Best Central/South American Restaurant 2017 | Antojitos Colombianos | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Antojitos Colombianos Facebook

The tiny Antojitos Colombianos isn't polished or glamorous, but the service is genuine and friendly, and the cheery dining room rings with laughter and the sound of forks hitting plates. Antojitos, the "little desires" of Latin American street food, are the specialty here, from crunchy empanadas to fat arepas to unusual aborrajados oozing hot cheese and guava paste from their deep-fried plantain shells. Go early for pandebonos, perfectly spherical yuca-flour buns with a cheesy surprise inside; return at lunch for a platter of bandeja paisa, loaded with beans, rice, chicharrones, steak, sausage and plantain, that will hold off hunger for the rest of the day. But as soon as a new day dawns, you'll crave another round of these little desires.

Readers' Choice: Cafe Brazil

Danielle Lirette

While the debate rages on between which is better — New Mexico green chile made with pepper pods from Hatch or the Colorado equivalent cooked with Pueblo's finest — North County quietly stirs up batches of flawless verde in its Lowry kitchen. Thick, pea-green and threaded through with long-simmered pork, the stew packs a slow burn and an avalanche of green-chile flavor. Eat it plain or order it as a side for your carne asada fries, which...just order the carne asada fries! Chef/proprietor Sterling Robinson serves a similarly spicy green chile at north Denver's Billy's Inn if you can't make it out to Lowry, but then you'd be missing out on a house-bottled cocktail to cool your tongue. The results are in: North County, representing Southern California and Baja, Mexico, takes the prize over both New Mexico and Colorado.

Readers' Choice: Santiago's

Mark Antonation

Chef/owner Noe Bermudez grew up watching his mom, a professional chef, cook in restaurants in his home town of Uruapan, Michoacán. Much of the food at Kahlo's, as well as at Bermudez's first restaurant, Tarasco's, is meatless simply because of tradition — but he's also a proponent of healthy eating, as evidenced by his restaurants' long lists of fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Bermudez's green chile is just one of his vegetarian wonders; the spicy, tangy sauce livens up burritos, a meatless chimichanga or enchiladas with full-frontal chile flavor barely dressed with hints of garlic, onion and other seasonings. The green chile is much the same at both locations, but we love going green inside the bright, sunny and spacious Kahlo's — a nourishing and nurturing spot for residents of the Westwood neighborhood.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas

Carnitas California Facebook

Trust a taqueria with "carnitas" in its name to turn out the town's top tacos. But carnitas are where you begin at Carnitas California, which moved from its longtime home on Morrison Road to a bright new spot on Santa Fe Drive in the summer of 2016. Here, pork is slow-simmered in its own fat and juices in massive pots until the meat nearly falls apart. A quick sear on the griddle crisps the edges, but the pork is otherwise lightly seasoned; a colorful array of house salsas add the proper blast of heat and acidity. Dive deep into traditional carnitas with a mixed plate of the juicy pork, plus buche (stomach) and cueritos (soft-cooked pork skin), or choose from other equally impressive meats, from tangy cochinita pibil to beefy birria and barbacoa. The northbound-only stretch of Santa Fe that Carnitas California calls home means there's only one way to go for the best tacos in town.

Readers' Choice: Tacos Tequila Whiskey

Best Restaurant With a View of a Car Wash


Mark Antonation

While cruising Broadway through downtown Englewood, be sure to stop for tacos, a tank of gas and a car wash — all under one roof. Garibaldi shares a building with a Conoco service station; the little cantina is wedged between the gas station's convenience store and automated car wash. A window in the dining room even looks directly onto the whirling brushes and showers of suds as cars make their way through, so you'll be entertained while you enjoy lunch or dinner. Of course, we wouldn't send you to a taqueria if it wasn't top-notch; despite the scintillating setting, the food is still the main attraction here. Daily specials — lamb barbacoa, quesadillas with huitlacoche and squash blossoms — are worth investigating (check ahead on Garibaldi's Facebook page), or sample the unique quekas, which come in somewhere between an oversized taco and a corn-tortilla quesadilla. The thick, semi-crunchy shell enfolds layers of cheese and your choice of carnitas, chorizo, carne al pastor or the house specialty, suadero. Other hard-to-find regional dishes include pambazos (smothered tortas), nopales rellenos (stuffed cactus leaves) and mixiote (slow-cooked lamb). Fill 'er up!

Carniceria Aaliyah Facebook

Federal Boulevard is rife with good Mexican grub, much of it from market lunch counters where you can grab groceries and then sit down for a plate of tacos or a steaming bowl of caldo de res. Carniceria Aaliyah, which opened in the second half of 2016, has a tidy, well-stocked butcher counter, a few aisles of packaged goods and a steam table of hot foods for a grab-and-go dinner, unless you prefer to sit at the market's lone table for a quick bite. That's exactly the thing to do when you order tamales, because Aaliyah makes them so tender and rich with lard you won't want to save them for later. Available in red or green chile, these steamed bundles are smooth, dense and packed with flavorful shredded pork. After you've devoured your order, add a tamale six-pack or two to your shopping basket for dinner at home.

Readers' Choice: Adelitas

Best Breakfast Burrito — Handheld

El Zarape

If you want Denver's best breakfast burrito, you have to be willing to work for it, because it's hard to find. El Zarape is tucked away on Federal Boulevard, nestled into a shared parking lot with a used-car dealership. The best clue to its location: a line of cars that spills out onto Federal as hungry drivers wait for their unbeatable breakfast burritos, a bargain at $1.99 each. A homemade tortilla is wrapped around freshly fried potatoes, eggs and your choice of breakfast meat, wrapped in aluminum foil and then stashed in a paper bag with two packages of salsa. Grab the bag, pull out onto Federal and wait for a light before you attempt to spice up the burrito and take a bite. Traffic signal willing, it's a great way to start the day.

Readers' Choice: Santiago's

Lancer's Diner opened last spring as a neighborhood joint for Harvey Park, College View, Ruby Hill and Mar Lee, taking its name from the mascot of Lincoln High School, just across Federal. Big breakfasts are the specialty of the house, and the awe-inspiring breakfast burrito sticks close to that mission. A mountain of scrambled eggs, country potatoes, sautéed veggies and breakfast meat is barely contained by a straining flour tortilla. Order the standard for bacon and sausage (together, of course), or opt for spicy chorizo or steak. You can go meat-free, too, with avocado or unadorned egg and potato. But always, always ask for your burrito smothered so that you can wallow in a pond of the house green chile — a Denver-style gravy with plenty of chiles and a smooth texture that steers clear of gloppiness. Lancer's isn't a big place, so take care when ordering; this breakfast burrito could crowd out all the other customers.

Readers' Choice: Santiago's

Mark Manger

We've watched creative twists on nachos proliferate around town, and we can get down with many of those variations. But sometimes you just want the age-old combo, sans barbecue sauce or buffalo chicken. That's when we head to El Camino, which takes the classic version and improves on each ingredient without straying from the original form. Chips are thick-cut and freshly fried. Mild Jack cheese, tangy pico de gallo, earthy black beans, racy pickled jalapeños, a dusting of cilantro and a few ribbons of sour cream are used generously but in ideal ratios, so that the toppings balance each other without a single flavor becoming overwhelming. The crowning touch is the green chile, which you can order either pork-infused or vegetarian. The chile is applied sparingly so the nachos don't become soggy or soupy, but it imparts an addictive, savory head. Add chorizo or carnitas if you must, but the meat-free version works just fine for us.

Laura Shunk

Buried in a nondescript Arvada strip mall, Las Potrancas has much to recommend it: solid green chile, good chips and salsa, killer huevos rancheros, tequila bottle service (and tequila lockers, in case you'd like to store your purchase). But the best reason to venture to this cantina is the rellenos nachos, an inspired variation on the bar classic that dials up the indulgence factor considerably. For this snack, the kitchen replaces chips with a pile of chopped chiles rellenos — as in deep-fried chiles stuffed with Jack cheese. Add spicy green chile, more cheese and a little pico de gallo, and you get a platter that looks like a competitive eating challenge and eats like a guilty pleasure (and, oh, what a pleasure). Add chicken, steak or chicharrones to make these nachos a meal.

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