Little Anita's New Mexican Cafe is firmly entrenched in red and green

Categories: Jenn in Chains

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J. Wohletz
The beauty of a taco.
I had one of my first real New Mexican meals in New Mexico, at the Little Anita's location in Albuquerque...and I hated it. I was astounded that people would dump alternating layers of boiling-hot green pepper sauce and equally steaming, nose-running-hot red pepper sauce on everything and suck this stuff down like it was gold juice. My plate was a tar pit of smoldering sauces that I had to excavate my enchiladas from, bite by bite, with watering eyes and a singed mouth, and I left swearing that New Mexican food was the devil. I worried that I might starve living in the land of enchantment.

See also:
- Little Anita's chile no longer vegetarian -- for now?
- Reader (and owner): Veggie green chile back at Little Anita's
- Now you can take a seat at Little Anita's

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J. Wohletz
A naked chile relleno.
Little Anita's is run by an Albuquerque family with thirty-plus years in the restaurant industry. It's headed by patriarch Larry Gutierrez, who has thirteen stores total -- nine in New Mexico and four here in Colorado -- and there is also a family-run cadet branch of Anita's restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. The busy Gutierrez family also owns New Mexico Food Distributors, which produces the salsas and red/green chile for the restaurants from old family recipes. So Little Anita's is born-and-bred New Mexican cuisine -- not Mexican food, as any Albuquerque local you ask will be more than happy to tell you.

I wanted none of it...at first. Trips to a few more New Mexico restaurants, and people kept telling me that not only would the red and green grow on me, but I'd eventually miss it if I lived anywhere else. And slowly it happened: The heat didn't bother me as much, and I starting to come around, at least with the red chile, enjoying the brick-red color and the warm, slightly smoky flavor.

And then, in the fall of 2004, the Little Anita's by my house burned down. The roof caught fire and the wooden structure went up like a bonfire, leaving a charred, non-functional restaurant space, which has since been rebuilt and reopened. During the time it was shuttered, I realized that I actually missed the food: the crispy ground-beef tacos; the oily, burning-hot chiles rellenos; the plump, mealy tamales; the stacked enchiladas -- and the chile, too.

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J. Wohletz
Chicken fajitas from Litte Anita's.
I spent my last year of college in Utah, where chiles on anything was unheard of, and red or green could not be bought for love or money (I tried asking for them at Mexican markets only to get WTFed). So I learned to do what New Mexico expats did: mail-order the stuff and have it shipped to my house, or fill up my car trunk whenever I was passing through.

Colorado, unlike Utah, is a fine state for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that chiles are readily available. And when I came across a Little Anita's at 1550 South Colorado Boulevard, I'd found an oasis -- a familiar spot with familiar food, and I got a little teary, plus my first trip into a Colorado outpost wasn't a disappointment. This location is cafe-sized, with a counter and a dozen or so tables, and the menu is succinct: tacos, enchiladas, nachos, burritos, sopaipillas, tamales and a few stray faves like an Indian taco and burrito burger. I ordered the #2 combination plate, chicken fajitas and a Coke -- I wished there was fresh horchata -- and my food was ready in under ten minutes.

Everything was straight out of a delicious time capsule. The fajitas were plump white meat strips with grill marks and tri-color bell peppers cooked just right; the pico was heavy on the fresh cilantro and onion; the tortillas were plump and warm. And there is nothing quite like getting a searing-hot chile relleno with the green chile on the side so you can experience the oily-crisp mouthfeel before the chile sinks in, dripping melted white cheese and the soft green chile inside leaving your lips ringed with a penetrating warmth. I got red chile sauce on the tamale and enchilada, green on the relleno, and a side of the house green chile stew.

Location Info

Little Anitas New Mexican Cafe

1550 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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22 comments
MariaM
MariaM

Okay, took me a minute to figure out the confusion, then I realized this is out of CO. I'm 18th generation New Mexican and our food is not Mexican (as we are not Mexican), rather it's a blending of foods native to the Pueblo Indians, and foods that the Spanish introduced after colonizing the region in the 1600s (we are Spanish). Chile in NM is with an 'e' at the end. NEVER chili...no, no, no! It doesn't matter if it's prepared, roasted, dried, frozen or fresh off the plant. Also, chile is never pluralized...even if you refer to a gunny sack full of it. It is also not locally referred to as a 'sauce'. Red or green...it's just red chile or green chile or red and green chile (known here as Christmas). Also another misconception is adding spices to prepare chile. All that should ever be used is salt and garlic/garlic powder. We don't use cumin, paprika or any other spices; if it has those spices, it's not NM chile.

maxplanck0
maxplanck0

I actually sampled Little Anita's fare for the 1st time while on biz in the Duke, after passing by their  Colo. Blvd. location for years. The huevos rancheros were grand, filling and satisfying; I need to take in the local establishment as it sounds they're cranking out some solid fare.

Patrick Esser
Patrick Esser

I feel that New Mexican food from a shitty cafe shouldn't be fucking advertised by Westword on my facebook feed. UN-FUCKING-LIKE!

Steve At Work
Steve At Work

Green chili tastes good, especially with hot sauce and warm tortillas and buckets of beer.

Diego Raya
Diego Raya

I have the greatest disdain for it. Green "chili" is disgusting gruel. Chile verde is supposed to be made from tomatillos.

youngrockwell
youngrockwell

You hated New Mexican food.... and you're a food writer? Like, they pay you for this? 


Amazing.

Green_eyes
Green_eyes

Not a big fan of Little Anita's..... But I like real Mexican food....

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

I really enjoy Little Anita's.   It seems there used be one on W Colfax in the little shopping center across from Auraria a long time ago.  I visit the store on S Colorado Blvd probably once a month, and I have to agree with Denver Dave regarding the service model.  Also, I only go there around two or three in the afternoon on a weekday if I want to sit at a table there, or I have to order to go.

Testecleese
Testecleese

I have to say this sounded delicious. I kinda think I'll be visiting this place, soon.  :)

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Yep, unless your from NM or have spent a lot of time there you may not be a fan of Little Anita's because the food is definitely not ColoMex but as a New Mexico native Little Anita's is welcome taste of home.  Don't like the service model or ambiance (or rather the lack thereof).  Wish they'd open a full service restaurant somewhere.

davebarnes
davebarnes topcommenter

I think the 1/2 order of nachos is a super bargain.

And, I love the (not on the menu) bowl of green chile which has beans and beef on the bottom.

MariaM
MariaM

@Diego Raya Not in New Mexico it's not. New Mexico chile verde is made from New Mexico green chile. I don't know where you're from, but obviously not here. I can tell by your ignorance of New Mexico cuisine and your last name is not native to here.

MariaM
MariaM

@Green_eyes I believe the point of the article is that Little Anita's is NOT Mexican food. I haven't eaten there in years and wasn't much impressed with it. The one in Santa Fe (where I'm from) closed a while back. It's difficult to find a good New Mexican restaurant anymore, even here. If you're lucky enough to find yourself if a native New Mexican's kitchen, you'd consider yourself in heaven.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@Green_eyes I like real Mexican food, fake Mexican food, Tex Mex, NM Mex, Den Mex, etc., as long as it's good. I just haven't had a good experience at Little Anita's. I always leave a little angry at the food.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Testecleese DOIT! DOIT! Anything with red chile, and try a chile relleno with the green sauce on the side.....it's trick I learned years back to get the crispiest relleno possible.....

theonegordo
theonegordo

@Denver Dave As a New Mexico transplant you are right New Mexican food and Colorado mexican food is much differnt but Little Anitas doesn't do New Mexican cusine justice its ok not great by any means.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Denver Dave True story--it's not really a restaurant to linger at like some others, but perfect for a quick bite or some takeout. I took some tacos and green chile stew home with me to analyze them because I like to take my job seriously....I analyzed the hell out of them with tortillas and salsa.....

TheJeff
TheJeff

@Denver Dave Little Anita's has a full restaurant with a larger menu and table service on Yosemite just south of Arapahoe.  They closed their quick-service version (like on Colorado) that used to be in the same shopping center and moved to the larger restaurant a year or more ago.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@davebarnes Oh yeah! Green Chile Surprise, I calls it...lol I like mine with extra cheese and chips....

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

@theonegordo @Denver Dave Well, I wouldn't put Little Anita's in the same league as La Choza (or her sister the Shed) or Maria's in Santa Fe or Sadie's or Los Cuates in Albuquerque but the only other place in Denver that I can think of that serves "New Mexican" food is Jack-n-Grill and I honestly think Little Anita's is better.  When Jack-n-Grill first opened I loved it but my most recent visits - not so good.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

@TheJeff @Denver Dave Good info - thanks Jeff.  Pretty geographically undesirable for me unfortunately though.  I miss the Little Anita's on West Colfax that "foodcrazy" mentioned - I was at that one at least once a week but sadly it is kaput.

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