Tastes of Colorado, from burgers to burritos

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What is the taste of Colorado?

I have been asking this question--in various forms, in various places--almost since the day I started this job. One of my very first columns was about the way green chile changes as you trace it up from Southern New Mexico and into Denver -- from the pure verde kick in Hatch, to the thin, soupy sauce of Albuquerque and its steady thickening as you travel north along the green chile trail until you reach Denver, where it turns into a gelatinous goop all studded with pork, completely missing the original vegetable sweetness of the fruit, and encompassing varying levels of heat, from granny-safe to scorching.

At the time, I could not stand the Colorado version of green chile. I found it repugnant and horrible and wrong and did nothing whatsoever to disguise my loathing of it. Over the years, though, I have mellowed slightly. I have come to appreciate the place of Colorado verde in the pantheon of green chile preparations. I have, in short, become a reluctant convert because that unique style of green chile truly is one of those tastes that will always be associated with Colorado, that is ours alone.

I have talked about a million cheeseburgers as being integral to Colorado's particular flavor. Hot dogs, too. There have been breakfast burrito discussions and steakhouse discussions. The Denver omelet has been dismissed out of hand as a ridiculous thing to be named after our fair city (having only the vaguest and most tenuous connections to some Basque sheepherders back in the day who made something called piperade, and to the cross-country wagon train cooks who, by the time they reached the Rockies, were forced to mix peppers and onions with eggs that had long ago begun to go bad). And we have argued back and forth interminably about whether or not Denver's chefs have yet come up with a kind of "Colorado Cuisine" that has the same kind of permanency and devastating, paradigm-shifting effect as "California Cuisine" did decades ago.

In seven years of debate -- of discussion and dialog, arguing and name-calling, reconciliation and somber meditation -- we have arrived at no concrete answer. We have nipped tantalizingly around the edges of things, for sure. I think we can all agree that burritos are a part of Colorado's essential flavor, as are The Fort and Casa Bonita and the Buckhorn Exchange. And just as there's a powerful Mexican element to our culinary DNA, there is Japanese and Vietnamese, as well as a streak of spaghetti Western Italian flavor running close to the center of things. We are Western, for sure, and we love our steaks, our burgers, our gigantic hunks of lamb and pig. But we are also so goddamn healthy that the green and the organic and the (shudder...) vegetarian influences all have their place as well.

And what I'm curious about now is whether or not there is an organizing principle to all this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic melting-pot strangeness -- one overarching style or gestalt that could be used as a definition of Colorado's cuisine. "We like what we like," has never quite done it for me. Neither has "Birthplace of the Big-Ass Burrito." I'm hoping that there's something more.

Got any ideas? Leave 'em below. In the meantime, I'm going to get something to eat...

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