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Spice It Up

The Mexican Gastronomy Festival.

Been craving authentic jalapeño chiles rellenos lately? We have, too, which is why we’re looking forward to this month’s Mexican Gastronomy Festival. Indulge in the flavors of Mexico with cooking demos and Mexican wine seminars at the Taste of Vail (April 5–7) and during a four-course dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel Denver (April 9). It’s all part of the Mexican Cultural Center’s efforts to highlight our southern neighbor’s vibrant heritage—and Colorado’s Hispanic traditions, which extend back 400 years. Be on the lookout for art exhibits, film screenings, and concerts throughout the year. Get in a festive mood early by fueling up at your favorite Mexican joint.

This article was originally published in 5280 April 2012.
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at

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Spice It Up

The brightly hued annatto seed adds pop to local dishes.

What: Study menus around town and you’re likely to notice dishes featuring “annatto” or “achiote.” The spice is made from ground, brick-red annatto seeds, the pods of which grow on a shrub in the Caribbean and Central America. Annatto imparts a peppery, somewhat nutmegy flavor to dishes. It is also often used for color—for years its primary use in this country was to color butter and cheese.

Where to buy it: Savory Spice (multiple locations, carries achiote paste and annatto (whole and ground seeds). You can also find it at Latin markets.

Where to taste it:

  • At Satchel’s on 6th (1710 E. Sixth Ave., 303-399-2560,, chef Kurt Boucher uses the colorful seeds (combined with extra-virgin olive oil) to punch up a dish of shrimp with avocado crema and pickled cucumber.
  • Mary Nguyen of Parallel Seventeen (1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988, has been making annatto oil for years. Taste her handiwork in the pear-annatto sauce that accompanies the crispy duck rillette imperial rolls.
  • Chef Lon Symensma of ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro (1555 Blake St., 303-353-5223, called on annatto seed when creating kung pao chicken for the menu. Dried Thai chiles and chile-infused oil bring heat to the dish, while annatto provides color.
  • Dig into the cochinita pibil, a popular dish at El Diablo (101 Broadway, 303-954-0324, Chef Sean Yontz braises the pork for this traditional Oaxacan dish with ingredients that include achiote.
  • Brendon Doyle, the chef of City, O’ City (206 E. 13th Ave., 303-831-6443, uses annatto oil in a handful of dishes, but most notably the restaurant’s vegan macaroni and cheese.
  • At Vesta Dipping Grill (1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970, order the achiote shrimp appetizer with avocado, queso fresco, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Chef Matt Selby marinates the shrimp in a dry achiote spice blend before tossing them on the grill. Also try the mixed tomato salad—there’s achiote in the charred tomato vinaigrette.