I’ll never forget my first experience with a chimichanga. I was in Tucson, Arizona—where, legend has it, the deep-fried dish was invented after a chef dropped a burrito in hot oil and yelled “chimichanga” in frustration—when I fell in love at first bite. Tender pieces of shredded chicken were suspended in gooey melted cheese with rice, beans, tomatoes, and onions; rolled into a tortilla; fried; smothered in spicy green chile; and doused with sour cream and guacamole. If my taste buds could talk, they would agree it was nothing short of a life-altering revelation.

I’ve been a junkie for spicy, smothered Mexican food ever since. Not the fancy Asian-Mexican fusion my friends like or the bland chain Mexican my mom prefers, but sloppy, eye-watering Mexican—it’s what I crave after completing a quad-busting dayhike or after indulging in one too many cervezas the night before. When I stepped into Denver’s chile-perfumed La Pasadita Inn, I knew I’d found a place to get a fiery fix.

Opened in 1995 by Mexico native Jose Luis Guereca C., La Pasadita is a Curtis Park favorite, occupying an unassuming space not much larger than a studio apartment. The patio adds eight tables, but the small interior feels slightly cramped, and there’s no place to comfortably wait. I didn’t mind once the salty homemade tortilla chips, hot house-made salsa, and melted cheeses in the La Pasadita dip hit my lips. And I forgot completely after I tried the chile verde plate with pieces of tender pork swimming in savory green chile. Simmered fresh in the open-air kitchen, the green chile was unapologetically spicy, punching up every dish on the menu lucky enough to be paired with it—including the chimichanga. Crispy and flaky, the chimi’s fried flour tortilla complemented the shredded chicken and Spanish rice inside.

My meal nearly finished, I contentedly sipped an ice-cold house margarita and snuck bites of my date’s sizzling marinated steak fajitas. One table over, I eyed a sopaipilla stuffed with shredded beef (also covered in green chile) and vowed to try that next time.

We finished up by dipping a sweet sopaipilla in honey while listening intently to the Spanish being spoken in the kitchen. I may not be in Tucson anymore, but at La Pasadita, I feel close. La Pasadita Inn, 1959 Park Ave. West, 303-832-1785