In Denver, Mexican restaurants cover nearly as many of our daily needs as Starbucks, since most Denverites need their chips and salsa or taco fix by 7 p.m. almost as routinely as they need a latte or salted caramel mocha macchiato at 7 a.m. And like caffeine addiction, cravings for Mexican food don’t go away after consumption. They continue to tug at your brain until you give in, over and over again.
Thus the reason Mexican food is served up on practically every corner. Though each restaurant varies in quality, most meet the inherent need for a spicy, saucy, tortilla-filled repast. Real de Minas is one such Mexican eatery, hidden in plain sight among the typical chain restaurants and shops of Aurora's Cornerstar shopping center
Real de Minas fits the definition of what I like to call a "maintenance Mexican restaurant" — one that's not necessarily sought out by aficionados, but a cantina that does the trick when you need a heaping plate of green chile with a burrito swimming somewhere beneath.
That said, there’s more to most suburban maintenence restaurants than meets the eye; you just have to dig past the combination platters to strike gold. Take the discada Zacatecas-style dish: It’s a sizzling party of meat — with steak, ground beef, housemade chorizo, sausage, bacon, ham, grilled onions, jalapeños, bell peppers and tomatoes that are traditionally cooked in a wok-like pan created from the disc of a farm plow. Unlike a wok, though, there are two levels to the pan, a small circular center is the deeper area where the raw meat is started off, then it gets moved to the larger outer rim of the pan once it's cooked through to stay warm while more raw meats are added to the center. The process continues until all the ingredients have been added. Once everything is cooked, it's mixed together and served with warm tortillas and slices of fresh queso panela. The flavor is sweet and smoky and is a showcase of what Real de Minas can accomplish when you venture into the outskirts of the menu.
While tamales are a typical menu item in Mexican restaurants, they serve as a good indicator of the attention to detail. Our server confirmed that the tamales here are made in-house, and I appreciated the firm masa texture and succulent pork bursting with piquant red chile. These would surely make you a popular guest if you showed up with a dozen at your company potluck or family gathering.
Another unique dish is the Siete Mares soup, a combination of shrimp, tender catfish, sweet crab legs, chewy calamari, bay scallops, clams, baby octopus and aromatic vegetables. Though the shrimp wasn’t deveined and the crab legs weren’t cleaned as well as I would’ve liked, the flavor of the broth was spicy and delicious. The broth boasts a substantial fish zing while also incorporating Mexican flavor profiles like cilantro and cumin; if you tasted it blind, you’d know it wasn’t just a fish stew, but Mexican fish stew.
The Pollo Real de Minas is an impressive portion of succulent chicken stuffed with a green chile and smothered in a dreamy jalapeño cream sauce. Not your typical Den-Mex fare, but worth deviating from the standards.
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The service, though a little aloof, is quick; I’ve never had to wait more than a minute or two before getting a table, and the food is always served soon after placing your order. The massive restaurant has three dining areas and would make an ideal setting for a large gathering or party.
The lunch menu doesn’t offer as many choices as the dinner menu, but there’s still plenty to choose from, and much of it comes a few dollars cheaper than dinner. The bar offers tequila flights and a long list of margaritas and signature cocktails, so if you want to try something other than the typical margarita or cerveza, the El Presidente cocktail boasts big flavor and goes well with the complimentary chips, salsa and spicy black-bean dip that arrives at your table the minute you’re seated.
If you have an urgent need for familiar green chile-drenched Mexican fare, Real de Minas is a good spot to satiate those cravings while also hiding a few offbeat gems not found on every corner.
Real de Minas is located in Aurora's Cornerstar shopping center at 6775 South Cornerstar Way. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call 303-766-2207 for takeout orders and information about catering and private parties.