Ornate double doors, almost like the entrance to a Buddhist temple, greet customers coming into the restaurant from the parking lot. The building sits on a rise, so steps lead up to those doors, making the whole building seem larger and more imposing than it is. Inside, a cavernous dining room spreads out to the left and right around a central bar; multi-paned windows let in plenty of light and give the place a palatial atmosphere. Is it one of Denver's posh new restaurants, where $100 won't even get you off the appetizer menu?
No, this is Fritangas La Pili 2, the second location of a tiny antojitos joint on West Mississippi Avenue that opened at the front of a nightclub about four years ago. Like the original, the new La Pili (or La Pily, depending on which sign or menu you're looking at) feels like somewhat of a work in progress, especially since it took over the former home of Thai Basil, which closed last fall. Most of the Thai decor is gone, other than those big double doors, but La Pili hasn't yet put any of its own personal touches in the space.
And like the Athmar Park original, the new La Pili specializes in street food in the style of Mexico City, specifically the machete, a frighteningly long taco stuffed with your choice of meats and grilled veggies along with two kinds of cheese. The machete starts out as more than a foot of raw masa that's crisped on a hot grill with the fillings loaded on top. The resulting oval corn tortilla is folded lengthwise so that the cheese melts and melds with the other toppings — lamb barbacoa, for example, which carries a bold, almost gamy flavor after being slow-cooked and then crisped in its own fat. The carne al pastor is also a good option; while it's not shaved directly from a vertical rotisserie before your eyes, the meat is well seasoned, as evidenced by its bright-red glow.
La Pili also makes more commonly found tacos, tortas, sopes, flautas and huaraches, as well as a "pizza Azteca," which resembles a larger, more perfectly circular huarache (or maybe just an oversized sope) topped with meats, rajas, nopales, grilled corn, cheeses, beans and other ingredients, depending on which combo you choose. Whether you order the machete or the pizza, you can get them with multiple meats, which are kept separate so you can experience each flavor individually. Make sure to load up at the salsa bar for onions, cilantro, limes and several house salsas (all of which are better than the bland table salsa that comes with chips when you're seated).
Don't expect a lively cantina atmosphere or doting service when you go; Fritangas La Pili (no relation to Fritangas in west Denver and Aurora) is more of a simple, bare-bones taqueria that found itself in an unusual setting. Find it yourself at 2710 South Havana Street in Aurora from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends; call 720-364-0083 for more details.