From enchiladas to green chile, Denver is overflowing with eateries serving Mexican bites for every palate and budget. While you can never go wrong with a good plate of tacos, the flavors found south of the border—from the country’s abundance of native chiles, grains, and legumes to the endless bright and zesty salsas—are ripe for experimentation. And luckily for adventurous eaters, chefs from Latin America and beyond are reimagining Mexican fare in modern and contemporary ways throughout the Mile High City.
At Tamayo—where Miranda McFarlan-Garcia, director of operations for Richard Sandoval Hospitality Denver works with executive chef Antonio Tevillo—the menu celebrates flavors from across Mexico with upscale renditions of familiar plates, such as the chipotle-crab-crested guacamole and tamarind-marinated pork tenderloin carnitas.
“[At Tamayo], we’ve always been taking those traditional aspects of Latin and Mexican cuisine and just kind of giving them a little more of a contemporary twist,” says McFarlan-Garcia, who started working at the restaurant as a hostess over 20 years ago. “Taking something that, especially in Colorado, is seen as like Tex Mex—or something that’s smothered in melted cheese—and making it a beautiful plate of food is what I think it’s all about.”
Tevillo, who was born in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and grew up in Denver, has trained with Sandoval (a pioneer in contemporary Latin fare) for more than 10 years and now elevates the dishes of his homeland with global ingredients and stunning presentations. He says that one way to modernize the cuisine is by using flavors and techniques from across Mexico to showcase the best of the country’s food. “[At Tamayo], you can try a little bit of everything, like the mole, the stuffed chiles, the guacamole, the skirt steak,” Tevillo says. “When we do a menu, we think of all the different regions from Mexico to create a dish.”
Another hallmark of modern Mexican cuisine? Constant innovation, McFarlan-Garcia says, pointing to the restaurant’s rotating menu of flavors and seasonal fare. “We’re switching things up and always going with the times trying to stay on top of the trends and do what we need to for guests,” she says. “It’s important to broaden horizons and keep [people’s] perspectives open and just be consistent with those flavors and with the culture, but also be innovative and make it fun and exciting for people to try.”
Here, we rounded up a dozen of our favorite spots in the city for modern, contemporary, elevated, and fusion fare inspired by the vibrant cuisine south of the border.
Chef and restaurateur Richard Sandoval opened Tamayo on Larimer Square in 2001, and it’s been a staple for elevated Mexican eats ever since. Today, executive chef Antonio Tevillo follows Sandoval’s rubric for blending the fresh and complex flavors of their native Mexico with global ingredients and creative techniques. The chile relleno, for instance, is stuffed with a mix of calamari, shrimp, and scallops and served atop a pool of smoky chile de arbol sauce and dotted with crema. The carnitas—as beautiful as they are tasty—feature tamarind-marinated pork tenderloin over a smooth black bean purée, habanero orange reduction, and avocado purée best enjoyed enfolded in a soft blue corn tortilla. Want more? Head to Cherry Creek’s Toro, Tamayo’s pan-Latin sister restaurant also envisioned by Sandoval. 1400 Larimer St.
Super Mega Bien
Dim sum meets south-of-the-border fare at Super Mega Bien, a casual, picnic-table-clad eatery from James Beard Award–nominee Dana Rodriguez. Roving carts laden with small plates are rolled to your table so you can feast with your eyes before indulging your taste buds. Go for the arepas de queso, puffy corn and cheese cakes topped with pepita pesto and achiote crema, and order the tuna ceviche zinged with pico de gallo and avocado mousse before setting your sights on larger fare. The entrées are meant to be shared, and you can’t go wrong with any, though we’re partial to the whole Colorado striped bass, which is fileted tableside and plated with tender bok choy, roasted yucca, tri-color carrots, heirloom tomatoes, and a zesty red curry sauce. 1260 25th St.
Bellota’s chef Manny Barella, a veteran of Uchi Denver and Frasca Food and Wine grew up in Mexico and studied at Instituto Culinario Monterrey. In 2020, he teamed up with restaurateurs Bryan Dayton (of Corrida and Oak at Fourteenth) and Bill Espiricueta (of Smōk) to open Bellota at the Source. Here, he elevates well-known Mexican eats with his signature techniques, creating crave-worthy plates like the popular shrimp tacos—a decadent, fork-and-knife affair featuring tender shrimp drenched in a butter infused with shrimp shells, which lends an extra umami snap to the sauce. Also don’t miss the esquites: white corn kernels swimming in lime-scented crema and charred tortilla aïoli and topped with cotija cheese. For dessert, indulge in a sweet Carlota: creamy lime pudding topped with vanilla cream and a Mexican cookie. The Source, 3350 Brighton Blvd.; 4580 Broadway Boulder
Señor Bear, a Highland hotspot for refined, Latin-inspired eats, dishes up inventive plates in wood-accented, industrial digs. Go for the refreshing Ensalada Tropical, a medley of mixed greens, papaya, toasted coconut, chile-garlic banana crunch, and manchego cheese tossed in a fruity, guava-fresno dressing, or the Chorizo Parrillero, grilled house sausage drizzled with green chimichurri sauce and topped with pickled mustard seeds. Visit for happy hour, when cocktails like the smoky mezcal margarita are only $7, and snacks like the crispy barbecue-and-lime-spiced chicharones and the Gordo Crunch are all less than $10. 3301 Tejon St.
Michael Beary’s Mexican eatery Zocalito Latin Bistro opened downtown in 2019, bringing an array of cheese dips, chiles rellenos, dry rubbed chicken wings, soups, and mole-centric entrées to the city center. Beary works closely with chile farmers in Oaxaca to preserve traditional and rare peppers like chilhuacle, chilcostle, and taviche, importing many varieties to create dishes that showcase their complex flavors. Try the Pasilla de Oaxaca, a chile relleno stuffed with black beans, cheese and vegetables, served in a yellow chilhuacle mole; or the grilled Colorado trout topped with tangy poblano-tomatillo salsa, capers, and a sweet-hot, orange-amarillo chilhuacle vinaigrette. 999 18th St., Ste. 107
Sol Mexican Cantina
On a perfect summer day, the wall-to-wall windows are kept open at Sol Mexican Cantina, making Cherry Creek’s elegant banquette-lined Mexican eatery feel like a Baja escape. The California-based chain came to Colorado in 2016 and has delighted Denverites with upscale dishes such as creamy goat cheese enchiladas and a smoked salmon tostada dusted with chile con limon seasoning ever since. But the team’s creativity truly shines on the menu of specialty tacos, which includes nearly 20 handhelds such as the griddled garlic ribeye “Bistek” taco glossed with bright chimichurri sauce; or the “Canarditas” duck taco: an assemble-yourself affair that comes with one juicy, deep-fried confit duck leg, three tortillas, and a tangy-sweet, tequila-laced blackberry serrano salsa. 200 Columbine St. Unit 110
When only a side of edamame with your street tacos will do, head to Lincoln Park’s Chuey Fu’s, a fast-casual joint serving burritos, tacos, and rice bowls featuring Latin and Asian flavors. After choosing your preferred starch, top or fill it with proteins like Korean beef with chipotle sauce, ancho chile chicken with sesame peanut sauce, or char siu pork in chipotle barbecue sauce. The fusion delights extend to the drink menu, where you can peruse a lineup of house margaritas, micheladas, and palomas alongside an impressive selection of sake. 1131 Santa Fe Dr.
Perdida and Lady Nomada
In early 2021, Peter Newland and Philippe Failyau of Gastamo Group opened Wash Park’s hip, light- and plant-filled Perdida, a restaurant inspired by West Coast–style Mexican eats. Here, diners can indulge in upscale bites reminiscent of those available off the coastal highways of Baja California. Start with the generously portioned chips and salsa (which comes with a trio of dips), then order the chile-marinated short rib fajitas—a tender take on the classic featuring smoky-sweet shredded meat and thin-cut poblanos. Residents of the northern ’burbs can head to Perdida’s sister restaurant, Lady Nomada, a trendy Arvada newcomer that serves similar, Baja-inspired eats in trendy, surfboard-adorned digs. Perdida, 1066 S Gaylord St.; Lady Nomada, 7519 Grandview Ave., Arvada
Lone Tree gained a gem in late 2021 with the addition of Sazón, a modern Latin restaurant from chef Pablo Ramirez, who serves up modern takes on Mexican specialties inspired by flavors from Latin America. Go for the Rellena Veracruz, a mélange of shrimp, peppers, chorizo, and bacon served inside a fresh, halved pineapple and garnished with crisp lettuce, guacamole, and crema fresca. Also try the Brazilian calamari, thick-cut, fried strips of squid that have been coated with a crust of sweet coconut, Panko-sesame crumbs, and dried orange peel. 9447 Park Meadows Dr., Lone Tree
Denver has a dearth of small, back-room-style lounges, which is why we love the dimly lit, casual-but-sexy, subterranean vibe at La Doña. Ostensibly, the reason to go to this Platt Park watering hole is for its robust and interesting menu of mezcal—a smoky, agave-based liquor. But La Doña has a small comida menu that’s worth trying alongside a beginner’s flight of mezcal (just ask your server). Taco Tuesday is a great way to taste authentic $2 to $4 street tacos, but for our money we’d suggest trying chef Silvia Andaya’s mole Oaxaca, slow-cooked chicken thigh smothered with Oaxacan mole negro, or the tlayudas, a corn masa tortilla topped like a pizza with refried beans, mole rojo Michoacan, Monterey Jack cheese, and a choice of carne asada, carnitas, al pastor, chicken, or veggies. If you’re just chilling at the petite bar, the queso fundido with chorizo is a snack made for soaking up whatever mezcal the knowledgeable barkeeps say you should try. 13 E. Louisiana Ave. —Lindsey B. King
Que Bueno Suerte
Settle into one of the many fiery orange booths in Que Bueno Suerte’s airy, neon-lit interior for both traditional and modern fare. Alongside popular plates like fajitas and chile rellenos you’ll find gems like the molotes, bite-size balls of asadero cheese and fire-roasted peppers encrusted in sweet-potato masa and topped with pickled red onion and silky avocado mousse. Also don’t miss the Costillas Cortas de Res, red-chile-marinated short rib floating over a heap of jalepeño cheese grits studded with toasted almonds and cashews with a scorching, whole roasted chile on the side. Visit during the weekday happy hour (3–6 p.m.), when house margaritas are a blessed $5 each. 1518 S. Pearl St.