After opening El Paraiso, the restaurant at 4690 Harlan Street that's the subject of my review this week, Luis Ochoa discovered how hard it was to find certain Mexican items in Colorado. So he took matters into his own hands and opened El Mercadito at 3125 Federal Boulevard, lining the shelves with spices and canned goods and sticking in a few tables so that people could eat food prepared from those products.
But now, save for a cooler full of Mexican Coke and Jarritos and a couple of racks of spices, the market concept has been abandoned. The name has changed, too: to El Gallo Giro. But good food is still on the menu, even if it's served in a spartan setting.
Unlike El Paraiso, this space is sparsely decorated, with cracked linoleum floors and bare walls. El Gallo Giro does mostly carry-out now; the frill-free ambience isn't exactly conducive to lingering over a meal. But at lunch, groups of friends still gather around the remaining tables, speaking to each other in a mix of Spanish and English while they put down many of the same dishes served at El Paraiso: green chile-smothered fish burritos and enchiladas, chiles rellenos and tortas, Mexican sandwiches made with slow-roasted beef or tongue, other seafood dishes. The eatery also offers tamales by the dozen and carnitas by the pound.
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I come here for the molcajetes, though. There are just two offered: the molcajete a la Mexicana, with spicy chorizo, a breast of spice-rubbed chicken, and smoky pork chops and strips of beef; and the Cielo, Mar y Tierra, with roasted beef, chicken and fat shrimp. The presentation is simple, without pretense, and the dishes themselves almost -- but not quite -- as good as at El Paraiso. But when I'm craving authentic Mexican dishes without a side of chaos, el Gallo Giro is a welcome respite.