A Mexican eatery called Fritangas La Pili recently took over a bar and nightclub space at 1733 West Mississipi Avenue in the Athmar Park neighborhood, where it offers a few street-food specialties not found in many other Denver restaurants. Pambazos — tortas soaked in guajillo chile sauce — and sopes are a good start, but for something unique, you'll want to make a date with La Pili's machete.
If you've never heard of a machete, you're not alone. The dish is a Mexico City specialty that has infiltrated Arizona and a few other places in the U.S., but this may be its first appearance in Denver. A machete fits somewhere in the same taxonomy as the quesadilla, or perhaps the huarache. The base of the machete is a long, oval corn tortilla cooked to order on an oiled griddle and folded lengthwise over a variety of meat and vegetable fillings. The result is a super-long taco that's crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside.
Traditional fillings include rajas (strips of poblano chiles) and cheese; papas con chorizo, which here take the form of bright-orange mashed potatoes; sesos (pork or beef brains); and a few other meat options. The machete in the photo above is filled with papas con chorizo. If the scale isn't quite obvious at first glance, notice that the machete is long enough that the beer at the far end is out of focus. It's long enough that I had to lean across the table to touch the far tip of it. It's long enough that the ends broke off because they were hanging over the edges of the oval platter. The waiter told me that the tortillas are rolled out to eighteen inches, so I'll take his word for it (although I would have guessed longer).
La Pili is in the process of rebuilding its bar, but drinks are available in the small dining room. Other house specialties include enchiladas and cochinita pibil, and salsa is made fresh daily in massive stone molcajetes. The shopping centers of Athmar Park have seen better days, so don't expect much in the way of ambience, but the staff is friendly and the kitchen is sparkling clean. Any rumors that it's a rough neighborhood are only proof that the machete could easily kick your ass.