Longform

FOOD & DRINK

part 5 of 5
Best Tamales
Rincon Tropical
8615 E. Colfax Ave.

If you think of a tamale as something hot and porky wrapped in a corn husk, you're in for a surprise: The Salvadoran version is a whole new ballgame, both inside and out. Rincon Tropical, a fledgling restaurant that serves specialties of El Salvador (and sometimes suffers from fledgling disorganization), offers a delicious--and stunningly cheap--take on the tamale that comes wrapped in a banana leaf and studded with bits of chicken and potato, as well as the occasional olive or garbanzo bean. The tamales are nice alongside a seafood sopa or platter of fried platanos, but save some of your appetite for the pupusas--a homey kind of tortilla stuffed with cheese, meat and/or beans, and served with fresh sauerkraut and a mild salsa.

Readers' choice: Las Delicias

Best Crispy Chile Relleno
Brewery Bar II
150 Kalamath St.

The Brewery Bar takes the traditional chile of choice, the poblano, fills it with nontraditional yellow American cheese, then wraps the thing in an egg roll-type wrapper and deep-fries it into a chile-cheese pie. The cheap cheese turns into a molten mass of mmm-mmm good, and the pork-heavy, hot-as-hell green chile poured on top just intensifies the fatty flavor. Keep that "Tiny" 32-ounce glass of Bud close by--you'll need it.

Readers' choice: Blue Bonnet

Best Soft Chile Relleno
Mamacitas
1149 13th St., Boulder

Anejo is the big cheese on campus at Mamacitas. Sort of a cross between parmesan and Monterey Jack, anejo is semi-soft and melts in your mouth--not to mention inside the roasted poblano chile that Mamacitas uses for its chiles rellenos. The egg batter that surrounds the chile is always light and fluffy, and the whole package is deep-fried in good-for-you olive oil, which gives the relleno a cleaner taste. And then Mamacitas makes its relleno even better by wrapping it in a blue tortilla. Add a generous mound of rice and soft black beans on the side, and better becomes best. We're talking real class here.

Readers' choice: Benny's

Best Burrito
Chipotle
1644 E. Evans Ave.
745 Colorado Blvd.

Chipotle offers a number of blow-out burritos, but the barbacoa is the best thing we've ever tasted tucked inside a tortilla. The name means "barbecued," and that's exactly what happens to the shredded beef as it's braised with chipotle peppers, cumin, cloves and garlic before being heaped into a giant flour tortilla. On top of the beef goes a layer of pinto beans, cilantro-lime rice, sour cream and Monterey Jack cheese. Rolled up and doused with a killer tomatillo-and-red-chile salsa, the burrito is the size of a Chihuahua--and has its bite, too.

Readers' choice: Chipotle

Best Tacos al Carbon
Las Delicias
Four metro locations

As any gift recipient will agree, what goes inside the wrapping is the important thing. But it doesn't hurt if the package looks pretty. At Las Delicias, the taquitos al carbon not only look good, they live up to the restaurant's name. Tasty sirloin bits, grilled onion, slice-it-yourself avocado halves and wedges of citrus are piled atop three plain but functionally fabulous soft corn tortillas; a side of Las D's "special salsa," or pico de gallo, comes on the side. (You might also want to order a side of another liquid asset: Las Delicias' gravylike green chile.)

Best Fish Taco
Jalapeno Mexican Grill
5701 Leetsdale Dr., Glendale

After a taste of Jalapeno's fish tacos, we were California dreaming. The kitchen does it Baja-style, starting with soft flour tortillas, two thick, and then stuffing them to bursting with red onions, tomatoes, lots of jalapenos and, of course, something fishy. In this case, it's fingers of cod coated with flour and black pepper that have been tossed on the grill. Everything's held together by Jalapeno's secret mayo. Don't you wish they all could be California grills?

Best Taco
El Toro
4957 Colorado Blvd.

Pre-made American taco shells could double as shoe horns, they're so unyielding; one bite and the thing falls apart like broken glass. El Toro hits the bull's-eye by starting with a soft corn tortilla, laying down a layer of chorizo, tomatoes and cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, then deep-frying the taco until the insides are all toasty warm and melty and infused with a delicious greasy flavor. The recipe started at El Toro's sibling, the Mexico City Lounge, but these tacos stand on their own. An order proves that good things come in threes.

Readers' choice: Taco Bell

Best Exotic Taco
El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Dr.
2463 Sheridan Blvd., Edgewater

You know we truly love El Taco's tacos--because we eat them without benefit of beer (even the new, improved restaurant on Santa Fe doesn't have a liquor license). No, instead we face our tiny tacos of spicy barbacoa or tender-yet-chewy cheek meat or tantalizing tongue stone-cold sober. One bite of these tacos, though, and you'll immediately warm to all the possibilities that this incredibly authentic restaurant offers. (You can get the same exotic--for this country, at least--meats wrapped up in huge burritos.) Spoon on lots of El Taco's tangy salsa for an additional taste treat.

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