One of my first columns was about the way green chile changes on the way from southern New Mexico to Denver -- from the pure verde kick in Hatch to the thin, soupy sauce of Albuquerque, and the steady thickening as you travel north along the green chile trail until you reach the gelatinous goop of Denver, 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. Over the years, though, I have come to appreciate the place of Colorado verde in the pantheon of green chile preparations, recognizing that this unique green chile (with its infinite variations) is truly one of those tastes that will always be associated with Colorado.
And will also inspire more bar fights than almost any other subject. What's the best green chile in Denver? Here are our ten picks, in no particular order except for #1,
10. Taqueria Patzuaro, 2616 West 32nd Avenue A classic Colorado green, sweet and hot, served in a classic northwest Denver spot.
9. Chubby's, 1231 West 38th Avenue Although founder Stella Cordova passed away this year, her green chile lives on -- hot, salty, and just the thing to end a night on the town (or cure a hangover the next day). Fair warning: The original on 38th is the only real Chubby's. 8. El Taco de Mexico, 714 Santa Fe Drive
El Taco de Mexico is known for its organ meats, its cranky kitchen help -- but it also cooks up a good green chile, dark and peppery, the perfect think to drown a cheek-meat burrito.
7. Benny's, 301 East Seventh Avenue
Benny Armas has been cooking a classic Colorado green chile -- sweet, gravy-thick, full of pork and chunks of green chile -- since his days as a cook at the Oak Alley, and it remains a favorite at Benny's, almost as much of a draw as the free chips and salsa and big, potent margs.
6. El Tejado, 2651 South Broadway Although much of El Tejado's fare, particularly the seafood, is authentically Mexican, the green chile is a pure Colorado product: gravylike and deeply flavorful.
5. Phil's Place, 3463 Larimer Street Junie Garcia comes from a long line of Mexican cooks, and at Phil's Place, which belongs to her son, she serves up the green chile that made her many fans in the days when she ran the kitchen at the Bamboo Hut.
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4. La Fiesta, 2340 Champa Street Forty years ago, the Herrera family took over an old Safeway in Curtis Park and turned it into a Mexican restaurant. Today, the crispy chiles rellenos made in this kitchen -- and the hot, hot, green chile that smothers them -- are popular enough that La Fiesta is only open at weekday lunch.
3. Las Delicias, 439 East 19th Avenue (and three other locations)
Since it opened at the corner of 19th and Pennsylvania three decades ago, the original Las Delicias has spilled into storefronts along the block -- and its business has spilled over into three other outposts. All of them serve the same great green chile: thick, layered and good enough to eat on its own.
2. Jack 'n Grill, 2524 Federal Boulevard Jack Martinez came to Denver to sell roasted chiles from New Mexico -- and business was so good that he opened his own restaurant, which happens to serve a green chile that's as authentically New Mexican as anything you'll find in Denver. 1. Santiago's, 571 Santa Fe Drive (and over a dozen other locations) Santiago's is a home-grown chain that's rightly famous for its breakfast burritos. But it also sells the best green chile in town: an orange elixir studded with chunks of chile. Fair warning: the hot version is sense-singing.