Cafe Society

Cordova's Original Recipes does right by matriarch Stella

Stella Cordova had ten children and dozens of grandchildren — and Leonard Cordova isn't the only one to build a business on her legacy. Three years ago, Leonard's cousin Alex Cordova exported Chubby's to Hawaii, doling out that same jalapeño gravy to islanders while learning to surf. But after Stella died, he packed up and returned to Colorado. And a month ago, he opened Cordova's Original Recipes, an eatery in a cordoned-off corner of Fuego Fuego, a cavernous nightclub in an Aurora strip mall.

When I stopped by recently, Alex was manning the register, wearing an old shirt bearing the original Chubby's logo.

"We've got all the same stuff," he said. "It's the same green chile."

After I ordered a Mexican hamburger, I asked why he was calling his place Cordova's Original Recipes rather than anything Chubby's-related.

"I didn't need to mess around with the name," he told me with a shrug. "Everyone knows the Cordovas started this here; it's our thing. I wanted to break from the Chubby's name so I didn't have to pay my cousin royalties." That's another cousin, Julian Cordova, who holds the registered trademark.

Alex disappeared into the kitchen to get my order and returned with a familiar square Styrofoam box, heavy with the weight of a green-chile-smothered burrito. Alex's chile had the same orange-green hue, the same thick consistency, the same flecks of pepper and cheese you find at the original Chubby's on 38th, which Stella Cordova took over more than forty years ago. It was saltier than the Chubby's green chile, maybe a little more oily, but it still made my lips sting happily with racy heat. Nothing else about my order was particularly noteworthy: gray hamburger patty, refried beans, chewy tortilla, all serving as a textural foil to the main event. But this, too, was true to the food at Chubby's, at Bubba Chinos: The green chile is above all — and on top of all.

Relations are strained within the Cordova clan. But these family members have more in common than blood: They're all making decent renditions of Stella Cordova's ridiculously good green chile.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk