Green chile is a year-round staple in Denver, but every fall, the aroma of chiles roasting at street stands, produce markets and grocery-store parking lots gets us salivating for a steamy, spicy bowl, or a burrito, Mexican hamburger or platter of fries smothered in that thick and chunky sauce. You can find green chile at bars and restaurants all over town; here are the ten best places right now, in alphabetical order:
The advantage that food trucks have over full-fledged restaurants is their ability to explore untapped creative territory in street-food form. Chef Blaine Baggao is a former New Mexico resident whose family hails from the Philippines, and he puts his background to fine use on his food truck's menu. His New Mexico-style green chile (made with Hatch, natch) punched up with smoked-pork carnitas struts its stuff atop fries, in breakfast burritos and on tacos. Experience an Asian-Southwestern fusion with the chef's green chile dumplings that burn so good.
Brewery Bar II
150 Kalamath Street
The stewy mix at this Denver classic can be a little frustrating. On any given day, the flavors may be subdued or overwhelmed by tomato, but folks keep coming back for those occasions when the green chile is dead-on — and deadly hot. Not even a mound of shredded yellow cheese or a dollop of sour cream will save your lips from the sear that'll stick with you for hours. Better to side your smothered burrito with a "Tiny" — the old-school bar's biggest pour of suds. There's another Brewery Bar in Lone Tree, but we prefer the Kalamath watering hole for its no-nonsense blue-collar service and style.
2250 South Federal Boulevard
Cafe Chihuahua is somewhat of a secret outside of its South Federal neighborhood, but that's just fine with the regulars, who guzzle the cantina's red-orange sauce by the bowlful or let it soak into a massive "pregnant burrito" — a loaf-sized construction of beans, beef and a whole beef enchilada tucked into a flour tortilla blanket. Choose from mild or hot or somewhere in between (the medium's just a blend of the other two), but be warned: Even the mild is a wild child.
El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive
No list of Mexican specialties in Denver would be complete without something from El Taco de Mexico, the go-to taco joint for every kitchen rat and high-end chef in town. The green chile here is thin in body but not in flavor, as deep layers of chile and slow-cooked stock combine to create a luscious pool around fat burritos. This isn't Colorado-style (or New Mexico, either, for that matter); it's just pure chile verde from abuela to you.
2651 South Broadway
For decades, El Tejado has attracted Mexican nationals and gringos alike with its authentic Mexican fare — seafood cocktails in giant goblets, for example, and lengua tacos. But the biggest draw here is decidedly Colorado in origin: The green chile is addictive, a gravy-like concoction that's equally good poured over a skillet of eggs and potatoes, smothering a fat beef burrito or just in a bowl on its own. This mainstay on South Broadway changed ownership several years ago, but the green chile remains unchanged. Get it while it's hot — and if you're in the know, you can ask for it even hotter.
5670 East Evans Avenue
When is your green chile not green? When you're in Denver, where the Southwestern staple comes in shades of tan, brown and even orange, depending on the ingredients. Den-Mex green chile is often thickened with a roux of flour and oil, which can deepen the color if the flour is left to brown a little. That's how it's done at La Fogata, opened by Danette Calhoun back in 1990. The thick, warming gravy also 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 a little with a heat that slowly builds until you find yourself reaching for another cerveza. La Fogata operates a second outpost in south Denver, but the East Evans original never disappoints in its quality and consistency.
94 Rampart Way
The food at this Lowry tavern may be inspired by the Mexican grub of Southern California, but the green chile is in a class of its own. Thickened with masa and tinted pea-soup green from the sheer volume of chiles used, it's rich and meaty and more than a little fiery. Tender chunks of pork loin add toothsome chew, making a great topping for fries or nachos, but a side order on its own — served with fresh tortillas made in-house every day — is our recommendation.
Since it seems that half of Denver's population eats breakfast burritos bulging with eggs, potatoes and green chile from Santiago's each morning, the local chain's sauce is one of the city's most iconic. You might be surprised, then, that the company uses New Mexico chiles for fire and flavor. Eric Casados, son-in-law of Santiago's founder Carmen Morales, explains that the family hails from New Mexico and has been purchasing chiles from a co-op near the towns of Hatch and Salem for the past 28 years. The chiles are picked, roasted, steamed, peeled and diced on site at the co-op's farms, which Casados talks to throughout the year to keep tabs on the heat and quality of the crop. "I think the Pueblo chile is a good chile — a great chile," Casados points notes, "but what New Mexico gives us is consistency; we buy over a million pounds a year." We won't argue with him, as long as he promises to keep doing it the same way every year.
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1265 Alpine Avenue, Boulder
Rather than relying on pork in his green chile, New Mexico native Hosea Rosenberg, chef/owner of Santo, builds layers of flavor by oven-roasting all of his vegetables before they go in the pot. Hatch green chiles — which the chef buys by the truckload in New Mexico every fall — are the star of the sauce at this Boulder cantina devoted to all things Southwestern. You can get a bowl of Santo's green chile on its own, try it in a stew augmented with pork and potatoes, or have it slathered over stacked blue-corn enchiladas. Better yet, swing by in the morning for a weighty breakfast burrito charged with chile: It's guaranteed to awaken both you and your tastebuds.
1585 South Pearl Street, 303-777-2866
730 East Sixth Avenue, 720-708-4623
Tacos burgeoning with slow-smoked meats are the specialty at Denver's two Uno Mas locations, but the duo's green chile provides some stick-to-your-ribs satisfaction, too. Tangy with tomatoes and tomatillos, the chiles are still the star, with an earthy green hue and a roasty aroma rising from the bowl. This is a thick green chile, but it's not pasty or gravy-like. Rather, it eats like home-style soup, with a good amount of pork and a subtle kick that won't have you dialing 911, even if you polish off the whole bowl. A new Fort Collins location at 120 West Olive Street gives a northern option for loading up on tasty Uno Mass green chile and tacos.