Green chile is always one of our most heated categories in the annual Best of Denver edition. So many restaurants and cantinas make great versions, and so many chile heads have their own notions of what constitutes a good green that the award rarely goes to the same place twice. In fact, over the past ten years, only El Taco de Mexico has been a repeat winner for Best Green Chile — a testament to the taqueria's quality and consistency. Readers have been a little more faithful to their true love, Santiago's, which has earned the Readers' Choice nod the past six years in a row. And, yes, it's winning that category again this year.
Who did our food and drink writers honor with their award for Best Green Chile in the Best of Denver 2018? We'll spill that sauce at the end of this post. But first, a refresher course on our picks for the Best Green Chile in Denver over the past ten years, along with the reasons that we chose them at the time.
2524 Federal Boulevard
Until everyone gets it through their heads that real green chile means roasted, chopped green chiles, a little liquid and nothing else, Jack-n-Grill is going to keep winning this award, because it remains the only place in Denver where you can get authentic New Mexican-style green chile — along with killer vaquero tacos, giant breakfast burritos and cups full of roasted, cheesy corn. What's more, during chile season, owner Jack Martinez (who began his career as a green-chile importer) and members of his family are standing right out there in the parking lot, tending to the jet-fuel tumblers, roasting bushel after bushel of the good stuff for anyone wise enough to stop by and pick up a bag.
571 Santa Fe Drive (and multiple other locations)
It took us a year to make this decision. Seriously, a year. We spooned our way through bowl after bowl around the city, through green chiles thick and thin, sweet and sour, dull and devilishly hot. And we kept coming back to Santiago's. Fortunately, it was easy to do, because this homegrown chain keeps opening up more stores all around the city, and all of them serve the same great green. With its moderated heat and perfect balance of the chile's vegetable sweetness to the savor of pork fat, this elixir goes with everything from eggs to tacos to midnight snacks — and is also just splendid on its own. In our hearts, we knew Santiago's green chile was the winner from the start. All that testing and experimentation? Just an excuse to eat the leftovers, really.
El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive
The clean-kitchen-obsessed women with permanent frowns on their faces who bust their asses at El Taco de México? They understand a lot more English than you think, and if you're stupid enough to malign their green chile — which we've heard a hell of a lot of bullying gringos do — then you deserve whatever bad karma creeps into your tortilla. El Taco's green chile is in a class by itself, an incredible food high that's full of invigorating spices, deposits of pork and a slew of hot chiles for maximum twang. It embodies everything that you expect from a killer green chile, and a whole lot more.
Los Farolitos (closed)
1593 Peoria Street, Aurora
This is a city that loves its green chile in all forms, but the verde at Los Farolitos, a sincere Mexican joint shoehorned into a featureless Aurora mini-mall, is the most lovable of all. Tart with tomatillos, specked with oregano and unleashing an unrepentant hot flash of blistering heat, it's the perfect cloak for everything it drapes, including the equally unassailable barbacoa burrito, filled with robust, long-stewed lamb. Everything here, including the Mexican buffet, is worthy of praise, but the green chile consistently delivers. The only bummer is the absence of alcohol to subdue the five-alarm fire, but you can waste away in Margaritaville elsewhere.
Tia Maria Mexican Restaurant
7260 Pecos Street
If you were born and raised in Denver, you are, by rights, a green-chile geek. And if you popped out elsewhere (New Mexico notwithstanding) and simply don't get why we're so besotted with suffocating our burritos, enchiladas, rellenos and French fries with verde, we can only assume that you have yet to try the green stuff at Tia Maria. The affable owner treats his customers like royalty, which is reason enough to plop your butt down in a cushy booth and spend the afternoon slumped over shots, which he doles out in frequent doses. The tequila syllabus is impressive — and so are the tasting notes that accompany it — and the shots pair perfectly with the restaurant's green chile. It's a stinging, savory swamp of garlic, tomatoes, cubed pork and ambrosial chiles that weep with heat. This verde puddles plates heaped with all the usual suspects, and it also swaths a rotund, pink-fleshed ham hock that may be the best dish on the menu.
Boone's Tavern (now the Rosedale)
1135 East Evans Avenue
Boone's Tavern — a member of the Pour Kids bar group — claims that its green chile is "famous," which may be a stretch, but, whoa, is it destined to become that way! The joint's verde, which is actually green — not red, not orange, not neon, but green — is prepared mild, medium or hot, and the latter is purgatory on steroids, a medium-thick, invigorating blast of blistering jalapeños, cumin and garlic that's peppered and salted and swamped with tender cubes of pork. And Boone's isn't even a Mexican joint: It's an all-over-the-map catch-all of this, that and everything else that just happens to devote a portion of its menu to Mexican staples, including a Pueblo slopper, which is the optimal canvas for that tasty green chile.
El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive
"For truly amazing flavors, El Taco de Mexico is a must," wrote Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern, shortly after he and his film crew touched down in the Mile High City. El Taco de Mexico is "Denver's quintessential taqueria," he said, pronouncing that it serves the "best menudo and tacos in the city." And after decades of plopping our butts on the canary-yellow stools overlooking the kitchen, we're not going to disagree. But he missed our favorite dish here: The superlative — and spicy — green chile continues to outshine all the competition. The stoic women who spoon it over everything from burritos to eggs never crack a smile — but we do after taking just one bite of the incredibly flavorful, peppery brew. No matter where you're coming from, you'll find a home at El Taco de México.
12 East First Avenue
Picking a favorite joint for green chile can often come down to what camp you’re in: Are you a New Mexico Hatch-head, a Den-Mex devotee, or a newcomer caught in the crossfire who’s just looking for a spicy bowl? Since most of the New Mexico versions around town tend to be watered-down shades of verde, Colorado-style is the way to go here. And while better-known chile kitchens attract much of the attention, Señor Burritos quietly turns out top-caliber blue-collar sauce right around the corner from one of the city’s most buzzed-about culinary zones along Broadway. The green chile here has a warm, orange hue magnified by a slick of glistening fat on top – all the better to soak up with a steaming tortilla. The chile is thickened just enough to make it rib-sticking (or burrito-sticking, if you opt for a smothered breakfast bomb) without becoming gravy-like glop. Bits of green chiles and tomato bob in the broth, and chunks of pork too big to fit on the spoon lay mostly submerged like meaty icebergs. The pork is so tender that all you’ll need is that spoon to break the pieces apart into more manageable bites. It’s a spicy stew but not painfully so, which means that by the spoonful or atop a fat breakfast burrito, you’ll be able to taste the deep flavor from the first to the last bite.
2651 South Broadway
New owners took over El Tejado last year, giving the space a facelift that makes it look like something out of The Flintstones. And that's appropriate, because El Tejado's green chile remains rock solid. This is a classic Colorado green chile, gravy-like and studded with pork, sometimes tinged a little more orange than green. While it's good smothering just about anything that comes out of the El Tejado kitchen, it's just as good on its own with a side of tortillas. And if you're feeling particularly brave, order the hot green chile. To create this fiendish concoction, the kitchen doesn't just drop some hot sauce in the kettle. Instead, it concocts a deeply layered, flavorful brew that's downright addictive — that is, if you don't singe your mouth on the first slurp.
94 North Rampart Way
While the debate rages on between which is better — New Mexico green chile made with pepper pods from Hatch or the Colorado equivalent cooked with Pueblo's finest — North County quietly stirs up batches of flawless verde in its Lowry kitchen. Thick, pea-green and threaded through with long-simmered pork, the stew packs a slow burn and an avalanche of green-chile flavor. Eat it plain or order it as a side for your carne asada fries, which...just order the carne asada fries! Chef/proprietor Sterling Robinson serves a similarly spicy green chile at north Denver's Billy's Inn if you can't make it out to Lowry, but then you'd be missing out on a house-bottled cocktail to cool your tongue. The results are in: North County, representing Southern California and Baja, Mexico, takes the prize over both New Mexico and Colorado.
And the winner for 2018:
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1530 Blake Street
There are two sure bets at this downtown Mexican eatery: The joint will always be packed, and the green chile will always be rich, hearty and satisfying. D’Corazon makes its chile the way God intended, at least here in Colorado: brownish-orange, thick like gravy, and hot enough to grab your attention. Newcomers to Denver are likely to be confused and New Mexicans will be outraged, but after a spoonful or two, all will be converted. The pork-laden original gets top billing, but vegetarians won’t be disappointed by the meatless version. Not only do ravenous lunch-goers queue up daily for a taste of this green chile, but burritos and rellenos await the privilege of being anointed in the delicious sauce, as well.
Did you enjoy this taste of the Best of Denver 2018? We'll reveal all of this year's winners on westword.com/best-of on March 28, the same day that the print edition starts hitting the streets. (And fair warning: In some early copies, the copy for page 64 was duplicated on page 84, where this award was supposed to appear. The mistake was corrected, but if you think you're seeing double...you very well might be.)
What do you think of D'Corazon? Our previous Best Green Chile winners? Post a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.