Cue the New Mexico vs. Colorado chile debate.
Some say that good green chile can only be found in the Land of Enchantment; others swear by the Centennial State's take on the dish. Although Coloradans are rightfully proud of the locally grown Pueblo chiles that are an important part of the economy and an essential crop for farmers in the Southern region of the state, many local restaurants still depend on the New Mexican-grown Hatch variety for its wider availability. But while that region produces more chiles each year, that doesn't necessarily make them better.
Chiles aren't the only component of green chile, of course. In Denver these days, you can find seemingly endless iterations of the staple, from bright-green, chile-forward varieties to those that arrive in hues of tan, brown and even orange, typically thickened with a slurry of flour and oil. Sometimes tomatoes join the party, sometimes tomatillos. Pork is commonly included, whether in large chunks or tender shreds of slow-cooked meat, but not always — though no matter where your green chile alliance lies, most would agree that chicken is an unacceptable substitute. (Better to go vegetarian.)
When searching for the best green chile in the Mile High, though, the debate comes down to one thing: Is it tasty? Does it stand on its own while also enhancing the dishes over which it's ladled? Above all, do you crave it?
Some of our favorites lean hot and spicy, while others come out on top for their deep, rich flavor and prominent roasted notes. There are thick, gravy-like versions, and others that eat more like a stew. But each and every one provides the kind of comforting, warming bite we hunger for when the weather cools down.
Here are ten destinations for Denver's best green chile:
In February 2020, this bright-yellow landmark in the middle of the city got national recognition when it was honored with an American Classic Award by the James Beard Foundation. One month later, along with every other restaurant in Denver, it was ordered to shut down because of the pandemic. But El Taco de Mexico, a beloved institution that has been serving up Mexican eats in Denver for 36 years, survived thanks to its loyal fans, many of whom are hospitality-industry workers themselves and flock here from breakfast through dinner for burritos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles all smothered in a deeply flavored, dark-greenish-brown-hued chile verde. A carnitas burrito blanketed in the good stuff is a must, but you should also order a large side of it on its own, served up in a Styrofoam cup with or without pork, to stash away for a fix long after your burrito has been devoured.
5670 East Evans Avenue
The original location of La Fogata on Evans was opened by Danette Calhoun back in 1990, and in 2004, a second spot was added at the Denver Tech Center. Both eateries are staples in their neighborhoods, with regulars greeted warmly by longtime staff. The thick, warming, gravy-style chile leans just slightly into the orange color palette, the better to match swirls of shredded cheese that meld into the sauce atop burritos, rellenos and enormous Mexican hamburgers. But don't let the muted color fool you: This green chile still glows with a heat that slowly builds until you find yourself reaching for another sip of the pink-hued house margarita.
Although La Loma has moved twice since opening in 1973 — first just a few blocks down West 26th Avenue, then all the way downtown in 2016, when it reopened across from the Brown Palace in the former home of the Trinity Grille — there's one thing that hasn't changed over the decades: the green chile. The recipe was created by Grandma Savina Mendoza, of the original family that started the restaurant. While La Loma has been owned by the Brinkerhoff family since the ’80s, Grandma's Green Chile remains on the menu, vibrant green with a thick, smooth, stew-like consistency and large chunks of pork throughout. Order it as the main event, served in a bowl with supple, housemade flour tortillas on the side, or alongside the restaurant's crispy mini rellenos for the ultimate Den-Mex snack.
Known to regulars simply as El Tep, this Englewood staple has been serving the neighborhood since 1978. In 2015, it closed the original location with plans to reopen a few blocks farther south. Cravings grew nearly out of control as almost two years passed before El Tep finally debuted in its new home at the corner of South Broadway and West Hampden Avenue, in a large space with colorful walls and tables, wooden chairs that bear the restaurant's name and piñatas strung from the ceiling. Its return was embraced by longtime fans who were desperate for another taste of the green chile. Served as a plate with rice and beans or smothering burritos and large, crispy chiles rellenos, the green chile here has a smooth, thick consistency with a punch of heat and a deep, roasty flavor. Instead of larger pieces of pork, there are shreds of tender meat throughout, a sure sign of a chile cooked low and slow.
*Editor's Note: As of March 2022, Cafe Chihuahua is under new ownership.
Spacious and filled with the kind of kitschy decor that puts you in the mood for more than one margarita, Cafe Chihuahua has been serving its massive menu of Mexican eats since 1974. Despite its size and the name sprawled in large letters out front, this is the kind of place that's easy to pass by dozens of times without noticing. But that would be a mistake. Green chile — actually orange in color, thick with large chunks of pork and pieces of diced chiles and tomatoes — adorns many of the options on the expansive menu, from pork chops to the pregnant burrito, an entire beef enchilada rolled inside a flour tortilla and smothered. You get a choice of mild, hot or extra hot; opt for the latter if you like spice, because even the hot option leans mild, though all three are flavorful enough to be standouts, no matter the Scoville level.
Tamales by La Casita3561 Tejon Street
While you can get staples like burritos and chiles rellenos at this counter-service spot in the Highland neighborhood, the real draw at Tamales by La Casita is (obviously) the tamales. But while the husk-wrapped masa pockets stuffed with your choice of red chile and pork or green chile with cheese are reason enough to visit, they become one of the top dishes in the city when ordered smothered with La Casita's heat-forward green chile, which is on the thinner side and studded with small pieces of pork, scant bits of tomato and visible diced chiles. You can order a smothered tamale for $3 for a cheap and filling snack — or grab a dozen and a quart of chile to keep on hand at home for a spicy fix anytime.
This is old-school, roux-thickened, Denver-style green chile at its best. Since 1964, the Herrera family has been ladling up its green chile on top of sloppy-in-a-good-way burritos, Mexican hamburgers, chiles rellenos and other heaping plates of Den-Mex goodness. The spice hits hard up front but mellows quickly, leaving you warm and satisfied. Close enough to downtown that it has often been a lunchtime choice for business deals and meetings of city officials, the restaurant — once a full-blown supper club and dance hall — still feels like a neighborhood joint in tree-lined Curtis Park.
With a heavy-metal soundtrack, a sunken bar and art on the wall depicting a KISS-inspired poodle complete with a painted face, big hair and its tongue sticking out, the Brutal Poodle is first and foremost a fun bar in which to spend time. But don't limit yourself to drinking. While burgers and wings are the type of fare you'd expect at a spot like this (and the kitchen serves very good versions), the pentagram-topped green chile is the star. Available with slow-cooked pork or in a vegetarian version, sided by flour or corn tortillas, it's served in a large, deep bowl big enough to warrant asking for a to-go container. While the menu warns of the heat level, this isn't the kind of spice that starts strong. Rather, it builds as you spoon bite after bite of the velvety smooth chile into your mouth.
This staple in the southern suburbs is better known for its Mexican cuisine reminiscent of the food of founder Jose Ramirez's hometown of Jerez, Mexico, than for Denver-style grub, but Los Dos Potrillos knows how to make a killer green chile. While New Mexico purists may not approve of its orange tint, the flavor of the green chiles shines through, even atop twin burritos packed with flavorful meats. Bonus: You can wash down your chile with housemade beer, since the restaurant has its own brewery at the Parker location. That outpost has the largest beer selection, but each location carries at least a few Los Dos brews for your sipping pleasure.
3109 Federal Boulevard
After a head-on motorcycle accident derailed his career in finance, Blaine Baggao re-evaluated his professional path, ultimately launching Adobo in 2016 as a food truck that combines his New Mexican and Filipino roots. Now you can find him at a counter inside First Draft in RiNo as well as a new stand-alone brick and mortar on Federal, where Adobo's menu boasts many green chile-covered items, including fries loaded with smoked carnitas and cheese; carnitas deviled eggs with lime crema, cotija and cilantro; and crispy wontons. The best way to enjoy this flavorful (vegan!) green chile: in a bowl loaded with smoked carnitas with warm flour tortillas on the side.