After my last meal at Chili Verde, a new and very traditional Mexican restaurant that was about to get its liquor license, I stopped by Chubby's, a forty-year-old Mexican joint that never has (and never will) serve a drop. They're in the same northwest Denver neighborhood, yet fill very different niches in the food-service universe and speak to completely different hungers.
The original Chubby's is not a restaurant for the faint of heart — or delicate of constitution. While the brothers at Chili Verde are attempting to bring the subtle and historic flavors of Puebla to Denver, Chubby's is here to feed Denverites what they really want when the urge for a massive hand grenade of a burrito overtakes them. Although Stella Cordova, Chubby's matriarch, passed away at the age of 100 earlier this year, her kitchen still serves her pure Colorado vision of Mexican food, slathered in gooey "green" chile (which is actually more orangey-brown), topped with block-shredded cheese, and served between two stapled-together paper plates. At 2 a.m., Chubby's can be a lifesaver. By 4 a.m., you might be begging for mercy. But I'm still a fan of the place, because I can stop by virtually any hour of the day or night and grab an egg-and-potato burrito, swimming in green chile hot enough to strip paint and salty enough to attract wildlife.
That's exactly what I did last week, on an otherwise nondescript Thursday: pulled into the parking lot, stepped inside the tiny lobby/waiting room/community triage, placed my order with the harried girl manning the register, and waited for my bag of burrito-rific goodness. Everything at Chubby's is to-go; although there are a few patio seats on the Lipan side of the building, that's it. Chubby's might as well be a loncheria that just happened to have put down roots. Very deep roots.
1231 West 38th Avenue
My egg-and-potato burrito was as good as always, glued together with that unique green (which really ought to be studied by scientists for its amazing gelatinous properties, semi-solid at all earthly temperatures), even if my side of chicharrones was terrible. But that wasn't enough to turn me off Chubby's; I have a fondness for the place that transcends cold, deep-fried pork skin and fat. Chubby's is an institution, a place that exists like a living history lesson — a taste of what Denver used to be like back in the days before anyone really cared about regional authenticity, an honest flavor of this city's past and a true locavore's head trip. Stella Cordova left an amazing legacy.
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