Los Chingones is a restaurant made for happy hour: A big, beautiful rooftop patio, a location amidst the creative agencies and cultural hot spots around Ballpark and RiNo, and enough tequila to knock out a boutique ad shop for days. And as a Troy Guard venture, the food has proven to be more than solid since it opened in 2013. It's odd, then, that Los Chingones doesn't advertise its weekday 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour, leaving its contents a mystery. Would this be an open and shut case, or does Los Chingones fail to soothe taco fatigue? I dropped in to find the truth.
When I first visited Los Chingones, I was impressed by the tacos but put off a little by the joint's in-your-face, x-treme approach to branding and taqueria cuisine. The kitchen flaunts ingredients like octopus and lamb neck, and the cocktail list is packed with jokey drinks like the Urban Legend with Mexican Coke and Pop Rocks ($9). I still think the suggested hashtag, "#mexicanredesigned" is a bit gross, but Los Chingones has toned down its act recently. The service is casual and friendly, the tacos are constructed with care, and the prevailing atmosphere is not hipster preening, but competence with a dousing of chile.
Take the cocktail of the day ($5) I was served on a recent happy hour. Even though it was half the price of a regular tipple, it was concocted with cachaça, ginger beer and mango shrub — a very modern and sophisticated drink that could have worked just as well on the beach as it did in the meticulously designed dining room. I recommend you throw yourself at the mercy of the bar, but $5 house margs and cheaper beers and wines are also available.
On my last trip to Los Chingones, I was disappointed at how flimsy and understuffed the tacos were. But if you're skeptical, happy hour knocks the price of a few varieties down to $2. A few bites of the lamb neck taco warmed me back up to the kitchen's way of thinking. Toothsome fried shallots and spicy dragon sauce simply belong on this taco. (I also recommend the the pork shoulder taco, which is given a a more traditional treatment.) One unfortunate casualty of Chingones' maturing is the loss of the pig ear nachos, once a Best of Denver winner. My server lamented that the fried ears freaked people out — their loss. The happy hour version of the new tres pigs nachos ($5) packs in house-made chorizo, bacon and chicharrones but still can't quite match the original. But for five bills, this plate is still awesomely gluttonous, with gobs of orange grease mixing with an addictive Sriracha-lime aioli.
Brussels sprouts continue their happy hour menu stranglehold, rounding out the offerings here with a glaze of chili-lime and some crumbly Mexican cheese ($3). These mild sprouts can't match the intensity of the other dishes, but Los Chingones isn't the kind of place that forces you to finish your vegetables. It's more like the cool uncle who holds crazy cookouts and tops off his Coke with a flask of tequila. And now that the rougher edges have been smoothed, Los Chingones is a great addition to your downtown happy hour rotation.
Perfect for: A company happy hour. On weekdays, it's a popular spot for young professionals to ditch the MacBooks for margaritas — casual enough to let your hair down, but not so debauched that you'll make an ass of yourself in front of Rosa, the older woman from HR who always looks at you strangely when you try to say "hi."
Don't Miss: The rooftop patio was closed on my visit, but it's worth grabbing a drink up there if you can swing it. It may not offer the best view in town, but there's a unique feeling in sitting just above street level and taking in the evening energy on this block of Larimer Street.
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