better and loves them more, Martinez's Jack-n-Grill will wear the green-chile crown. At Jack-n-Grill, the Martinez family treats beautiful Socorro green chiles with the sort of reverence the Italians have for tomatoes or the French for cheese. They're brought in by the truckload from deep in southern New Mexico, used whole, used chopped, used in sauces and on burritos, and -- in season -- roasted right on the premises in big, gas-fired tumblers and sold by the pound to chile-heads who sometimes line up down the block for their shot at a bag of Jack's green gold. There's nothing quite like the smoky-sweet smell of the place during roasting season, no sound more beloved among the faithful than the scratchy pop and afterburner roar of the roaster going full blast, and no place we know to get green done better than at Jack-n-Grill.
There are those who go for the cheap thrills -- the quick, delicious burn that green chile makes when it reaches the sinuses. But red has its pleasures, too, and there's no red chile more pleasant than the version that La Fiesta's been dishing out for close to thirty years. This red chile has a fire all its own, a complex layering of flavors that speaks of much more than mere chile powder. But, of course, you're not going to eat it on its own. You're going to order it smothering an enchilada filled with gooey yellow cheese or drowning the best crispy chile relleno in town. This plate is hot!
In the classical canon, there are five mother sauces -- delicate and complex base mixtures from which all other sauces are born. But since this list of mothers was compiled ages ago by the French culinarians, it was weighted heavily in the direction of old Continental classics, and nowhere among the five is there a sauce that, through any miracle of reproduction, could produce a chile like that offered up by Marcela Guerrero and her kitchen at Cielo. This is a travesty of geographic isolationism, because these days, chile sauces belong among those charmed few bases from which all things spring. Cielo's green is a sweet, meaty, thick stew of flavors, primary among them the complex taste of chile as fruit. And the red is a smooth lava of heat mounting on heat, tempered in its upper reaches by a singing touch of honey. These are not just simple chile sauces, but artistic, well-balanced creations that -- in the true style of the mothers -- have been built up from a classic base into something related to, but wholly different from, that which gave them birth. But beyond all that -- and most important -- they're delicious.
Brewery Bar II
Kenzie Bruce
At Brewery Bar II, there's no element of Mexican cuisine that cannot be improved by the addition of melted cheese. No ingredient that can't be wrapped in a tortilla or deep-fried, no weakness in flavor or texture that can't be bullied up with a liberal dose of the house's custom chile -- a red-and-green blend that's heavy on the pork, but so far from the pure heat and flavor of traditional verde that comparison is nearly impossible. If, like us, you've strayed a bit from your Hatch-purist prejudices, then you, too, can grow to love this biracial chile without reservation. Sweet, watery, hot without being numbing, it kicks the endorphins into overdrive, then throws in that killer jolt of chile flavor right at the end to make everything it touches taste better.
Mexican hamburger.
Mark Antonation
Mexican hamburger.
There are those who go for the cheap thrills -- the quick, delicious burn that green chile makes when it reaches the sinuses. But red has its pleasures, too, and there's no red chile more pleasant than the version that La Fiesta's been dishing out for close to thirty years. This red chile has a fire all its own, a complex layering of flavors that speaks of much more than mere chile powder. But, of course, you're not going to eat it on its own. You're going to order it smothering an enchilada filled with gooey yellow cheese or drowning the best crispy chile relleno in town. This plate is hot!
Over the years we've eaten our way around Rosa Linda's menu, devouring everything from the soft chiles rellenos to the classic shredded beef burrito. But for a Mexican meal that really sticks to your costillas, try the steak ranchero -- tender diced beef mixed with chiles and onions in a killer red chile sauce.
In the classical canon, there are five mother sauces -- delicate and complex base mixtures from which all other sauces are born. But since this list of mothers was compiled ages ago by the French culinarians, it was weighted heavily in the direction of old Continental classics, and nowhere among the five is there a sauce that, through any miracle of reproduction, could produce a chile like that offered up by Marcela Guerrero and her kitchen at Cielo. This is a travesty of geographic isolationism, because these days, chile sauces belong among those charmed few bases from which all things spring. Cielo's green is a sweet, meaty, thick stew of flavors, primary among them the complex taste of chile as fruit. And the red is a smooth lava of heat mounting on heat, tempered in its upper reaches by a singing touch of honey. These are not just simple chile sauces, but artistic, well-balanced creations that -- in the true style of the mothers -- have been built up from a classic base into something related to, but wholly different from, that which gave them birth. But beyond all that -- and most important -- they're delicious.

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