Review: El Chingon's chiles rellenos have a soft landing on Tennyson Street

patiochingon.jpg
Danielle Lirette
The new patio at El Chingon.
El Chingon
4326 Tennyson Street
303-248-3641

If you've been in Denver for any length of time -- say, longer than a layover at DIA -- you're aware that we take green chile seriously here. So seriously, in fact, that it's earned a spot on the list of topics to avoid at family gatherings, along with pot, politics and when you're going to produce that first grandchild. If you like a goopy, flour-thickened smother and whoever is running the show (mom, dad, uncle, whomever) falls on the side of straight-up tomatillos and chiles, you'd better keep your mouth shut or risk no seconds on dessert.

Green chile isn't the only food that sparks fightin' words in this city. Pizza, burgers and edibles have no shortage of supporters on both sides of the fence. Now El Chingon, a family-run Mexican restaurant that relocated to Berkeley from Arvada last year, is doing its best to add another to the list: chiles rellenos.

See also: A Closer Look at El Chingon

I've loved these stuffed, battered peppers for as long as I can remember. Indeed, one of my earliest food memories is associated with the dish. I was young, in first or second grade, and was sharing a meal with extended family at a Mexican restaurant. I couldn't resist the crackly, nubby bits that clung to the outside of my grandfather's rellenos, and as I snuck a bite off his plate, I pulled up some of the pepper, which happened to be an especially hot one. I couldn't have been more surprised than if the pepper had been stuffed with ice cream, and while the heat caught me off guard, it sparked a passion for spicy foods, a category of nourishment that until then I didn't know existed.

It wasn't until college that I learned that there's another kind of relleno, one cloaked in a soft batter rather than a crispy shell. El Chingon chef David Lopez went through a similar process of discovery, only in reverse. "A lot of people here like the crispy version, but I didn't know it existed until I got older," says Lopez, who grew up in north Denver and didn't discover the Tex-Mex type of relleno until he was a teen. He'd grown up eating the soft rellenos made by his grandmother, a native of Mexico City.

It's his grandmother's version, made with whipped egg whites with yolks blended in and dusted with flour, that's featured on El Chingon's dinner menu. And it's his grandmother, 76-year-old Gloria Nunez, who often makes them there, since Nunez and Lopez share the title of executive chef. "She got overwhelmed at first, thinking she had to make everything, like she did at home," says Lopez, who graduated in 2004 from what was then known as the Culinary School of the Rockies (now Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts) and worked his way up to sous-chef at bang! before joining the family business when El Chingon first opened in 2011. "It's okay," he remembers reassuring his grandmother. "We have a staff to help us."

I'm sure El Chingon's soft relleno is fine if you grew up with that style. But to me it was just too soggy, even before the traditional pitcher of thinned tomato sauce (listed on the menu as "en caldillo de jitomate") was poured tableside over the peppers, a gesture indicative of the high-end approach that El Chingon has taken since its move. My order of rellenos -- even the parts not splashed by sauce -- were thick and wet, the coating's texture identical to that of the slippery green flesh beneath. Food should please all the senses -- that's why artistic plating and textural contrast are hallmarks of the professional kitchen -- but this version fell short in both texture and taste, given the blandness of the ground-beef-and-tomato filling. (The Oaxacan-cheese-stuffed relleno was better, though just as damp.)

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Danielle Lirette
Bisteces empanizados. Find more pictures of El Chingon's menu in our slideshow.
Other family recipes proved more tempting. The bisteces empanizados was tastier than any chicken-fried steak I ate growing up, with a highly seasoned coating of panko and breadcrumbs, though the meat could've used another pound or two to help with tenderness. Chicken enchiladas -- a dish that Lopez always requested from his grandmother on his birthday -- came smothered not in the red sauce and melted cheddar associated with Tex-Mex versions, but in a vibrant chile verde, thickened with puréed tomatillos, serranos and jalapeños, not flour. (If this is your kind of green, remember to keep it to yourself when your family gathers for the Fourth of July or risk a debate that could be hotter than the chile itself.) The fiery green sauce, specked with bits of pork, also smothered the Chingon burrito, but it wasn't enough to elevate what was just a basic burrito, plumped with far more refried beans than chicken.

Keep reading for the rest of our review of El Chingon.


Location Info

El Chingon

4326 Tennyson St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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42 comments
mjoott
mjoott

Worth a shot. No soft relleno on the menu? You won't see me. Crispy ones are for Blue bonnet affectionados, ha ha. 

Andrea Hunt
Andrea Hunt

It means "the best of the best". It has unfortunately adopted a derogatory slang term.

Traci Carver
Traci Carver

Those look like tacos, not chile rellenos lol

Lisa Bryant
Lisa Bryant

I like soft rellenos. The crispy ones are good, but seem like eggrolls

Titania K Gasca
Titania K Gasca

What is up with all these restaurants and their rude names? I wouldn't set foot there if it was the best food in CO

Jillian Bridges
Jillian Bridges

Best chile relleno is at a place in Denver off I-25& Hampden called Las Caras. Crispy and sooooo incredibly flavorful. After moving away from Denver for a year for my husband's work, all I've seen are flat, soggy relleno's. Thankfully we are moving back next month and the first place we are going is Las Caras!!!!!!!!!

Erick Baumgartner
Erick Baumgartner

No, I make my own. Why? cause fuck you, that's why.. And Most CO restaurants suck..

kurtvr
kurtvr

Huge fan of El Chingon and their Rellenos too. The Papas Chingon and the Drunken Chicken are 2 of my personal Favs. The place is a really nice change of pace.

As for the review, don't care for critics long winded, harsh personal opinions on regionally specific food.

Gretchen Kurtz doesn't sound very Mexican to me... Sounds like she should be reviewing German cuisine. Lol

k_batalla
k_batalla

I have to disagree with this review. I grew up on on chile rellenos, both soft and crispy, since both my parents are from Mexico.  However, I fell instantly in love with the chile relleno plate at El Chingon. I loved the tomato like sauce that is added on top of them, giving it more flavor.


I think what everyone forgets is that everyone's palettes are different, or used to one type of particular taste. Yes, everyone has a right to their particular opinion, or suggestions on where to go, but I'd also have to question the writer's knowledge or "experience", if you will, with Mexican food.


And yes, believe it or not, Mexicans DO eat duck, octopus, lobster, considering that Mexico and its neighboring countries are surrounded by water. The type of food you get from their is based on the regions.

Andrea Hunt
Andrea Hunt

Correct, Gordon, there are many different preparations of Mexican food depending on city, region, etc. Just like every region in the US has different customary dishes/traditions.

Leah Arthur
Leah Arthur

Where is the Top Taco contest answer? I don't see it on the blog anywhere. Thanks!

StevenGregory
StevenGregory

El Chingon takes simple foods and makes complicated presentations. A business lunch of six tacos, guacamole and two iced teas for FORTY DOLLARS is not something I'll be repeating. When a friend ordered their Relleno, it was another tortured presentation. Less about the chile and more about looking like a gourmet sundae.

For Tex Mex my choice is still D'Corazon or Santiago's. For authentic Mexican with Chiles Rellenos made from flavorful Poblano peppers, Paxia is the king. Their Mexican preparations are delicious, hearty and unbeatable: at reasonable prices.

Gordon Cresswell
Gordon Cresswell

El Chingon is delicious. I think you were expecting chili rellanos from Chubbys or Benny's. Depending on where your family is from mexican food has a different look and flavors; the Nunez family does food more traditional Mexico City style food then most restaurants in the area who use flour to thicken their green chili and over fry everything.

Andrea Hunt
Andrea Hunt

They've had lobster, duck, and octopus tacos on special for dinner.

djbedz
djbedz

My favorite spot in Denver, hands down.

a_bjorko
a_bjorko

I was excited when this opened by my house but the service and the food was less than desirable...

davebarnes
davebarnes topcommenter

I cannot believe that you ignored the "chile cheese fries". The Papas Chingon are fabulous and only $5 at Happy Hour.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Hmmm - had been planning on trying  this place.  Sounds like I can skip it.  What's the old line from Steel Magnolias - "An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure."

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@StevenGregory Not arguing with your opinion; just checking your math. According to the restaurant's online menu, an order of 3 tacos is (at most) $6.50, an iced tea is $2.50, and an order of chips & guacamole is $4.50. So $22.50 plus tax and tip. You must be a big tipper.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Except that Paxia and Chili Verde do the same thing as El Chingon just better.

ScubaSteve
ScubaSteve topcommenter

Green chili ain't Mexican, you ass.

StevenGregory
StevenGregory

Llobster duck and octopus tacos are not "the Mexican way."

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Mantonat @StevenGregory 


$6.50 + $2.50 + $4.50 = $13.50 x 2 = $27.00 + tax + tip


Next challenge, help Lori figure out how many gallons of water fit into a one gallon container, then extrapolate for a container of given dimensions.





Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@ScubaSteve I think you can make your point without resorting to name calling.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

@ScubaSteve Well, that's not really true Steve.  They definitely have green chile in Mexico but it just doesn't resemble what Coloradans call "green chile".  Mexican chile verde is more of a tart tomatillo and chile salsa than the orange pork gravy Denverites seem to prefer.

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

@StevenGregory Not true Steven.  In Puerto Vallarta you can get duck carnitas tacos at El Arrayan, lobster tacos at Marisma, and octopus tacos at just about any seafood street taco stand.  Mexicans put just about anything on a small corn tortilla and call it a taco.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay @Mantonat @StevenGregory I'm pretty math challenged, but my reading comprehension skills lead me think that StevenGregory only mentioned one order of guacamole, not 2. If they ordered tacos a la carte (at $3 a pop), that would add $5 to the total, so $27.50 plus tax and tip. And if they did that AND got two orders of chips and guac, then add another $4.50 to that and you'd probably hit $40 with tax and tip. But then, that's a lot of variety and a lot of food, so $20 each for lunch doesn't sound unreasonable. My only quibble is why pay $2.50 for iced tea? Water's free and beer tastes better.

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