When he couldn't find Argentine food in Boulder, Christian Saber opened Rincon Argentino last year. And he's not the only restaurateur who's brought very south-of-the-border flavors to the metro area. There's never been any shortage of Mexican restaurants here, but now we have an increasing number of South American kitchens, serving traditional fare from trucks and white-tablecloth restaurants alike. When we last rounded up the metro area's best South American restaurants, we had trouble coming up with five -- and even though Las Salteñas, a Bolivian spot that ranked as our Best South American Restaurant in the Best of Denver 2013 has closed, we were still able to round up fifteen worthwhile stops, presented below in no particular order, for a culinary journey around that continent.
15) La Cocina de Paula 3325 West Alameda Avenue When Paula Contreras comes to your table, she'll likely encourage you to order a Colombian dish. "You can get Mexican food all over Denver," she says, but "Colombian food...that's not nearly as common." Contreras, the chef/owner of La Cocina de Paula, hustles a menu of both Mexican and Colombian cuisines, and while her green chile, tart with tomatillos and jolted with hot green chiles, is commendable, her sobrebarriga, a traditional Colombian beef dish that mimics pot roast, really grabbed our attention -- and a place on 100 Favorite Dishes.
14) Ole 1043 Broadway Looking for Italian with a Brazilian kick? Stop by Ole, a storefront pizza spot that's a soccer-watching hangout, with plenty of beers on tap and pizzas that sport a surprising -- and delicious -- combination of toppings.
13) Little Brazil 10081 West 26th Avenue, Wheat Ridge This Brazilian restaurant grew out of a market in Westminster that served an incredible feijoada; it's still on the menu here, as are many other traditional Brazilian dishes. But more than that, Little Brazil serves as the big heart of Denver's Brazilian community.
12) Quiero Arepas Arepas, the flatbreads indigenous to Colombia and Venezuela, are now traveling around Denver in the Quiero Arepas food truck. Chef Igor Panasewicz, a native of Venezuela, serves up hot, griddled corn cakes with a host of savory fillings, including stewed, shredded and smoked meats, fresh cheeses, beans, veggies and more.
11) Fogo de Chao 1513 Wynkoop Street This Brazilian meat palace is a delight for carnivores. Prepared in the authentic gaucho style, more than a dozen kinds of grilled, skewered meats are brought to your table and sliced while you watch. Each table is outfitted with a card, which you keep on the green side while you munch away, then flip to the red when you've had your fill of meat. Brazilian side dishes, an expansive salad bar, and an extensive wine and cocktail list round out the dining experience.
10) Taita Peruvian Cuisine & Bar 1521 Marion Street Situated in a cozy spot on the border of Capitol Hill and Uptown, Taita serves up a fusion of Peruvian tradition influenced by the many places where chef/owner Jose "Pepito" Aparicio has lived, from Italy to Japan; dishes include such classics as ceviche and sudado de pescado. The space is inviting, and the bar -- which pours a trio of pisco drinks -- attracts a vibrant crowd.
9) Red Tango 5807 West 38th Avenue, Wheat Ridge Red Tango looks unassuming from the outside, but inside the casual spot, patrons are treated to an array of delights that span Latin American cuisine. The ever-changing menu touts crispy arepas, fried plaintains, paella, tamales smothered in red ancho-chile sauce, and plenty of wine and sangria offerings. Finish the meal with fresh flan or tres leches cake.
8) Pisco Sour 8501 East Colfax Avenue This Aurora joint is truly a hole in the wall, but that doesn't stop regulars from coming here for an authentic spread of Peruvian specialties, from family-recipe comfort foods to seafood dishes and frothy pisco sours. Owner Renato Castillo's aunt owns and operates Los Cabos II, another favorite Peruvian spot.
7) Limon 1618 East 17th Avenue Located in the heart of Uptown, this rustic neighborhood restaurant serves a variation on traditional Latin American food, with an emphasis on novoandino cuisine, a method of cooking that blends various cultural styles of preparation but uses fresh, authentic ingredients. Patrons can feast on mixturas and fondos, sipping on wines sourced from Latin American vineyards and rum and pisco cocktails of the same vein.
6) 6) Empanada Express Grill 4301 West 44th Avenue Empanada Express Grill got its start as a cart, then started serving its tasty street snacks from a no-frills, brick-and-mortar joint in Golden. That spot is now closed, but the Empanada Express in northwest Denver continues to serve an array of chilled fresh exotic fruit juices, griddled arepas, fluffy empanadas, tostadas, paella and, for dessert, stuffed sopapillas filled with cream cheese and guava.
5) Cafe Brazil 4408 Lowell Boulevard A go-to spot for such traditional South American dishes as feijoada, a rich black-bean stew made with smoked meat and sausage, Cafe Brazil has also become known for its bar, which includes classic cocktails, native beers and nearly a hundred varieties of rum by the ounce or in a flight.
4) Buenos Aires Pizzeria 1319 22nd Street Buenos Aires Pizzeria brought a taste of Argentina to town with a full list of savory empanadas and dozens of authentic Argentine pizza offerings. The pizzeria is owned and operated by two generations of the Carrera family, who are originally from San Isidro, a town near Buenos Aires. Most of the wines are also from their home country, including four selections of malbec.
3) Maria Empanada 5209 West Mississippi Avenue, Lakewood Yet another Buenos Aires-inspired spot for family-recipe empanadas, Maria Empanada is home to flaky wonders that are both traditional and unusual, as well as tartas -- double pastry crusts filled with herbs, vegetables and spiced meat -- and Spanish tortillas. Fair warning: At the end of the year, Maria Empanada will move to a new spot on South Broadway.
2) Los Cabos II 1525 Champa Street Six days a week, Los Cabos II loads a buffet with traditional Peruvian dishes, including lomo saltado, beef sauteed with tomatoes, onions, green and red peppers, and plaintains. And on Sunday, the scope of infuence gets even broader with an international buffet. Standard menus are also available, and there's frequently entertainment.
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1) Rincon Argentino 2525 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder This fast-casual spot was born when Buenos Aires-born Christian Saber saw that Boulder was in dire need of good Argentine food. Today Rincon Argentino is known for its empanadas, which come stuffed with a variety of fillings including spicy steak with green and white onions, red bell peppers, jalapeno and green olives. And for Boulder's burgeoning vegetarian community, there's also a full list of canastas, or vegetarian open-faced empanadas.