Much of Denver’s history is linked with our neighbor to the south, Mexico. Our traditions, our culture and our food and drink are forever intertwined. Here are seven picks for Denver’s most authentic cantinas, where you can raise a glass of tequila and toast to Mexican heritage and culinary prowess.
Blue Bonnet: This café was one of the first in Denver to obtain a liquor license after Prohibition ended. Known for great food, the Blue Bonnet also serves more than two dozen margaritas. Along with much-acclaimed house margarita, you can also find flavors such as cucumber-jalapeño, strawberry-basil, and raspberry-habanero. Using fresh ingredients and local products when possible, the food menu includes house made salsas, tamales, and — that Denver favorite — chile rellenos.
La Loma: Opened in 1981, La Loma is located in a historic Highlands home that was originally built in 1887. On the food side, don't miss Grandma Mendoza's delicious green chili, among other recipes. On tap, find Mexican brews Dos Equis Amber and Negra Modela, or go for the famous Margarita de Agave.
Benny’s: A standard in Capitol Hill since 1987, this bar has a truly premium tequila menu and more than 15 different margaritas. The outdoor patio is heated and/or air-conditioned — it's open year-round. You can also stop in for breakfast and some agave-spirit hair of the dog starting at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Croc’s Mexican Bar & Grill: This Tex-Mex grill in Lodo is also known as one of Denver’s best sports bars. The food menu features homemade chili, rellenos, carnitas, tamales, and the "world famous" El Shrimp Bucket. Margaritas are good anytime, and discounted during happy hour, plus weekend brunch includes bottomless mimosas.
Zocalo: Zocalo is Spanish for main square or plaza, a place where everyone comes together to gossip, dine, drink, and share good times. That's the feeling Rafael and Mario Vargas' bar of the same name exudes — the Mexico City natives brought the whole atmosphere to Denver and filled their two locations with good food and margaritas.
La Sandia: This Richard Sandoval upscale Mexican spot features a tequila bar with more than 150 agave-based spirits and even has a Tequila Sommelier on staff. Don't miss the homemade sangrias or spot-on margaritas. Each month La Sandia features a special food and drink festival: April is dedicated to guacamole, and May is Cinco de Mayo all month long.
Casa Bonita: Do we dare mention Eric Cartman’s favorite restaurant? Known nationwide after a notorious South Park episode, most would agree this may not be Denver's the most authentic Mexican place, but it is the place all your out-of-state friends want to see. How could we not show it some love? With its 85-foot tall pink exterior tower and 30-foot high indoor waterfall, Casa Bonita is in a category all its own. The interior is designed to look like the cliffs of Acapulco and has more than 52,000 square feet of space with seating for more than 1,000 people. Casa Bonita’s famous cliff divers perform from the waterfall several times a day. The drink menu features house and Mexican beers, in addition to regular brews. Authentic Mexican? Probably not, but it sure is cheesy fun.
— Carrie Dow, The Drink Nation
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