Food News

Denver's Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant Is Moving — but Not Out of Downtown

The Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant is relocating to Wazee this summer.
The Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant is relocating to Wazee this summer. Joni Schrantz/Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant
It doesn’t take an expert to realize that the world we are living in now is different from the pre-pandemic one: Inflation is soaring, including rent and operating costs, and factors like crime and homelessness are also on the rise. Combined with a supposedly lower number of people out and about, these factors have led many to believe the notion that "downtown is dead," as companies — restaurants, in particular — are ditching downtown and opting for locations in the suburbs instead.

One Denver staple, however, feels differently. Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, which now has five Colorado outposts, has existed in its current location at 1525 Blake Street since 1999 and has been a local favorite for strong margs and staples like fajitas and tacos for well over two decades. Like many of its peers in the biz, the restaurant is packing up shop, but it's not closing or leaving town.

In fact, it's not even leaving the neighborhood. The Rio will reopen at 11 a.m. on June 3 at 1745 Wazee Street, just a few blocks from its current location, even closer to Coors Field. The Blake Street location's last day is May 30.
click to enlarge The Rio has been a LoDo staple since 1999. - JONI SCHRANTZ/RIO GRANDE MEXICAN RESTAURANT
The Rio has been a LoDo staple since 1999.
Joni Schrantz/Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant

Founder and owner Pat McGaughran concedes that there has been “a tremendous amount of change in LoDo” since the Rio originally opened up. But he says the restaurant is moving mere minutes away in order to grow, not escape. “That’s our home. That’s kind of where we’ve made our place, in downtown Denver,” McGaughran says, noting that he’s seen change occur in the area “block by block.”

The Rio's new block is one where McGaughran says he’s seen “a good bit of renewal” occur, making it enticing for a business owner like himself. The restaurateur insists that he’s “in it for the long game in downtown Denver,” despite some buying into the "downtown is dead” narrative — which he doesn’t agree with.

McGaughran notes that Denver, like many other places around the globe, is facing a “humanitarian crisis” that has yet to find an answer, but he feels that if he and his cohorts “continue to invest in the area and keep it vibrant,” there will be more opportunities to help people.
click to enlarge Owner Pat McGaughran insists that despite some restaurants leaving the downtown area, downtown is not dead. - JONI SCHRANTZ/RIO GRANDE MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Owner Pat McGaughran insists that despite some restaurants leaving the downtown area, downtown is not dead.
Joni Schrantz/Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant

“I’m dug in,” he insists. He also recalls being told that downtown was dead back in 1999, when he first chose to open his beloved restaurant in LoDo. “I see people making significant grassroots — and beyond that — moves in Denver,” he notes. "I think LoDo is, and will be for the long run, a destination for people who are seeking entertainment in the arts. [Downtown] really is central to so much of that. How could it be dead?”

While the pandemic certainly took its toll, he adds, “I don’t see any signs of finality at all for Denver. I’m a believer in downtown.”

McGaughran is looking forward to getting into the new space, which he says will keep operations on just a single floor instead of the two-level setup at the current location. The Rio team is also planning some exciting ways to incorporate new elements that will modernize the longstanding favorite.

Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant is currently located at 1525 Blake Street and is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, visit riograndemexican.com.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.