Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe turns 25

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The Aguirre family, in a rare moment of rest.
One day back in 1985, one of the Westword artists who lived at the edge of Highland -- we called it Barbaria then -- called with a tip about a great storefront burrito at this new place, Rosa Linda's. He was right, and we quickly became lifetime fans of the restaurant -- and the family that runs it.

On Sunday, January 17, Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe officially marked its 25th birthday. Although the Aguirre family is waiting until this summer for the big anniversary bash, it's offering deals through January 23 to celebrate: $2.50 beers, Mexican and domestic; $3 margs, $2.50 select shots. But the real present came in the form of this reminiscence from Oscar Aguirre, the oldest son:

"What has changed in 25 years? A lot," he writes. "When we opened up, our family consisted of Rosalinda (Mom), Virgilio (Dad), Oscar thirteen years old, Virgilio Jr. seven years old, Eric three years old; Linda one and a half, and Mom was pregnant with my sister Esmeralda. We were open seven days a week, Friday and Saturday till 3 a.m. We had a loan with a 13.5 percent interest rate fixed and we had a balloon payment due in July. Mom said a prayer that if we made the balloon payment, we would feed the needy. We got our first Best of Denver in June 1985. Made the balloon payment, Mom kept her promise and that year we fed 250 meals to the needy." That was Thanksgiving 1985.

"Twenty-five years later," Oscar continues, "we fed about 4,500 meals to the needy. We have fed and hosted two and three generations of families, major music artists, senators, mayors, wives of presidents, presidents of the USA. We have been in the Wall Street Journal TWICE! We have been considered a voice, we were featured on NBC Nightly News and other news programs. But we remain humble and blessed.

"In 25 years our restaurant has grown; our family has grown. Oscar is still single, Virgilio Jr. is married with two kids and living in Dallas, Eric is married with three kids, Linda is also married, and Esmeralda is a teacher -- but this is home where we all grew up, and it still is! The kitchen had developed over the years: Mom has always made the chorizo, roasted her own chiles and never compromised on her kitchen; she just modified it for her family. Mom always said that the people we serve are like her family."

The area around the restaurant has changed, too. "Our neighborhood was considered the 'hood. We were the Northside," Oscar writes. "Many of the kids we grew up with were of immigrant families, Mexican and/or Italian. We were a close-knit community. Kids would play outside in the streets, speaking two languages, Spanish or Italian, and English. The neighbors knew who you were and knew our parents. Many of them worked together, many of them socialized together...Olinger's was where we went to mourn our lost loved ones...not happy hour."

More signs of the times: "Twenty-five years ago, you would not see a BMW parked outside unlocked. You wouldn't see a BMW, period! Or you would not see a blond-haired girl jogging outside after dark. It was our 'hood, history... Now there a few reminders of that history. It is no longer the Northside, it's Highlands... i wonder what i will be writing in the next 25 years. What changes will history bring to my hood?"

Best place to ponder that? Ordering a cold beer and a Best of Denver special, and then savoring both the food and the people serving it in a booth at Rosa Linda's, the restaurant at 2005 West 33rd Avenue that has expanded with the neighborhood, but still remains part of the family.


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