El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook
All day, every day, whenever you need it and whatever you want: That's the defining joy of having a joint in town like El Taco de Mxico. Though the crowds ebb and flow, the work in the open kitchen is constant, with the women there always chopping, stirring, slicing and cleaning to stay on top of the rushes that hit this place with the constancy of the tides. From standards like crispy rellenos and beef tacos to more traditional Mexican comfort foods like tacos cabeza and menudo on the weekends, El Taco de Mxico does nearly everything better than nearly every other place around. How can you tell? Come Sunday, when all the churches in the neighborhood let out, the wait for a seat at the counter can stretch to an hour or more -- yet the regulars wouldn't think of going anywhere else.
Patzcuaro's
Summer Powell
Taquera Patzcuaro is almost three decades old, and with its recently acquired liquor license, it should last at least another thirty. Just about everything at this time-honored sit-down spot comes steeped in the flavors of Michoacn. From the mar y tierra plates and camarn al mojo de ajo in its deceptively simple lime and garlic sauce to the tacos albandl with their white onions, roasted jalapeos and slivered fried potatoes that attend half of the other plates on the menu, Taquera Patzcuaro has a distinctive style and taste all its own.
There are only two ingredients in a good, unblended mezcal: water and the hearts of agave cactus. And yet with just this, the village palanqueros who make Del Maguey mezcal -- working in a style and with equipment unchanged since the sixteenth century -- manage to come up with more than a half-dozen truly unique tastes, each one based, like wine, on the mineral content in the soil, the weather and the way the agave is handled in that particular Oaxacan village. Each label is amazing, unlike anything you've ever tasted. And many are now available in Denver, where about twenty restaurants and twenty retailers claim to stock the stuff. It's expensive, but -- like many premium indulgences -- absolutely worth it.
Papier-mch-parrot Mexican. Carnival Mexican. Meximerican. We're still struggling to come up with a simple descriptor that describes the kind of Mexican food being done at places like Ric's -- the carefully considered fusion of Mexican flavors, Texan innovation, Borderlands heat and American tastes that will no doubt be the modern flavor of Mexican cuisine as it spreads throughout the rest of the country. Honesty and authenticity in cuisine are not as important here as huge portions, non-threatening presentations and a family-friendly menu with something for everyone from Grandma to Junior. That said, Ric's food is also pretty good (if you can stomach things like chicken quesadillas made with cream cheese sharing the table with sizzling platters of fajitas and deep-fried chimichangas), and the atmosphere is welcoming to everyone.
Los Carboncitos
Courtesy Los Carboncitos Highlands Facebook
Los Carboncitos is one of the best free-chips-and-salsa joints in town, and we're amazed that they're still just giving this stuff away. Every meal here begins with a basket of fresh chips and a caddy of four free salsas running the gamut from merely hot to truly punishing. Honestly, we've considered on many occasions stopping in, eating a whole basket of chips for lunch and then just walking back out again. And yet every time, the chips and salsas act like blood in the shark pool -- stoking our hunger, firing our appetite and causing us to end up ordering more huaraches and soup than any one person could reasonably eat in a single sitting.
There are spots where you can get a great beef-cheek taco; places where the asada burritos are as big as your head. But there's only one Mexican restaurant in town where our favorite plate is, technically, a vegetarian one. That restaurant is Rosa Linda's, where the cactus tacos keep us coming back year after year. The tough outer petals are de-spined, peeled, shaved and cooked down until they're as tender and sweet as those canned green beans your mom used to make you eat as a kid. But these are much, much better. Add a little salsa or maybe just a squeeze of lime, and you've got the very best way to eat your vegetables.
Patzcuaro's
Summer Powell
With all the high-end Mexican and nouvelle Mexican and fake chain Mexican restaurants coming and going in Denver, it's easy to forget places like Taquera Patzcuaro. It's easy to forget how friendly owner Francisco Almanza and the guys who work the floor are, how forgiving they are of our abysmal Spanish, how generous the kitchen can be when it comes to dishing out the pride of the house, giant hunks of par-cooked and fried pork shoulder that pass for carnitas down in Michoacn. But this forgetfulness is a shame, because Taquera Patzcuaro is a place just built for eating a couple pounds of fried pig with guacamole, drinking buckets of margaritas and cold Tecates while watching a couple of Latino middleweights pummel the crap out of each other on the big TV on the back wall.
This is International Street. It's not Mexico, not Vietnam, not Korea or China or Costa Rica or any of those places in their entirety, but neither is it entirely the United States. It's an American smash map where things like borders and capitals and national languages have ceased to matter. Drive it, and you're in the middle of the engine of the new economy, the new multiculturalism. And nowhere is this more apparent than at the Avanza Market in Fiesta Plaza. Outside, mariachi music blares from nowhere in particular -- from the sky, as if that's the music that God likes -- while signs on scrap-metal frames scream in bright colors, in Spanish and English, in pictograms. And inside, you'll find piatas, pickled pig's ears in brine, wheels of asadero and a hundred dead Mexican saints: prayer candles in such lovely variety as to burn away innumerable sins.
New Saigon
Mark Manger
Back in the day, this stretch of Federal was called Little Saigon because it was the neighborhood most densely populated by the recently arrived wave of post-war Vietnamese immigrants. Not surprisingly, these newcomers to the Rocky Mountain West brought some of the flavors of their old home with them and began founding authentic Vietnamese restaurants among the strip malls. A lot of Vietnamese restaurants. And though many have since closed and successive generations moved out beyond the old neighborhood, New Saigon is still here, working from an expansive menu of dishes once completely foreign but now comfortingly recognizable, offering the same uncompromisingly authentic flavors of Southeast Asia that it has since day one.
For generations, Three Sons served as the defining taste of Italian cuisine in north Denver -- but a few years ago, the place was almost moribund. Then came changes in ownership, in kitchen staff, in menu, even in style, and Three Sons has gone from bad to very, very good. It still looks like a cast-off movie set from some un-produced Godfather sequel, it still smells like garlic all the way out into the parking lot on a good night. But with its new focus on classical Italian cooking and quality ingredients, Three Sons could be a worthy restaurant for generations to come.

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