Most longtime Denverites don't just have opinions about green chile; they have manifestos. The sauce — or soup, or stew, depending on who you talk to and where you order it — comes in bowls, ramekins and styrofoam tubs and gets sloshed over everything from fries to tamales. A burrito in Denver wouldn't be a burrito without a generous dose of verde inside the tortilla, if you're eating on the go, or smothering the whole thing on an oval platter, if you're sitting down for the long haul. And if you want to start a heated discussion — or maybe a land war — just ask residents where they like to get their green. We ate our way through thick and thin, hot and mild, green and...well, not so green, to arrive at our list of the ten best green chiles that Denver has to offer. Here they are in alphabetical order, with this year's Best of Denver winner in the number one spot.
10) Bonnie Brae Tavern
740 South University Boulevard
The green chile at this neighborhood eatery — one of the oldest in Denver — is thick and brownish with a moderate level of heat. It's more of a gravy that clings well to everything it touches: fries, burgers, burritos and crispy rellenos. Bonnie Brae has been serving the slurry the same way for so long that it almost requires a category of its own: Bonnie Brae-style chile.
9) Cafe Chihuahua
2250 South Federal Boulevard
This South Federal standby serves green chile in three levels of heat; pros opt for the extra hot because along with the burn, you get more chile flavor. The chile here is fresh and studded with visible diced chiles, small bits of pork and cooked-down tomato and onion. The faint orange hue gives away its Colorado roots, but the sauce goes well with the rest of the restaurant's south-of-the-border fare.
8) Chickee's Lil Kitchen
4340 Zuni Street
This is a home-style sauce, pale in color and with just enough kick to brighten a morning in Sunnyside, where Chickee's sells breakfast burritos and other street eats from a walk-up window. It's not a green chile that challenges with heat or overwhelms with chunks of pork (or the accompanying slick of fat on top); instead, the mellow flavors combine with house-made chorizo and fresh scrambled eggs for a warming, filling meal to get you through the day.
7) El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe Drive
No list of Mexican specialties in Denver would be complete without something from El Taco de Mexico, the go-to taco joint for every kitchen rat and high-end chef in town. The green chile here is thin in body but not in flavor, as deep layers of chile, tomatillo and slow-cooked stock combine to create a luscious pool around fat burritos. This isn't Colorado-style (or New Mexico either, for that matter); it's just pure chile verde from abuela to you.
6) El Tejado
2651 South Broadway
For decades, El Tejado has attracted Mexican nationals and gringos alike with its authentic Mexican fare — seafood cocktails in giant goblets, for example, and lengua tacos. But the biggest draw here is decidedly Colorado in origin: The green chile is addictive, a gravy-like concoction that's equally good poured over a skillet of eggs and potatoes, smothering a fat beef burrito or just in a bowl on its own. This mainstay on South Broadway recently got a new owner, but the green chile remains unchanged. Get it while it's hot.
5) La Loma
2527 West 26th Avenue
Grandma knows best. La Loma got its start in 1974 as a little family-run restaurant in a bungalow on West 26th Avenue that today is the home of the first Sassafras. In 1981, La Loma went upscale, moving a few blocks down the street to a big new building overlooking downtown Denver, where it continues to attract throngs of the faithful every day. But one thing remains constant: the green chile, still made according to Savina Mendoza's recipe, even though she passed away almost two decades ago. It's thick, gravy-smooth and even green in hue, with a hint of sweetness that has had green chile fans coming back for more for more than four decades. And from her portrait that hangs in La Loma, Grandma Mendoza oversees all.
2995 West Jewell Avenue
There's nothing Mexican about Newbarry's — it's just a Denver diner with a little bit of everything, including regional favorites like a slick chile dotted with green and red that's equally at home in a bowl or over an omelette. Newbarry's has been serving South Federal for more than 45 years — plenty of time to dial in the recipe to exactly what the neighborhood wants.
3) North County
94 North Rampart Way
Chef/proprietor Sterling Robinson turns out a Baja-style menu at this new Lowry hot spot, but his green chile defies categorization. It's pea-soup green like a good New Mexico stew (with no visible tomato), but it's also thick and meaty, the way we love our chile in Colorado. Instead of corn starch or flour, though, North County's chile gets its body from corn masa, adding just a hint of earthy flavor to the lightly zingy mix.
Santiago's is a home-grown chain that today has dozens of outposts in the metro area, all spooining up a green chile that's three-alarm hot, with a matching orange slick of pork fat on top as a warning to all who approach. Whether drizzled inside a foil-wrapped burrito bomb for the road or splashed over fat tamales, Santiago's green chile is a glowing beacon of what's best about Denver-style fast food. And now you can even get it in certain supermarkets!
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
1) Señor Burritos
12 East First Avenue
Just around the corner from one of Denver's trendiest restaurant and bar scenes on Broadway, Señor Burritos has been serving humble, blue-collar Mexican food since before the stretch gained the nickname SoBro. The sauce here won our Best Green Chile award this year because it's a simple, no-nonsense verde that pushes the flavors of pork and chile to the forefront. Rusty orange and thick enough to cling while soupy enough to be eaten on its own, it offers slow-building heat that doesn't overwhelm whatever you choose to pour it over.