Mouthwatering Mexican…or New Mexican…or Tex-Mex Spots in Denver

When growing up in a small town in rural Arkansas in the 1970s, access to extraordinary cuisine likely meant taking a six-hour road trip to Dallas. So when looking for Mexican food, yours truly had two options — Glasgow’s (a family-owned Tex-Mex dive) or Taco Tico (a fast food chain and the precursor to Taco Bell).

For a young child trying “spicy” food for the first time, a mild taco-burger from Taco Tico was clearly the safest option.

Fast forward several not-to be-specified decades, and my palette has greatly expanded while my understanding of the nuanced differences between Mexican, New Mexican and Tex-Mex may still be lacking. Thinking that others might benefit from some subtle and not so subtle distinctions, I got to tasting…errr…researching.


Said to have originated in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico — known as the food capital of Mexico, Mexican food features avocados, black and pinto beans, white cheeses such as cotija and queso fresco, a variety of chile peppers, chocolate, corn (maize), crema, limes, oregano, poblanos, tomatoes, and distinct vegetables such as tomatillos, jicama, squash blossoms and cactus. Local options include:

Bruto. Photo credit: Westword

1801 Blake St., Denver

The newly honored 1-Star Michelin restaurant sources many of its ingredients from Latin America, Mexico, Texas and Colorado. Menus revolve around grain, fermentation and chiles, including local flour, masa and corn milled onsite. This up-close-and-personal experience invites 15 lucky individuals to observe a multi-course menu while sitting at the chef’s counter. Reservations are required…and hard to come by.

Cantina Loca
2890 Zuni St., Denver

You can’t have a Mexican food list and not include Chef Dana Rodriguez. After learning the business in some of Denver’s best restaurants, she became Executive Chef of Work & Class in 2012, opened and helmed Super Mega Bien!, and opened Cantina Loca in 2022 before being tapped as the Executive Chef for the newly reopened Casa Bonita. Cantina Loca features authentic Mexico City street food paired with the best mezcal and tequila available.

El Taco de Mexico

El Taco de Mexico
714 Santa Fe, Denver

Established in 1985 and conveniently located along Santa De Drive, this affordable, family owned restaurant features all of the Mexican standards — enchiladas, chile rellenos, burritos and tamales. According to one testimonial: “I come here for one reason and one reason only, the Chile Relleno burrito smothered in green chile…; I will, and have, driven 200 miles out of my way just for this burrito.” Open daily from 7am to 9pm.

Los Carboncitos

This family-run establishment offers two Denver locations: 3757 N. Pecos St and 722 Sheridan Blvd. One Yelp review claimed: “You know you’re in an authentic Mexican spot when the place is packed before noon and you’re the only one whose primary language isn’t Spanish.” The menu features sopa Azetca, sopes (thick corn tortillas topped with a selection of meats, cheese, beans and more), enchiladas de mole, molacajete (a family recipe from central Mexico with stewed tomatoes, garlic, jalapeños, onions and choice of meat) and Tlacoyos (oval-shaped corn masa with beans, cactus, jalapeños, tomatoes and onions).


While New Mexican food certainly resembles Mexican food, there are differences worth noting. First…the use of lots of chiles. New Mexican green chiles and red chiles are served independently or “Christmas” style. Plus, experts describe that New Mexican dishes often use more vegetables and whole kernel corn, favor more cilantro, and incorporate Pueblo Indian foods such as fry breads (think stuffed sopapillas). While authentic New Mexican food is a bit harder to come by in metro Denver, here are a few locations worth trying:

Adobo. Photo credit: Westword

Adobo Restaurant, Bar & Food Truck
3109 Federal Blvd., Denver

New Mexican native Blaine Baggao started Adobo as a food truck in 2016 and has expanded to a restaurant and bar featuring music and events. Pairing his family’s roots in the Philippines and his youth in New Mexico, Baggao’s menu features an eclectic mix that perfectly reflects his heritage. His morning-to-night menu items range from breakfast sopapillas and chilaquiles, to lumpia (Filipino pork eggrolls) and chicharrons with queso blanco, to grandma’s chicken adobo rice bowl and — everyone’s favorite — taco Tuesday.

Little Anita’s
1550 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver

If you’re looking for New Mexican food, then head to Little Anita’s. With six locations in Albuquerque and one in Colorado, this is the most authentic New Mexican option in the area. Featuring a menu handed down through the generations, you will find typical foods such as enchilada montada (stacked enchiladas), pozole, green chile stew and sopapillas. And a big plus from one Trip Advisor review, “When you ask for Christmas, they don’t look at you funny.”

Rosita’s. Photo credit: Westword

8050 N. Federal Blvd., Westminster

For 60 years, “little” Rosita’s has been serving up traditional New Mexican recipes carefully handcrafted by founder Paul Ortega. If all you need is a quick green chile fix, they serve it up with two tortillas. If you’re looking for a chimichanga, they have that too. And if you’re trying to relive your Taco Tico childhood, you’re in luck! They not only have a Mexican Burger, they also have a Taco Burger. But none of those may stand a chance against their dessert selections — sopapillas, fried ice cream, cactus jack, flan and, my favorite, bizcochitos.

Tamale Kitchen
5650 N. Washington, Denver

If you ask New Mexican playwright Leonard Madrid (Cebollas) what his favorite New Mexican restaurants were while living in Denver, Tamale Kitchen is on his list. With eight locations in the metro Denver area, this local family-run franchise started in 1981 with recipes handed down for generations. You can’t go wrong with Taco Mondays where beef tacos are $1.59 followed by Tamale Tuesdays where the food of the day is $1.10 each. With 14 different combination plates plus menudo and posole served fresh every day, you’re sure to leave satisfied.


The term Tex-Mex was originally coined in 1875 as an abbreviation for the Texan-Mexican railway. In the early 20th century, the expression was attributed to food that blended Mexican, Spanish and American cuisine. While many dishes are similar in nature between the two culinary styles, Tex-Mex has a distinctly different approach favoring melted yellow cheese, sour cream, hard shell or flour tortillas (instead of corn), and the utilization of spices rather than fresh ingredients (i.e. chili powder vs. fresh chiles). The first distinctively Tex-Mex dish to emerge was chili con carne, and it remains epicenter to the cuisine today. Here are some notable options in Denver:


1530 Blake St., Denver

Serving up a healthy dose of Mexican and Tex-Mex, D’Corazon does not disappoint. With nachos and crispy tacos, the menu offers up everything from combination plates to a la carte options to create your own platter. My favorite item? Tamale, which they describe as “made the original way with pork filling in-house by a little old lady named ‘Romi.’” I’d like to meet her!

La Loma
1801 Broadway, Denver

La Loma, which opened in 1973 and was inspired by grandma Savina Mendoza’s green chile recipe, is now owned and operated by Brinkerhoff Hospitality. Featuring a blend of Mexican and Tex-Mex options, the menu ranges from the Texas Platter with a grilled New York strip steak topped with grilled onions and fried serranos and smothered with chile relleno and black beans to the Mexico City Tacos…a nod to both ends of the food spectrum.

Rio Grande. Photo credit: Westword

Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant
1745 Wazee St., Denver

This quintessential Tex-Mex restaurant has five locations in Colorado, including its new location in downtown Denver. You’ll need a few of their famous margaritas to wash down items like the Chicken & Texas Sausage Fajita Combo, the Shishito Relleno tacos and their Rio Classic Chile Rellenos. Have dietary restrictions? Make sure to ask for their vegan, gluten-free and keto options.

While this list could go on and on, what it does not do is delve into the many nuanced differences in Latin and South American foods. Two notable shoutouts for those willing to try something new: Pupusas, a specialty of El Salvador that features a thick masa flatbread stuffed with a variety of fillings (my favorite is cheese) and topped with curtido (a fermented cabbage slaw) and mild tomato salsa. Finish that with an Alfajor, a South American sandwich cookie. The variety of which I’m most familiar comes from Argentina and tastes like a light shortbread with a filling of thick dulce de leche and dusted with powdered sugar or coated in chocolate.

Tengo hambre. I’m hungry!