Dreaming of a Green Christmas at La Fuente

On the northwest corner of 44th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, there's a liquor store, a Heads of State and La Fuente Mexican restaurant. La Fuente is barely noticeable but for a few banners and signs advertising breakfast and tamales. The restaurant looks like it's been there forever, slowly accumulating those signs and banners over time, while new layers of paint soften the lines of the brick and obscure the building's age. La Fuente is actually the newcomer on the block, though; it's only been holding down the corner since 2008, but in that time the neighborhood has come to rely on the tiny kitchen for some of the most true-to-form, Denver-style breakfast burritos in town. Despite a large menu of Mexican standards and American breakfast items -- mainly pancakes and omelets -- the smothered burritos are what keep customers coming back.

See also: The Chile is Chili at Brewery Bar II

The inside of La Fuente is clean, if a little cluttered. A table full of Chihuahua figurines for sale sits squarely in the middle of the main dining area, alongside another table heaped with bags of tamales under a hot lamp and a cooler full of an assortment of sodas. Wall art leans toward serapes, sombreros and beer advertising; a rough pine bar lurks in the back corner of the second seating area, decked out with oversized margarita glasses and, oddly, magnum-sized wine bottles.

Ordering is a matter of waiting in line at the counter and making a choice from the menu above the kitchen pass-through before you get to the cash register. If there are more than a couple of people in line, someone will work the line, taking orders in advance to speed up the process. Breakfast burritos come either handheld or deluxe -- about $3 separates the two options. And although $3 seems like a lot to pay for a ladleful of green chile, a layer of shredded cheese and a small pile of lettuce and tomatoes, the deluxe is really the better option, unless you're late for something really important and you need to be able to drive while hammering down breakfast.

All of the breakfast burritos come with egg and one other filling -- chorizo, bacon, ham potato or beans, for example. But because I know a deal when I see it, and because I can't resist the configuration of one food entirely inside another food, I ordered a deluxe tamale breakfast burrito. That's a whole tamale and a pile of scrambled eggs completely enshrouded in a flour tortilla, a pool of green chile and a layer of cheese. Shredded lettuce and diced tomato turn the dish from monstrous mess into a respectable composed plate.

La Fuente's green chile is slightly orange-tinted, but with a distinct green in the mix, too. It's of a thickness that clings admirably to a flour tortilla without congealing into gravy-like viscosity. Available in hot or mild, the hot version is eye-opening without being punishing; you never hit a point where you consider eating the lettuce and tomatoes just to cool your tastebuds. The flavor consists primarily of green chiles and pork, with just the right tomato tanginess. It's a green chile that I would have no problem sharing with first-timers as a quintessential example of the Colorado style: bold, flavorful and warming without becoming gloppy or making concessions to the expectations of our neighbor to the south.

When a burrito is smothered in good green chile, it's easy to forget what's inside. La Fuente's scrambled eggs are cooked on a flat top, picking up the flavors of whatever else has been fried up that morning. The tamale nestled in the middle was dense but not too much so; the steamed masa helped mop up the green chile on the plate.

That tamale in the center of my burrito, swathed like a babe in a manger, reminded me that Christmas was just around the corner, so I ordered a dozen more to throw in the freezer for breakfast after opening presents. La Fuente doesn't make red chile, so I couldn't order my burrito (or my takeout tamales) Christmas style, but I'm fine with just the green. The mingling of red and green on one plate is a New Mexico thing, anyway -- I'll stick with what I know.