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Zocalito's grilled prawns come in a spicy red chilhuacle chile sauce so tasty you'll want to use the house-made corn chips to scoop up any extra. Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Zocalito Latin Bistro—now in Denver—Is an Ode to Oaxacan Cuisine

After 14 years in Aspen, Michael Beary has relocated his chile-centric restaurant to the heart of downtown Denver.

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Aspen’s loss is Denver’s gain: After 14 years in the tony mountain town, chef Michael Beary has moved his much-loved Zocalito Latin Bistro to the Mile High City. Which means that the Central Business District, where the new location of the Oaxacan-inspired restaurant is located, just got an exciting lunch and dinner option.

Fans of Zocalito in Aspen will be pleased to find that the Denver menu contains the same combination of cheese dips, chiles rellenos, dry rubbed chicken wings, soups, and mole-centric entrées. Beary and his sous chef Zornitsa Damyanova have opened Zocalito 2.0 with a more concise list of dishes to get the new kitchen team up to speed, but they’ll reintroduce more of their regulars’s favorites—such as tamales and the cochinita pibil–style pork tacos—in the coming months. In the meantime, diners can sate themselves with the likes of grilled prawns with chilhuacle chile mole sauce, Oaxacan-style chicken breast cooked in a banana leaf with yellow mole, pork loin tacos, and much more.

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Beary has spent years building relationships with chile farmers in the Oaxaca region of Mexico—he imports some of their rare peppers to the United States, reserving hundreds of kilos every year for use at Zocalito—and his dishes showcase the beguiling, complex flavors of chiles such as chilhuacle, chilcostle, and taviche. Diners can find a glossary of chiles and other ingredients (like the anise-scented “hoja santa” leaf used in one of Zocalito’s rellenos and the “chapulines,” or grasshoppers, offered as an optional guacamole topper) on the back of the menu. Additionally, each plate or bowl comes to your table rimmed with a bit of the chile featured in the dish, providing a visual clue for diners alongside a bit of a chile education.

One big change from the subterranean Aspen location: Zocalito’s sunshine-flooded space, which is brightly outfitted with wall-size photo murals of Oaxacan street scenes, agave plants, and “alebrijes,” or brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures. The sprawling patio, which will open closer to spring, will be a prime spot for sipping a coin-style margarita or tart raspberry mojito.

999 18th St., 720-923-5965

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