Cheering for Chili: In Metro Denver Some Like It Hot (or Not)!
by Kim D. McHugh
Whether it is muy caliente (Spanish for “very hot”), mild and flavorful, or somewhere in-between, chili (or chile) is as appealing to culinary enthusiasts as is a visit to Graceland for Elvis fans. I’ve focused on notable spots, from a national chain to the family operated variety, where Denverites and out-of-staters can satisfy their green chile or chili con carne cravings. Thick or thin, mild enough to warm your insides or so hot you’ll break out in a sweat, these choices surely ignite a dialogue as to who does it best in and around the Mile High City.
Tamales by La Casita
Opened in 1974 by Paul and Paula Sandoval, this diner continues to wow patrons with a green chile recipe created by grandmother Camilla. “It is more like gravy,” explained Paul Sandoval, Jr., manager. “That allows it to stick to the burritos.” Made with big chunks of pork and Mirasol chiles—a medium hot variety—the green chile also finds its way to the restaurant’s red chile pork tamales, green chile and cheese tamales, and breakfast burritos.
411: 3561Tejon Street, Highland’s Neighborhood, 303-477-2899; www.tamalesbylacasita.net
Brewery Bar II
Established in 1954, Brewery Bar I was in the old Tivoli Brewery at 9th and Larimer, but in 1974, it moved to its present address. “Best Green Chile”, said Denver Post sports columnist, Woodie Paige. There is no skimping on the pork in this recipe, which results in a more red hue than green. Unless you like flamethrower-hot heat, order a third green, two-thirds red or 50/50. It’s great as a topper or in a bowl with a side of tortillas.
411: 1st and Kalamath, 303-893-0971; www.brewerybar3.com
Since its debut in Brighton in 1990, founder, Carmen Morales, has added 25 locations stretching from Longmont to Castle Rock and points East. Employing a recipe inspired by Rachel Morales, Carmen’s mother, this eatery claims to be ‘Home of the Hottest Green Chile in Town!’ Thankfully, Santiago’s has medium and mild versions, which can be savored in a bowl accompanied by a few warm tortillas, or ladled over enchiladas or one of nine different styles of burritos.
411: 571 Santa Fe Drive, 303-534-5004; www.eatatsantiagos.com
The Cherry Cricket
A trucker’s bar in the 1950s, Bernard Duffy’s prime rib joint in the 1960s, then Eli McGuire’s beer and burger spot in the 1990s, The Cherry Cricket remains a fan favorite. Crafted using hot New Mexico green chiles, this eatery’s concoction features slowly simmered, spicy pueblo-style pork that is begging to go atop a burger, goes great with burritos or is darned tasty just in a bowl. So tasty is the green chile, Smithsonian.com included the restaurant on its 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations in America.
411: 2641 E. 2nd Avenue, 303-322-7666; http://cherrycricket.com/
Chili Con Carne
Blake Street Tavern
Just a few blocks north of Coors Field, this watering hole targets the sports crazed, attracting them with 20 HD TVs, pool tables, shuffleboard, darts and a mean bowl of chili con carne. Capable of nearly suspending a spoon vertically, the mild concoction of beans, ground beef and tomatoes comes topped with shredded cheddar cheese. Forego the bowl for the chili cheese fries, which ooze with either chili con carne or spicy green chile.
411: 2301 Blake Street, LoDo, 303-675-0505; www.blakestreettavern.com
Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs
Owner Steve Ballas knocks it outta the park with dogs. Of the 14 dog options on the menu, three include chili con carne: the Dallas Dog, the Denver Dog and the Atlanta Slaw Dog. You’ll be in hotdog heaven with any selection. The Rippin’ Rockies Dog is topped with vegan green chile and other fixins, and the Jumbo Veggie Dog was just named Best In Denver. Burger fans gravitate to the Smashburger and the eatery also satifies with Steve’s BLT, Grilled Cheese, a Turkey Wrap, the Gobbler and Steve’s twist on a Philly Cheesesteak. “Must haves” are the onion rings, the fresh-squeezed limeade and Steve’s Snappin’ Ale (especially the cherry pepper brew).
411: 3525 East Colfax, 303-333-7627 (a second location is at DIA, Concourse B); www.stevessnappindogs.com
Bonnie Brae Tavern
When Carl Dire founded his tavern in 1934, he probably didn’t envision creating this landmark restaurant east of Washington Park. Gaelic for “Pleasant Hill,” Bonnie Brae serves a very pleasant chili con carne chock-full of beans and burger. The mildly spicy brew is enjoyed by the bowlful or ladled over fries, then sprinkled with cheddar and pepper jack cheese. Patrons can also have their burgers or hotdogs awash with the delicious stuff. FYI 5280 Magazine awarded the tavern Top of the Town for Best Green Chile in 2013.
411: 740 South University, 303-777-2262; www.bonniebraetavern.com
Ted’s Montana Grill
Opened in January 2002 in Columbus, Ohio, the first Ted’s Montana Grill has grown to over 50 restaurants in 19 states. The chain’s spoon-stander-thick “Flying-D” chili con carne is made from scratch daily using naturally raised bison. Ted’s chili makes up for its absence of heat—meaning there’s no risk of you spontaneously bursting into flames—with tons of flavor. Burger sound good? Order the Knife-And-Fork Chili Cheeseburger, which comes with cheddar and pepper jack cheese, jalapenos and a dollop of sour cream.
411: 1401 Larimer Street, 303-893-0654; www.tedsmontanagrill.com/index.html
When the eatery bears the name of a two-time-Super-Bowl- winning-quarterback you wouldn’t expect anything less than USDA prime beef in your chili con carne. For $9.50 Elway’s, which has four locations, scores a touchdown with a thick bowl of chili that is offered with cheddar cheese, sour cream, red onion and—akin to how tortilla soup is prepared—tortilla strips for a nice crunch. Though the first bite isn’t too spicy, some patrons might feel sacked after the heat sneaks up on them.
411: 1881 Curtis Street, 303-312-3826; www.elways.com