Denver's dining scene is making a big post-pandemic comeback, and we're hungering to get back out. With so many new ventures and old favorites to visit after more than a year of restaurant shutdowns and restrictions, the choices can be overwhelming. So we're serving up Short Stop, with recommendations for things that should definitely be on your culinary short list. This week, it's a classic: Mexico City Lounge.
What: Mexico City Lounge
Where: 2115 Larimer Street
When: Open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The place: Opened by Willie and Esther Garcia, Mexico City Lounge has been a Denver staple for over fifty years. It hasn't changed much in that time, with the exception of a slight facelift in 2012, but the area around it sure has. Now Mexico City sits just two blocks from Coors Field and three from the massive new McGregor Square complex. Popular eateries including Biker Jim's, Aloy Modern Thai and Marco's Coal Fired Pizza are all just steps away, as is another taco-centric spot that opened in February 2020, Su Taco.
The family-owned spot has now passed to the third generation, but the traditions continue.
On a recent lunchtime trip, nearly every table was filled. In order to keep control over the crowds in this post-pandemic era, Mexico City has you check in with the host through the front window before you're let in the roped-off entryway and led to one of the tables (there's more space between them than there used to be). There is a long bar back by an exposed brick wall and glowing neon signs from various beer companies on the walls; the space is straightforward and comfortable, without trying to be hip and trendy (thank goodness).
But Mexico City lounge has endured for good reason....
Sometime after moving to Denver in 2005, I was introduced to fried tacos at a place called La Cocina de Marcos at 7585 East Iliff Avenue (currently the home of Pho Denver). I was quickly hooked, and visited regularly; I lived nearby at the time, so it was easy to get a fix. When the joint closed in 2015, a grease-stained sorrow came over me.
But with one bite of a fried taco at Mexico City Lounge, all was right in the world again. The tacos are available in orders of three ($9.50 to $10) or four ($12 to $13), with a choice of steak, chicken or beef. When I asked which was best, the server answered "steak" without hesitation, so I took her advice.
The plate arrived quickly, with the steak and a smattering of lettuce, tomato and avocado slices (which come free on the steak and can be added to the other variations for $1) over the golden-fried white corn tortilla; two cups of salsa came on the side. The tacos were greasy in the very best kind of way, and the steak so tender it nearly melded with the melty American cheese layering the bottom. Yes, American cheese. Criticize that product all you want, but you really can't beat the melt factor of a classic processed cheese.
I also ordered a side of green chile, because trying that essential Denver dish anywhere it's available is, well, essential. This one had a nice amount of heat (order it hot for more) but certainly wasn't spicy, and had tons of flavor. The only possible way to improve the tacos was to dunk them in the dark green, pork-studded chile. While the salsa that came along with them was just fine, the green chile dunk was the real winner.
If, like me, you have somehow managed to miss out on one of the best bites in the city, you don't have to admit your mistake publicly, unlike me. Just go, ASAP.