Don’t be fooled by the modest four-bite sandwich with paltry portions of meat, mayo and lettuce pictured on the menu at Hacienda Camino Real (1050 South Havana Street, Aurora). Initially, I was a little panic-stricken after ordering, even more so when my server asked me if that’s all I wanted to eat. The question had me wondering if I should’ve ordered a side of burrito with my torta. After all, the sandwich was priced at just $7 and was stuck in next to the (typically small) street tacos on the menu.
Instead, what was placed in front of me fifteen minutes later was a gigantic sandwich that would give a Chipotle burrito an ass-whupping and then devour it as a snack. In fact, this sandwich was essentially a burrito itself — only housed inside a homemade, buttered and griddled telera roll. Succulent shredded carnitas formed a meaty layer, with guacamole, refried beans and grated cheese playing supporting roles. But unlike the photo on the menu, there was not a single smear of mayo to be found. The accompanying fries, more than just an afterthought, were fresh and hot and rendered a satisfying, noisy crunch.
In the space between ordering and receiving my torta, I’d begun ravenously shoving fist-sized portions of chips and salsa into my face, but was jolted out of my hunger-induced binge by how spicy the salsa was. I assumed this was a preview of the intense flavors to come, but the waiter (the son of the restaurant's owner) broke the disappointing news that they’ve dulled the heat in many of their salsa and chile recipes for customers who are not used to highly spiced Mexican cooking. He did confirm, however, that many heat-loving regulars ask for specific sauces and salsas that pack an untamed punch, like the chile diablo. So when you order, just specify if you like your food spicy, since many of the sauces that go with entrees are created to order.
Chilaquiles ($9.95) are one such dish; the sauce — verde or rojo — is made fresh for each order and then added to the rest of the ingredients during the cooking process (which means Christmas-style enthusiasts won't be able to order “half and half”). The chilaquiles may look like a hot mess, with crumbles of fat-slicked chorizo atop fried eggs and sauce-soaked corn tortillas, but the flavors come together for a hearty, if heat-filled, repast.
Combination plates are offered at a lunchtime discount on weekdays, with plates of two menu items for $5.95 or three for $6.95. On my second visit, I chose a housemade smothered tamale and a soft chile relleno sauced with green chile, which was tasty — but disappointingly mild — and studded with pickled carrots and small chunks of tomato in addition to chiles. The relleno itself, oozing with melty Jack cheese, was made with a poblano chile (instead of the more common Hatch green chile) coated in a light, pillowy breading. The red chile and chicken inside and on top of the tamale were much more fiery and satisfying, with sweet and smoky notes and an intensity that mounted with each mouthful.
If you do decide to go spicy, a good way to quench the fire afterward is with a unique dessert called a xango. Often premade, the xango combines several Mexican confections in one, with a fried-dough exterior that comes in somewhere between a sopaipilla and a chimichanga, a cheesecake-style filling with vanilla flavor like flan, and a cinnamon-sugar coating like a churro. Chocolate and strawberry drizzles and a neon-red cherry add to the sweetness. A note of caution: You'll have more trouble sliding out of your booth after a filling xango than you did getting in.
Despite the weekday lunch deal, the best time to visit Hacienda Camino Real is on the weekend, when corn tortillas are made fresh from scratch in the front of the restaurant. “People line up outside of the restaurant before we open in the mornings on weekends. The smell is phenomenal,” the owner's son notes.
While $6.95 for a three-item combo plate is an exceptional deal, especially for the freshness and quality I experienced, I'd happily pay a little extra for fresh-made tortillas with tacos, enchiladas and other dishes.
Hacienda Camino Real is located at 1050 South Havana Street in Aurora and is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. You can find lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. every weekday. Call 720-858-8888 for takeout orders, or visit the restaurant's website for more information.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.