Influenced by its proximity to New Mexico, Colorado’s Mexican dishes have a distinctive regional take not found in other western states. Smothered enchiladas and burritos often include hearty green chile (chile verde), perfect for warding off an autumn chill. Sometimes green chile is combined with a few additional ingredients and made into a stew. Locals debate which establishments and home cooks whip up the best version of this beloved dish. Spicy red chile sauce (chile Colorado) appears often on menus as well. If you want to try both sauces, just say “Christmas,” and servers will know what you mean.
In the fall, the New Mexican Hatch chiles are placed in a large, slotted, cylindrical basket, then manually rotated and tossed over flames. This gives the chiles an unmistakable roasted flavor that Southwestern cooks treasure. More than enough chiles are roasted so they can be frozen and used until the next fall’s harvest.
Here are some other regional differences between the Mexican food served here and in other parts of the country:
Chiles rellenos, or poblanos stuffed with cheese and deep-fried, can come either “crispy” or “soft.” The first choice often entails a relleno resembling a chimichanga and covered in sauce. The second option has a fluffy egg batter coating that makes the relleno a little lighter to eat.
Sopapillas are puffed-up pockets of fried dough often sprinkled with powdered sugar and occasionally cinnamon sugar. They’re best served warm with plenty of honey for dipping.
If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll find plenty of Mexican restaurants convenient to your Estes Park hotels such as Castle Mountain Lodge:
Arguably the most popular establishment with visitors and locals alike, this place prides itself on its sustainable practices. That principle also applies to the meats offered on the menu, and the freshness is evident. Juicy bison tacos and burritos top the list of menu favorites. Famished hikers can chow down on the humongous 14er burrito.
With patio seating on the Big Thompson River, this restaurant offers scenic views while you enjoy a frosty margarita or Mexican beer and munch on fresh chips and salsa. Fans of straight tequila will find plenty to choose from. The Casa Grande burrito, filled with chile verde pork, is one of the more popular dishes.
Located near Lake Estes’s shoreline with a smile-inducing name, the Grumpy Gringo has served its Mexican dishes for almost 20 years in a spacious, bright atmosphere. They specialize in fajitas, margaritas on the rocks and green chile, with overall good service.
Photo courtesy of Ed’s Cantina.
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