Best Central/South American Restaurant (not Mexican) 2023 | Lucina Eatery & Bar | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Central/South American Restaurant (not Mexican)

Lucina Eatery & Bar

Molly Martin

Create Kitchen & Bar co-owners Erasmo "Ras" Casiano and Diego Coconati set out to open a Latin eatery that honored the food they grew up eating, which includes taking inspiration from a variety of places, from Mexico and Argentina to Peru, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The result is Lucina, named for Casiano's mother, which debuted in March 2022. The sleek space is filled with pops of color that echo the vibrant fare, like agua chile negro, the mojo pork chop and the ever-changing paella of the moment, which is available only on Fridays and Saturdays.

Best New Mexican/Filipino Mashup


Molly Martin

Taking inspiration from his roots in New Mexico and his family's Filipino heritage, Blaine Baggao launched Adobo as a food truck in 2016, quickly building a following for staples like lumpia and green chile with smoked carnitas. He then expanded, adding a location inside First Draft in RiNo, and in 2022, he added his first stand-alone brick-and-mortar on Federal. In addition to offering a full menu of tantalizing options, including tacos, wings and chicken adobo, the spacious restaurant has plenty of room for big groups, hosts live music on the weekends and has a full bar.

Molly Martin

The green chile at Efrain's, which moved in May 2022 from its longtime home to a location near McGuckin Hardware in Boulder, is the kind of dish that's destination-worthy. While the restaurant might have new digs, the pork-studded green chile remains as fiery as ever. The heat hits hard from the very first bite, but this chile also has a depth of flavor that makes it nearly impossible to stop eating — except, of course, to take a sip of the sweet-and-sour house margarita that is a must-order alongside it.

A north Denver staple, Pochitos Tortilla Factory is a humble Mexican spot where everything is made fresh and sold in bulk. From tortillas and chips and salsas to refried beans and Mexican rice, the family-owned business is the place to go to stock up for an at-home feast. But the tamales are the true standout, available in both red and green styles and sold by the half or full dozen. While Pochitos also sells masa for those taking on the labor-intensive task of making tamales at home, one taste of these will convince anyone to leave it to the pros.

Molly Martin

A two-year-old food truck that debuted just as birria tacos were taking hold all over social media and restaurant menus, Kiké's Red Tacos really does them right. Enrique Silva Figueroa (aka Kike) spent his whole life working in restaurants and managing kitchens in Jalisco, Mexico. Now, with the help of his family — including son Cesar Silva González — his birria has a whole lot of passionate fans. While the truck's menu is limited, the family plans to open a brick-and-mortar this year, which will allow them to expand the taco temptations.

Molly Martin

While the Mile High is well known for Den-Mex, its regional take on Mexican fare, brothers Joshua and Ryan Carrera missed the sort of south-of-the-border food they'd grown up enjoying in California. In 2019 they launched Carrera's Tacos as a catering business and soon moved into a food truck, adding a brick-and-mortar location in April 2022, when the family-run operation moved into a space next to eatertainment giant Pindustry in the Denver Tech Center. If you're craving French fry-filled California-style burritos, fully loaded street fries and queso tacos with extra-crispy griddled Oaxaca cheese, this low-key location is more than worth the drive from anywhere in the city.

Molly Martin

Now a two-time James Beard Award nominee, chef Jose Avila opened La Diabla in 2021 with a focus on pozole and mezcal. Besides hosting a killer happy hour, Tuesday street taco deals and two-for-one pozole on Thursdays, this eatery is also slinging some of the best agave spirit-based drinks in town. Its house margarita is simple perfection, made with only agave syrup, citrus and tequila (you can also sub in mezcal for a smoky note). At $6 each during happy hour, it's tempting to spend an entire afternoon knocking back these libations.

Courtesy Santo Boulder Facebook page

It's rare that something as ubiquitous as chips and salsa ignites excitement, but chef Hosea Rosenberg's ode to his northern New Mexican roots, Santo, serves a version that's like no other. The eatery gets blue-corn tortillas from a Denver-based company called Garcia's and fries them in-house to make the chips, which gives the finished product a teal-like hue. Paired with Santo's salsas, which come in a trio of options — including sweet smoked pineapple, tomatillo-based verde and salsa Mexicana made with roasted tomatoes — this starter is no afterthought.

Mark Antonation
El Tejado's potato tacos

Order this dish and you may not be the most popular person at this longtime Mexican joint with a huge menu, but you'll be so pleased with the Higado Encebollado ($14.95) that you can afford to lose a few friends. Here a big slab of liver is fried with not just onions, but jalapeños, which cut nicely through the iron-rich meat when chopped up and served alongside beans and rice. Mix in some sense-searing green chile, and you've got an indulgent meal that just has to be good for you.

Taco House is a Colorado institution that has specialized in old-school Tex-Mex since 1958. Its three remaining locations, in Denver, Littleton and Lakewood, haven't changed their recipes for six decades, so the appeal is partly nostalgia-based. But Taco House is also a straight-up good deal, where a good meal can still be had for just a few bucks. Our favorite: two cheese enchiladas, which ring up at $4.80. At that price, you can afford to splurge, so add a lettuce-and-cheese topping for $1.50 or a blanket of red or green chile for just $1.25.

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