Cafe Society

Lucero's: All in the familia

October is National Chili Month! But here in Denver, the only chili that matters is spelled with an "e," and features those hot, hot peppers now being roasted up and down Federal Boulevard. So all this month, chile fans will be weighing in on their favorites around town.

Green chile by Lucero's, burrito by Bob.

There are many delicious part to this homegrown, only-in-Denver story.

One morning last month, Dave Herrera, our music editor, was in the Westword kitchen chatting with Bob Gonzales, the burrito delivery guy. (As far as we’ve been able to determine, Denver is the only city in the country with door-to-door – and often office-to-office – burrito deliveries every workday. How delicious is that?) The two were talking about their favorite green chile, and something about both Bob’s taste and his face struck Dave as familiar. Turns out that they are cousins on their mothers' side, the Lucero side.

And their uncle Fred is the man behind Lucero’s & Sons, a now three-outlet operation.

Here’s how Lucero’s got its start: Fred Lucero was running a neighborhood market at 37th and Fillmore back in the '50s, and he’d make burritos that his nephews – Bob included -- would peddle at the nearby softball field during night games. The burritos became so popular that Fred created a window in the store so that he could sell them from there, and as their popularity grew, he ultimately turned the market into the first Lucero’s & Sons restaurant.

It still is one today, a tiny, mostly to-go joint whose walls are covered with local posters and business cards and old photos, and whose air is filled with the scent of great-grandmother Gertrude’s green chile, the chile that Dave grew up with.

I didn’t have my first taste until Saturday afternoon, when I stopped by the original Lucero’s, a spot I’d somehow missed during my three decades of sniffing out this town’s best green chile. (Another delicious thing about Denver: Therre are always new discoveries to make.) Now in his eighties, Fred was in the kitchen, working alongside other family members: packing up take-out boxes, chatting with regulars, cooking up burgers and burritos and smothering them with that fiery, tomato-rich green chile.

Somehow, I managed to save a few tablespoons of my green chile for Dave, who used them this morning to smother the breakfast burrito he bought from Bob. “Yes," he said between bites, "that’s the green chile I grew up on.”

Delicious. -- Patricia Calhoun

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun