Bienvenidos! Welcome to Hispanic Denver!
The term "Hispanic" is not an ethnic description. Instead, it refers to a cultural and language background associated with Spain. Hispanics are people of diverse ethnic origins. They can have African, American Indian, Mexican, European, and even Asian roots, and still consider themselves Hispanic. Mexican-Americans and Spanish settlers came to the wilds of Colorado over 400 years ago. Today their descendants share a proud heritage with recent immigrants from Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras, to name a few countries.
Renee Fajardo is a freelance writer who has written for numerous Latino and Native American publications throughout the Southwest, including the Pueblo Chieftain, La Voz, and Five Magazine. She is the co-author of four books on Colorado family food lore and the only Colorado author in Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul. Ms. Fajardo specializes in Southwest travel and artist profiles.
Ed Winograd (editor) is a freelance literary and technical editor and Spanish/English translator. His book edits include technical manuals, computer and science books, and four books of short stories. He has translated two books of poetry from Spanish to English. He has translated for end clients including Oracle, Yahoo!, MasterCard, and Jaguar.
Hispanic Denver is vibrant, alive, and teeming with energy. According to the Colorado State Demography office, 34% of Denver's population is Hispanic. This translates into a crossroads of culture, entertainment, food, music, and festivals bursting with flavor from South of the Border. Come for the chili, tap your toes to ballet folklorico, swoon at the sound of Flamenco guitars, dance the night away with salsa, hear the thunder of Aztec drums, and feast on roasted corn, lamb, and buffalo. Denver has the spice you've been looking for.
Two Holidays Not To Miss
Cinco de Mayo
If you want to experience all of Hispanic Denver and then some in one fell swoop, come in early May for the nation's largest Cinco de Mayo celebration. This annual two-day event, commemorating the battle of Puebla, Mexico in 1862, attracts over 400,000 visitors.
Some come to listen to three stages of live music, featuring everything from Mariachi, salsa, norteña, banda, modern dance, and folklorico. Others come to experience the 350 vendors, offering everything from Peruvian pan flutes, the latest Tex/Mex CD's, tacos, asadas, and Asian egg rolls. Carnival rides, a midway, and a low rider cycle/car show add to the excitement. [Colfax and 14th Street at Civic Center Park, Denver, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. both days, 303-534-8342 ext. 100, http://www.newsed.org/]
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Ask anybody about who knows about the Day of the Dead, and they will tell you it is an awe-inspiring and emotional holiday. Celebrated with much pomp and circumstance throughout Mexico, this ancient indigenous holiday honoring the dearly beloved and departed has become a popular multi-cultural event throughout the Southwest United States. Denver has been lovingly honoring its deceased for over a quarter of a century.
Come from late October through the first weekend in November and enjoy sugar skull decorating, candlelight processionals, costumed revelers, music and dancers, and the hundreds of beautiful altars created by students, artists, and community members citywide. Galleries that celebrate with free public events include the Pirate Art Gallery, the first gallery in Denver to celebrate the holiday, many years ago. You can find it at 3659 Navajo Street. Also, check out the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC), 772 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-0440, http://www.chacweb.org/.
Places To Visit
The Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC) has been a co-operative art gallery serving the Hispanic community for over thirty years. It has over 200 active members, 85% of whom are professional Hispanic artists who specialize in everything from woodcarving to tin work to photography to all mediums of visual arts and performance arts. Shows change monthly, and the six separate gallery spaces offer exhibits showcasing up to a dozen different artists at any time. Most work is for sale. The Christmas Mercado (Market) in December is a must see. [772 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-0440]
The Museo de las Americas (Museum of the Americas) was founded in 1991 as a nonprofit committed to preserving, presenting, and promoting the art and culture of the Latino people. Featured exhibitions include contemporary Latin American and local artists. The permanent collection includes pre-Columbian artifacts and folk art. [861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401, http://www.museo.org/]
Regis University has one of the finest collections of Santos (saints) in the state. Academic writing and research materials are also available. The collection, which currently numbers over 700 items, is housed at Dayton Memorial Library, the main library on the Denver campus. [3333 Regis Boulevard, 800-388-2366]
The Tesoro Foundation's Annual Spanish Market is an educationally focused art show that takes plce in conjunction with the 1830s Rendezvous in late August. Featuring historically accurate camps, entertainment and a Spanish Market displaying 24 of Colorado and New Mexico's most highly regarded Spanish Colonial artists, the foundation also exhibits items from the Regis University collection. [19192 Highway 8, Morrison, CO, 80465; 303-839-1671; http://www.tesorofoundation.org/]
Where to Buy Cool Stuff
Curiosidades De Mexico is a two-story store, jam-packed with sarapes, pottery, CDs, hand-carved furniture, clothing, jewelry, and home décor items to die for. All items are imported from Mexico by a family from Jalisco. [5300 W. 44th Ave, 303-431-5153]
La Tiendita, housed in the CHAC gallery, has a great selection of local art and cultural gifts, including Frida Kahlo T-shirts, copal (incense from Mexico), Mana pottery (from renowned pottery expert Immanuel Trujillo in southeast Arizona), prints, silver and stone jewelry, and one-of-a-kind greeting cards. It has great regional and Mexican art for the most discriminating shopper. [772 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-0440]
The Chili Guys is where locals go year round for ground red chili, chili ristras (chili wreaths), Hatch green chili (frozen), hard-to-find ground green chili, and pinion nuts. A year-round firecracker stand is adjacent to the chili store. [5501 N. Federal, 303-455-4030
Old Santa Fe Village has a wide selection of Southwest décor items, including Mexican terra-cotta pottery, chimeneas, sun/moon faces, Talavera serving trays, furniture, and wall hangings. [2485 S. Santa Fe Drive, 303-871-9434]
Whether you're looking for a hypnotic evening of Flamenco or want to get down and salsa, you can find it all in the Mile High City.
The Church: Salsa lessons on Saturday from 9 p.m. From 9 p.m.–2 a.m., DJ's play Latin mix on three dance floors. Cover: $15 guys, ladies free before 10 p.m. 21+, very young crowd. [1160 Lincoln, Denver; 303-832-3528]
The D Note: Sunday: 7:30–11:30 p.m., $8 Live Band, All Ages. Lesson at 8:00 p.m. with Joseph Snowhawk or guest instructor. [7519 Grandview Ave., Arvada; 303-433-6683]
La Rumba: Thursday: 9:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m., ladies free until 10:00, men $7. 21+. DJ plays 30% Salsa; Lessons at 9:30 p.m. Saturday: 9:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m., $10 Live Band, free lessons at 9:30 p.m. with Roberta Farley ($10 Beg. & Interm., lesson at 8:00 include admission). [901 Acoma St, Denver; 303-572-8006]
The Denver Turnverein: Salsa Central Denver Social, Wednesdays 7:00–10:30 p.m.; Basic Partnering Class 7:00–8:00 p.m., begins first Wednesday each month; Drop-in class 7:00–8:00 p.m.; Interm Technique 7:00–8:00 p.m. ($5); practice, open dance; pros on site, cash bar. Cost: $5 members, $8 general, free parking, All Ages. Non-smoking, 4000-sq. ft. wood floor. [16th and Clarkson, 303-794-1332]
Old School Chicano R-n-B
Lechugas: Fridays and Saturdays 8:30 p.m.–1:00 a.m.; live bands, no cover. Old school rhythm and blues. Local Chicano bands. [3609 Tejon St., 303- 455-1502]
El Chapultepec: Old school and new school jazz daily 7:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m. One of Denver's most famous jazz clubs. No cover, two drink minimum. [1962 Market St., Denver; 303-295-9126]
"Folklorico" is the traditional folk music and dance from Mexico. It has become an integral part of Denver's cultural scene. Dancers and mariachi groups can be seen at local conventions, festivals, community events, and restaurants. Denver's award-winning dance troupe Fiesta Colorado Dance Company performs throughout the year with Mariachi Sol de Mi Tierra. For information and a calendar of events, call 303-274-7844, www.fiestacolorado.org.
Denver's Flamenco community is small but active. They tend to move venues frequently, in true Gypsy style. The public is welcome to attend the frequent Juergas (Flamenco Jams) and perfomances. For information on upcoming events call the studios of Natalia Perez del Villar at 720-771-7223 or the Flamenco Society of Colorado at 303-274-7844.
Comida! Good Eats!
Whether you're looking for Tex/Mex, New Mexico style, South American, or Sonora Style comida (food), Denver will not disappoint you. This is one city that can deliver a wide and varied range of Hispanic/Latino culinary eateries and specialty food stores. Restaurants, carnicerías (butcher shops), panaderías (bakeries) fruterías (fruit stands), and tortillerías (tortilla shops) abound in Denver neighborhoods.
Where to Start
For a crash course in Denver's vast Hispanic/Latino food offerings, start up on the "North Side" at 59th and Federal Blvd. and head south to Hampden Blvd. For the next 15 miles there is a plethora of Mom-and-Pop stands and restaurants. From carts offering elotes (corn with mayonnaise and chili powder), taco trucks that grill onsite, to roasted pollo (fast food grilled chicken) to fruit stands, this is a small road trip into food heaven.
If you want to see it all in one place, stop off at the Avanza grocery store (1320 South Federal Blvd.) for authentic Mexican brand products, piñatas, bolillos (crusty white bread rolls), chicharrones (fried pork skin), cactus pears, and a huge selection of ground red chili.
Come in late August through September and you'll find the chili roasters along this same stretch of road, offering freshly roasted green chili, chili ristras, and savory pinion nuts.
For the Kids
Casa Bonita is a must-do if you have children. The huge hacienda-style complex is known for its tableside cliff divers, strolling musicians, theatrical spoofs, gold mine caves, and all-you-can-eat sopapillas. This is a Disneyland version of a Mexican restaurant. Great family fun! The food is kid-friendly, meaning nothing too spicy here, folks! [6715 W. Colfax, 303-232-5115, http://www.casabonita.com/]
Fine Dining Santa Fe-Style
The Fort is a national award-winning fine dining establishment, renowned for its great food of the old and new West. Nestled in an adobe and brick replica of Bent's Fort (an 1830s fur trading post along the Santa Fe trail in Southern Colorado), its nine dining rooms look out over Red Rocks and the Denver skyline. Enjoy buffalo, trout, elk, and lamb prepared with regional herbs, chili rubs, and locally grown garnishes. A historic dining experience not to miss. [19192 Highway 8, Morrison; 303-697-4771; http://www.thefort.com/]
Santa Fe /Southwest
Jack-n-Grill is owned and operated by Jack Martinez. Boasting over fifty awards, including top 50 Hispanic Restaurants from Hispanic Magazine 2003 for his New Mexico/Southwest style eats, Martinez is more than happy to sit with customers and talk chili. As Jack says, "Comida sin chile, no es comida," or "A meal without chili is not a meal." Feast on his family recipes with red and green chili bowls, stuffed sopapillas, award-winning burgers, New Mexico style enchiladas and calabacitas (corn and zucchini) burritos. If you are a woman and can eat the 7-pound breakfast burrito in one sitting, or if you were born after 2000 and are named Jack, you get to eat for free for the rest of your life. [2524 Federal Blvd., 303-964-9544]
Casual Dine-In or Takeout
Chubby's has been in Leonard Cordova's family for 40 years. A locals' favorite for after-hours burrito cravings, the original digs on Feds, as locals say, have given birth to seven takeout offspring (also owned by members of the Cordova family). The menu features red and green chili burritos filled with combinations of beef, pork, potato, bean, and chorizo. Try the award-winning chili cheese fries. [160 N. Federal Blvd, 303-727-8727]
Playas de Sonora is truly unique. It was founded by the Armenta family, who grew up in Obregon, Sonora, on the Northwest coast of Mexico. They have brought the cuisine of their homeland to Denver. Enjoy cahuamanta (a stingray-type fish), stew or tacos, machacha (dried) beef with eggs, along with other traditional fare. [3325 W. Alameda Ave, Denver; 303-935-9658]
Red Tango sits on the border of Denver's North Side and Wheat Ridge. Owner Jose Azebedo hails from a long line of famous Chilean chefs. He has brought 40 years of cooking experience to create a Latin American / Mediterranean / Mexican fusion taste explosion. Indulge in Pork Ozzo Bucco, Argentine Steak, Chilean Orange Roughy, and a Mediterranean sampler of olives, fresh mozzarella, and smoked salmon. Chilean and Argentinean wines complement the menu. [5807 W. 38th Ave, Wheat Ridge, CO 80212; 303-420-2203]
Sabor Latino specializes in the cuisine of Chile, Columbia, and Peru. Enjoy bistec chimichurri (steak), empanadas, plantains and ceviche. On Fridays and Saturdays the chef cooks up the Spanish dish paella, a delightful mixture of saffron-flavored rice, shrimp, scallops, mussels, chicken, sausage, and ribs, garnished with red peppers and lemons. They also boast an extensive list of South American and Spanish wines. [4340 W. 35th Ave, 303-455-8664]