Veggie Girl: Tamales by La Casita

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When I was growing up, my dad would make dozens and dozens of pork tamales and big vats of rich, beefy red chile and pork posole for Christmas. We'd feast on these New Mexican staples at our family Christmas party and then continue eating everything while it lasted, sometimes through New Year's.

Now when I go back to New Mexico for the holidays, my dad serves vegetarian versions of our family recipes that he's adapted just for me. He makes posole with calabacitas instead of pork, and red chile with black beans instead of beef. He's also created a variety of vegetarian tamales filled with everything from black beans to mushrooms, but the simple green chile and cheddar cheese combo is my favorite.

When I can't get home for Dad's cooking, it's comforting to know that La Casita is just a short drive away at 3561 Tejon Street.

I could swear they're using my grandma's tamale recipe at this place -- and they very well may be, since the Sandoval family has been running La Casita for over thirty years, and my maiden name is Sandoval. Although there's no relation that we know of, the tamales sure taste like home to me.

La Casita makes all of their vegetarian tamales with vegetable oil instead of lard, and the balance of masa to chile and cheese is perfect. The green chile is some of the most flavorful (read: spicy hot) in Denver, and the vegetarian red is good, too. But I also like balancing out my tamales with a bean tostada smothered in salsa, because that's some of the best in town, too.

And the price is right. A couple of years ago, eight of us decided to have an impromptu tamale dinner at La Casita. We stuffed ourselves silly with Frito pie, tamales, burritos, tostadas and beers served up in frosty mugs, yet the tab came in under $50. And today a bag of green chile tamales is still just $10.35, and a pint of red chile $3.55.

La Casita is working on plans to resurrect a second location at 44th and Tennyson. In meantime, you can reach the Tejon restaurant at 303-477-2899.

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