The Mile High City has no lack of Mexican restaurants, but they’re not all created equal. Some are downhome traditional, such as Patzcuaro's, while others, including Lola Mexican Fish House, are upscale-contemporary by design. A few fuse both styles and are places where you can get hearty chicken enchiladas as well as delicate pan-roasted mahi-mahi. Tamayo falls in that category. By its nature, much of Mexican cuisine is gluten free, and south-of-the-border dishes have long been vegetarian friendly, centered as many are around chiles, rice and beans, to say nothing of chips, salsas and guacamole. Mexican is in many ways the Latin version of comfort food, its dishes warm, filling and recalling a welcoming home where someone’s grandmother has been in the kitchen all day preparing for guests to arrive. While you can find Mexican in almost every Denver neighborhood, the northern neighborhoods stand out, giving diners a wealth of choices including El Chingon, Patzcuaro's, Lola's, La Loma and Paxia. For those who prefer their spicy dishes accompanied by Mexico’s renowned national spirit, tequila, there are many options as well. Tequila is front and center in its many forms at these restaurants, from affordable and best mixed in a margarita to carefully aged and perfect for sipping. It may be cliché to say Denver’s Mexican restaurants offer something for everyone, but that doesn't mean it's not true.
Marg's Taco Bistro
If you're in Cherry Creek and craving Mexican-fusion tacos, you can't do better than Marg's. The house-made flour-tortilla soft tacos get their culinary inspiration from around the globe--Korea, India, Vietnam, Italy, Japan and good old American sandwiches, such as Philly cheese stake and the club--but Mexico's flavors shine through, too; they are petite, so order accordingly. House-made tamales are nicely moist and spicy, though they could use a bit more filling. For those who prefer salads, there's an excellent mix, from a Mexican-influenced caesar and a steak salad to a vegetarian delight featuring red quinoa, arugula, roasted sweet potato, black beans and avocado. Marg's offers a nice brunch menu and happy hour is daily from 3-6 p.m. If you're not in Cherry Creek, check out Marg's outposts in Denver's Uptown neighborhood and LoDo. (303.321.6274)
Tacos Tequila Whiskey
Tacos Tequila Whiskey evolved from the cheekily named Pinche Taco food truck, but the name didn't fit the slightly more sophisticated aesthetic of a sit-down restaurant in the City Park neighborhood. While the truck retired from street service, the restaurant remains devoted to those uber popular street tacos food-truck devotees crave. Small but filling tacos make up the bulk of the menu, encouraging guests to order sushi-style and try several kinds. Tempting fillings include braised pork belly with candied garlic and cabbage-and-cilantro slaw; chipotle-and-beer-battered fish with slaw, avocado-pineapple guac, pickled red onion and lime; and citrus-marinated skirt steak with avocado, onion, cilantro, cotija cheese and lime. There are also vegan and vegetarian items, more fish, and breakfast tacos are served weekends. In addition to more than 30 types of tequila, the restaurant serves beer, house-made sodas and limited wines. There's a Highlands version of the restaurant, too. (720-475-1337)
Machete Tequila & Tacos
In March 2014, Machete opened its second restaurant, this one in LoDo situated between Coors Field and Union Station. While the original Cherry Creek eatery has a charming Mexican dive-bar feel, the aesthetic in LoDo is more upscale. Interesting artwork was purchased on the streets of Mexico City, a fitting complement to Chef Jose Avila's menu inspired by dishes typical of Mexico's capital, his hometown. Tacos are front and center but with twists, such as a version featuring grilled halibut marinated in recado rojo, pineapple butter, onion and cilantro and served with a squid-ink tortilla. Not to worry, there are versions with hangar steak, roast pig and lamb shank, too. Mezcals, dozens of tequilas and a fine selection of hand-shaken margaritas--including the fiery Hot Mess made with tequila infused in-house with habanero and Serrano peppers. (720-612-7698)
Taking its name from an idyllic lake high in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, Taqueria Patzcuaro offers good food that's well priced and served up in a compact but comfortable space. Meats feature heavily on the menu, such as grilled pork chops, cubed pork, carne aside steak and more, all enhanced by a variety of chile-laden sauces, both red and green. The lunch menu includes huevos rancheros, so if you're a fan of this traditional Mexican breakfast dish but not an early riser, this is your place. Patzcuaro's chile rellenos can be ordered soft or crispy, and there are several shrimp and fish dishes to choose from. For those who can't linger, there's also a to-go menu. Top-shelf marks can be made with several fine tequilas, including Don Julio 1942. (303-455-4389)
Owner Rayme Rosello describes Comida as a "small, funky, not overly precious neighborhood joint filled with the flavors we have come to love over the years while visiting family and friends in Mexico." The flavors are familiar but Comida offers a deliciously intriguing take on traditional Mexican, including infusing a bit of the American South into dishes. Tacos, served on soft corn tortillas, include toppings such as spicy shrimp over jalapeno grits with pico de gallo, avocado, lime, house crema and cotija, or chorizo and red onion escabeche over roasted garlic mash with salsa verde, house crema and cotija. Not 'Yo Nachos combine Comida's house chips with a blend of cotija, smoked gouda and asadero cheeses, black beans, avocado and tomatillo chile verde, to which you can add shrimp, chorizo, steak or bacon. The full bar offers tequila, beer, wine and creative cocktails, including thirst-quenching margaritas made with fresh-squeezed citrus. ((303) 296-2747)
Exceptionally friendly service, excellent food and appealing decor make this north Denver restaurant well worth a visit from anywhere in the city--and it has a parking lot. Ceviche here is made with octopus and fresh orange and lime juice, among other fresh ingredients. The menu offers a sampling of regional Mexican cuisine, some familiar and others that diners may not be familiar with but should be. Molcajetes, for example, is a stew served in a volcanic rock mortar and pestle. History says that Chiles en Nogada, a dish from Pueblo, was served to the emperor of Mexico by local nuns in 1821. And tlacoyos, a Nahuatl word, comes from central Mexico. These masa-and-black-bean cakes are grilled then topped with pear cactus, tomato, onion and jalapeño; chicken or beef can be added. All margaritas are made with fresh lime juice, and fruit options feature fresh fruit puree. (720.583.6860)
Lola Mexican Fish House
Evoking the flavors and colors of coastal Mexico, Lola's fresh seafood sizzles with south-of-the-border flair. The LoHi restaurant is casual, upbeat and comfortable, and among its highlights is a stellar cocktail program featuring more than 200 kinds of tequila. The margaritas are legendary. Lola's chefs take their inspiration from the regions of Oaxaca, Yucatan peninsula, Baja, Veracruz and the northern Pacific Coast, and many of the freshest ingredients come from local purveyors. Oysters, octopus, shrimp and tuna are among the coastal delicacies, starring alongside sweet potato enchiladas, crispy fried chicken mole and carne asada. There are also family style offerings, and keep in mind that Lola's does brunch with panache, from cinnamon doughnuts and sweet coconut bread to chicken and waffles. The best way to end your meal here is to go out for a stroll around the LoHi neighborhood. (720-570-8686)
Tamayo is one of the most popular restaurants on historic Larimer Square with good reason. Richard Sandoval, of Zengo and La Biblioteca fame, has created a posh, airy space in which Mexican is reimagined as an artful, surprising cuisine yet true to its roots. Among the starters are a wild-mushroom flatbread with goat cheese, black-bean puree, caramelized onion and truffle oil, and a chile-encrusted calamari served with Napa cabbage salad and a chipotle-blood-orange reduction. Tampiquena is one of the chef's specials, a dish featuring filet mignon and served with poblano-chile potato gratin, mole-cheese enchilada, cactus salad and guacamole. A variety of tacos and enchiladas round out the menu, some with surprising fillings such as lamb belly or crispy tofu. Don't skimp on the delectable sides here, especially the caramelized plantains with chipotle butter. (720-946-1433, 646-285-0796)
Perennially a Denver favorite, La Loma is located in a historic house in northwest Denver and celebrates foods typical of the Yucatan, Mexico City and Acapulco, among other areas. The menu offers the best of Mexico's traditional dishes, from tacos, chile rellenos and chimichangas to flautas and sizzling fajitas. There's also a mesquite-grilled selection of entrees--chicken, shrimp and steak--and salads that make a flavorful but lighter meal. The Acapulco chicken salad, for example, puts mesquite-grilled chicken with fresh pineapple, mango, jicama and avocado, topped with passion-fruit vinaigrette. Combos let diners mix and match an array of Mexican favorites, and portions are not skimpy here so sharing is easy. Don't skip the margaritas crafted with fresh fruits and juices and the option of premium tequilas and orange liqueurs. (303-433-8300)
This gem in the Berkeley neighborhood serves fresh food in an intimate setting accommodating. Gloria Nunez, a native of Mexico City, and her grandson, David Lopez, opened El Chingon in this charming old house on Tennyson Street in December 2013. The menu offers traditional dishes--tacos, tostadas, burritos--along with less expected options such as duck and bison. There's also fresh fish and an excellent selection of salads and soups. Behind the bar, cocktails are meticulously crafted. While many feature traditional tequila and fresh-squeezed citrus, there are surprises. The La Vida Pura, for example, is elevated by house-made fig syrup and egg white, while the Envidia is a heady mix that includes bourbon, Frangelico, and two bitters: black walnut and Aztec chocolate. The chilaquiles on Saturday's brunch menu may be Denver's best, though the DJ music, while good, makes conversation challenging. In warm weather, the back patio is the place to be. (303.248.3641)
About Christine Loomis
Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York, Colorado and California. Today she divides time between the Denver and San Francisco areas.
Christine loves shoe shopping and fishing; walking anywhere; horseback riding (she was on the equestrian team at the University of Oregon); and discovering menus that include small-batch whiskeys, craft beer and lesser-known wines.
She would go anywhere in an RV and believes summer is best when it includes a rafting trip.
Read more about Christine Loomis here.