Stuffed but not smothered at Jack-n-Grill

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Mark Antonation
In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on this week's stop...

Jack Russell terriers, Apple Jacks breakfast cereal boxes, Jack Nicholson: These are things you'll find decorating the tortilla-tinted walls of Jack-n-Grill, along with enough framed awards and news clippings to cover every pothole on Federal Boulevard. Everything celebrates either the word "Jack" or the brilliance of the New Mexico-style green chile that you'll have to try hard to keep out of your mouth, as all-smothering as it is on practically every item on the menu.

See also: The answers to life's important questions can be found at Tacos y Salsas

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Mark Antonation
The green chile wall of fame.
Jack-n-Grill serves big food, in both size and flavor, big enough to get national recognition from competitive eaters and certainly big enough to earn a spot in the hearts and guts of just about every chile lover in the metro area. On my visit last week, I saw a six-year-old child all but embrace a burger as big as a teddy bear. Her father's choice dwarfed even that: a double patty clamshelled inside a split-open sopapilla.

I happened to be at Jack-n-Grill several years ago when the Travel Channel's Adam Richman rolled in to film an attempt at conquering the seven-pound pile of potatoes, eggs and pain that the menu offers for a mere $22. He didn't even come close; I saw fear in his eyes as the burrito was presented to him and smelled defeat even above the oily aromas of frying sopapillas and grilling burgers wafting from the kitchen.

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Mark Antonation
It's not pretty, but it's pretty good.
I'm not a fan of eating challenges, but I knew in my heart that I would clean my plate spotless when our server set down my carne adovada and bean-stuffed sopa. Roughly the size and hue of a manila envelope, the deep-fried dough pocket was still lost beneath a pond of Jack-n-grill's tomato-tinted green chile.

Much ink -- and possibly a little blood -- has been spilled debating the differences between New Mexico and Colorado green chile. My best hypothesis, based more on the act of eating than any academic, in-depth research, is that green chile exists more on a spectrum than on opposing poles. Mostly, the New Mexico version isn't thickened (whether with cornstarch or wheat flour) and is often more of a soup than a stew, whereas the most extreme versions of the Colorado concoction cling like country gravy and carry orange or even burnt roux tones, depending on how long the pot is allowed to simmer.

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Mark Antonation
Guacamole with add-ons.
I've been served a brimming pho-sized bowl of green at Jack-n-Grill that wasn't much thicker than chicken soup, but the stuff on my sopapilla had been reduced down to a viscous sauce, the better to coat every millimeter of its vast expanse with slow-building heat. The brick-red sauce on the carne adovada added rich warmth to the toothsome chunks of meat and creamy beans, an addictive mixture that kept my fork moving until every drop of chile, every shred of lettuce and even the bland cubes of winter tomato had disappeared from the plate. And even after that, I scraped at the remains of our guacamole salad -- a simple mash of minimally adulterated avocados with minced and shredded accompaniments to mix in at your desire --with fragments of tortilla chips.

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Mark Antonation
A somewhat more reasonable plate of carne adovada with a fried egg.
In case you're a fan of carne adovada but not of elastic waistbands, the menu also offers the marinated and slow-cooked beef naked but for a fried egg over-easy -- a plate plenty big enough that after Amy ate her fill, she still could have toted home a hefty doggy bag. (She was the only witness to confirm or deny accounts that I reached across the table, perhaps more than once, to pilfer the remains on her plate.) I really should have extended my stuffed sopapilla into the next day's breakfast and lunch, too; I'm sure it would have made for tasty leftovers. But something about the diner-like atmosphere of the eatery, the warmth and aromas in the air, and the enticing combination of spicy, savory and tangy flavors compels a little gluttony. I state this with neither pride nor shame, but only with a pleasant memory of belt-straining satisfaction. Big food, certainly not everyday food, but an occasional indulgence to hit -- or more likely, demolish -- the spot.

For more from our culinary trek down Federal, check out our entire A Federal Case archive.


Location Info

Jack-n-Grill

2524 Federal Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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18 comments
davebarnes
davebarnes topcommenter

Some restaurants hire professionals and put systems in place to ensure high-quality food and service.

Others hire friends and family and rely on the owner's personal supervision to ensure success.

#2 only works with a single location.

#2 only works when Jack is on hand.

Thoz Guyz
Thoz Guyz

Tried it because of "Man VS Food"...not good. Their menudo was the worst I've ever had. Stay on Federal and go to the Columbine Steak House...

Julianne Bryant
Julianne Bryant

The food is slop. I've tried it numerous times because my spouse has been insistent on eating there. Finally, after watching them microwave my burrito, I made that my last time.

Stan Salazar
Stan Salazar

Green chili is over rated and Colorado's has got to be the worst. There is something to be said about any restaurant that purposely smothers everything in green chili. It's like having a beer that you must salt & lime just to enjoy. It must really suck without it. We go to the location off Santa Fe behind the St. Nick store. The food is great and thankfully they do offer a traditional red Sause as opposed to the cookie cutter green chili Sause crap I mentioned earlier. Our waiter is always top notch but they never make our order the same way after several times going nor does the kitchen ever get it right. I ask for ground beef enchilada plate which comes with rice & beans on the side & then order a ground beef crispy taco ala-carte. I've gotten shredded pork enchiladas, cheese enchiladas with ground beef on top and many other variations and excuses for not getting my order right. Only once have they nailed if. When you order ground beef enchiladas, The ground beef goes inside maybe with a little cheese if not the cheese goes on the top followed by the red or green chili sauce on top. I was told I need to request it that way if I want the ground beef inside yet with their pork, chicken or cheese enchiladas, the meats are inside so why is ground beef any different. We always pay, tip good & thank the waiter because he is really good but the kitchen staff at that location really needs some training in uniformity. I mean really, it's damn near impossible to screw up ground beef enchiladas but they do it 99% of the time and it sucks because it's as close to Tex-Mex food I have found in this town.

Tom Bohannon
Tom Bohannon

Bigger isn't always better, just sayin no one needs a burrito that big.

TheFabulousMarkT
TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

The last time I ate there, I had terrible gas afterwards. (You're welcome).

Having said this, I can definitely still appreciate what they bring to the table. So to speak.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

No question that this place knows how to make some righteous New Mexican food and I used to be their biggest fan because, being a New Mexico boy, I miss the native cuisine.  It's pretty much Jack-n-Grill or Little Anita's up here.  Sadly, their expansion aspirations (at least that's what I'm blaming) have resulted in very inconsistent food and service at the "mother ship" and we've crossed it off our go-to list. 

WillieStortz
WillieStortz topcommenter

Why would anyone want Tex-Mex food? 


The definition of Tex-Mex is taking something that is good and dumbing it down for overweight rednecks. Like putting ground beef in an enchilada. 


Do you bring your own Velveeta when you go out for Tex-Mex at Chilis?

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

What is messed up is putting ground beef in anything but a hamburger and maybe meatloaf.  So, if ground beef enchiladas = Tex/Mex I best stay out of Texas.  You would certainly never find ground beef in enchiladas in Mexico.

TheFabulousMarkT
TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

I feel a new column coming on...

"What's the most messed-up order you've ever received from a restaurant?"

TheFabulousMarkT
TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

@Denver Dave Good morning Sir!

I know you don't get over to Aurora too terribly much :) but you might want to give Señor Miguel's a try next time you're out this way. I've always liked them.

Interestingly, Dora's also has a couple NM dishes on their menu. And of course we have a few branches of Twisters in town as well. (Admittedly that last one is a somewhat more controversial choice) :)

bondadprevalece
bondadprevalece

@WillieStortz I will never understand why native Coloradans think their brand of Mexican food is more authentic than Texas'. It's almost comical.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@WillieStortz Sure there are plenty of bad Mexican restaurants in Texas, just like in Colorado. But true Tex-Mex is just as good as well-made Den-Mex. After all, before it was Texas, the whole region was part of Mexico. Back then, they just called it Mexican food.


Many of the Mexicans living in Texas aren't immigrants; they've been there for generations, under the many flags that have flown over the region, cooking the same food.

TheFabulousMarkT
TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

@Mantonat @TheFabulousMarkT Sorry. :( My "filter" is lacking even at the best of times. :D

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