If you want to heat up any discussion, just mention green chile and Denver in the same sentence. We all have our own platonic ideal of the regional stew-slash-sauce-slash-gravy, whether you're a purist in pursuit of Hatch, an aficionado of the flour-thickened or an adventurer questing for the biggest burn. Nearly every bar, tavern, cantina and chef's kitchen in town features a variation on the green, ladled onto burritos, fries, burgers — or just served straight up with a tortilla chaser. Here's our list of the ten finest in town, in alphabetical order — with last year's Best Green Chile in the top spot.
Will one of these superb soups make it to the top in this year's Best of Denver? Cast your vote to nominate your favorite in our 2016 Best of Denver Readers' Poll.
10. Blackbelly Market
1606 Conestoga Street, Boulder
For a New Mexico kid, Blackbelly Market chef-owner Hosea Rosenberg serves up a pretty mean Colorado-style smothered breakfast burrito. The green chile doing the actual smothering is a thick, chunky, pinkish-orange blend based on Hatch chiles that Rosenberg insists on trucking up from the Land of Enchantment each fall. His is a vegetarian chile, but that doesn't mean it's any less flavorful. Bright notes of tomato and onion shine through, while those Hatch heaters provide extra punch. If you insist on pork, opt for the posole, which uses the same green chile as a base but adds chewy hominy and shreds of smoked shoulder for camp-cookout appeal.
9. Brewery Bar II
150 Kalamath Street
The stewy mix at this Denver classic can be a little frustrating. On any given day, the flavors may be subdued or overwhelmed by tomato, but folks keep coming back for those occasions when the green chile is dead on — and deadly hot. Not even a mound of shredded yellow cheese or a dollop of sour cream will save your skin from the sear that'll stick with you for hours. Better to side your smothered burrito with a "Tiny" — the old-school bar's biggest pour of suds.
8. Cafe Chihuahua
2250 South Federal Boulevard
Cafe Chihuahua is somewhat of a secret outside of its South Federal neighborhood, but that's just fine with the regulars, who guzzle the cantina's red-orange sauce by the bowlful or let it soak into a massive "pregnant burrito" — a loaf-sized construction of beans, beef and a whole tamale tucked into a flour-tortilla blanket. Choose from mild or hot or somewhere in between (the medium's just a blend of the other two), but be warned: Even the mild is a wild child.
7. Efrain's Mexican Restaurant
Three Boulder County locations
If you're pining for a taste of chile verde from our neighbor to the south, head north to one of the three Efrain's in Boulder County. Whether you pick the north Boulder, Lafayette or Longmont outpost, expect pure chile flavor — and pure, sweat-inducing heat that builds and builds. You'll find pork in the mix, too, but this isn't an overly meaty stew: You wouldn't want too many distractions from the blazing beauty of the chiles themselves.
6. El Chingon Mexican Bistro
4326 Tennyson Street
Like the chile verde at El Taco de Mexico, El Chingon's version appears pureed and pure, but it's a more vivid green than the other taqueria's cooked-down stew. The flavor, too, is brighter and sharper, with a tang that belies the presence of tomatillos or a little lime. It's certainly not typical Den-Mex dry-wall paste, but instead makes a thrilling little sauce to perk up the kitchen's carefully plated entrees.
Keep reading for the rest of our list of the best green chiles in Denver...
5. 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.
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4. 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 — and if you're in the know, you can ask for it even hotter.
3. North County
94 North Rampart Way
The food at this Lowry tavern may be inspired by the Mexican grub of Southern California, but the green chile is in a class of its own. Thickened with masa and pea-soup green from the sheer volume of chiles used, it's rich and meaty and more than a little fiery. Tender chunks of pork loin add toothsome chew, making a great topping for fries or nachos, but a side order on its own — served with tortillas made fresh in-house every day — is our recommendation.
Multiple Front Range locations
Santiago's is a homegrown chain that today has dozens of outposts in the metro area, all spooning 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!
1. Señor Burritos
12 East First Avenue
Why did the glowing, semi-atomic sauce at this little off-Broadway joint steal top honors in our 2015 Best of Denver awards? Because it represents a style of green chile unique to Colorado: smooth and thick, gravy-like and greasy, with almost nothing but the smack of pork and peppers to accompany rolled tortillas or simply be swallowed by the spoonful. On its own or forming a spicy slick atop a hearty burrito, this stuff is simply green gold.