The nine best places for Texans to eat in Denver
The Rio Grande
Texans like their margaritas big and powerful, not watered down by syrupy mixes that taste more like floor polish than fresh citrus. While the food at the Rio, a Colorado chain, may not satisfy a craving for authentic Tex-Mex, the Cuervo-heavy concoctions at the Rio fit the bill; a three-drink maximum means one margarita will quench a Texas-sized thirst, two will have you doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe between the tables and three will make you see big and bright stars.
6. Chile Con Carne
Elway's Cherry Creek
Don't even utter the words "green chile" in front of a Texan; you'll only be met with a confused look. Down there, it's spelled with an "i" and it's always deep reddish-brown and thick with beef, not pork. Despite chili's humble origins in the street vendors of San Antonio, a satisfying bowl of chili can be found at Elway's Cherry Creek -- look for "spicy steak chili" on the lunch or dinner menu. Surrounded by the hobnobbers and forever-blonde set of Cherry Creek North, your favorite Texan can get a fix for a relative bargain and feel at home scooping spoonfuls from a cast-iron crock of kicked-up comfort topped with the requisite cheddar cheese, onion and sour cream.
7. Frito Pie
Steve's Snappin' Dogs
If you're not from Texas, Frito pie is just an over-the-top, fast-food mashup best left to the Guy Fieris of the world, who can declare that it's "off the chain!" with hot chili still clinging to his beard. For Texans, though, it's comfort food of the first order; at one time it could even be found on public school lunch menus. Dousing Texas-invention Frito corn chips with a healthy dollop of saucy chili con carne may not seem like much of a culinary effort, but the resulting mess -- salty, crunchy, fiery hot -- makes most Texans a little misty. A well-executed Frito pie, like the bellyful dished up at Steve's, is topped with housemade but unpretentious chili of the highest order with enough yellow cheese to add gooey delight. Colfax Avenue may be a little overwhelming for a ranch hand from west Texas, but Steve's Frito pie will set his mind at ease.
8. Chicken-Fried Steak
You don't mess with Texas and you don't mess with traditional chicken-fried steak. Unless you have talented cooks like the crew at Lola, which is billed as a Mexican fishouse but somehow pulls off a brunch-only chicken-fried steak that will have even the most conservative Texans swooning and swearing their allegiance to this liberated interpretation. Served with sweet-potato hash and ladled with green chile and chorizo gravy, pounded New York strip takes the place of humbler cuts for a decided advantage. And once Lola wins them over, maybe Texans can even be coaxed away from their beloved Tex-Mex platters for a taste of Mexican seafood.
Efrain's menu has roots in northern Chihuahua, just across the Rio Grande from southwest Texas. The food in the region evolved long before international borders were set, so Texans are familiar with the deep red, robust chile colorado (named for the color red, not our beloved Centennial state), the piquant enchilada platters and the sizzling fajitas that jumped from Texas to national notoriety in the 1980s. If you're dining with your Texas pals, just shield their eyes from anything labeled green chile or chile verde to avoid a brain freeze of the caliber also triggered by Efrain's frozen margaritas -- another Texas invention.
Whatever you do, don't send your new friends from the Lone Star State to the Lone Star Steakhouse; the first restaurant in the chain opened in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and although it's now headquartered in Plano, Texas, there are no branches anywhere in Texas.
West Alameda and Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO
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406 Center Drive, Superior, CO
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1525 Blake St., Denver, CO
2500 E. 1st Ave., Denver, CO
3525 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO
1575 Boulder St., Denver, CO
1630 63rd St., Boulder, CO