Thanks to Taco Bell, Americans know the chalupa as little more than a outsized taco, a puffy fried flatbread of questionable origin stuffed with the Bell's standard ingredients. But even in Mexico, the chalupa takes on various forms and isn't always easy to identify by sight alone, depending on the town or state where you're doing your chalupa-spotting. In Puebla, they're flat like a tostada and topped with salsa, shredded cheese and maybe a little chicken. In Oaxaca, the tortilla might be curved into a bowl shape. And in Guerrero, you might find a thick tortilla formed into something close to the canoe shape that the name suggests; a chalupa outside the culinary world is a small boat with a shape that lends itself well to hauling grilled meats, melted cheese and shredded lettuce.
In nearly every case, a Mexican chalupa will be made with a corn tortilla, but Siete Leguas Mexican Grille (4550 East Colfax Avenue) creates its boat-shaped delicacy from a fried flour tortilla. Taco Bell's website states that "frying food is like hiring a famous wizard to put a spell on it," and at Siete Leguas (don't say "lenguas," which would make the restaurant Seven Tongues instead of Seven Leagues, the name of Pancho Villa's famous horse), the wizard has taken up residence in the kitchen to put a spell on the deep-fried tortilla.
The chalupa's shell is formed and fried into a shape that resembles a large beetle with its wings spread, or like a Star Wars starfighter made from a flaky tortilla. Those who track Taco Bell one-offs might remember the XXL chalupa with its high sides and upturned front and rear spoilers; the version at Siete Leguas is not dissimilar — only add a couple of Xs, because the thing is big.
Inside the shell, this chalupa sports a fairly typical filling of fajita-style grilled veggies, along with black beans and your choice of chicken or steak. Accoutrements include guacamole, sour cream and shredded lettuce (which you should have the kitchen omit; it tends to get soggy and limp atop the hot ingredients).
In the world of boat-named foods, the chalupa at Siete Leguas transcends mere paddle boats, rising to the status of ocean-going vessel. You can embark on your chalupa voyage for twelve bucks at the original Siete Leguas or at its younger sibling just a couple of miles down the road, at 8501 East Colfax Avenue.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.