El Tep (El Tepehuan) ~ Englewood, Colorado
This is one of the few places, from before this blog anyway, that I can recite the exact first date I visited. It was October 16, 1995. It was a late afternoon on a Monday, when the secretary (err, Executive Assistant) of our department was scurrying about trying to unload a free football ticket for the Broncos game that night. It was for only one seat. And there was probably only one loser in the whole office who would have had nothing better to do that night, and who was unmarried or unattached. Yea... me. About 15 minutes later, coincidentally, I was introduced to our new SAP "basis" lead, who had just relocated his family to Denver from Cincinnati (I was the Oracle DBA on the project at that time). That gentleman we will identify for this blog as the Spamlamb, who became a lifelong friend that I still talk with frequently to this day. So I mentioned to him that I was going to the game. Spamlamb said that he was going as well, with his brother and sister-in-law. He asked if I wanted to tag along. That was a no brainer - I didn't have to worry about parking if nothing else. Then he says to me: "We're going to The Teep before the game - you been?". "No, what's that?" And the rest is history as they say. BTW, Denver crushed Oakland 27-0 (this was when Oakland was still reliably good). It was at the old Mile High Stadium. Man, that place went nuts that night.
Spamlamb's older brother had lived in Denver for many years, and this was their go-to spot for Mexican. Spamlamb himself had taken a shine to it on his frequent trips to Denver. As you can see in the photo above, this was an old diner that sat on one of those "old town" type streets (which is exactly how one could describe the scene on Broadway in old Englewood). And there's almost no parking out front (there's plenty in the back). In those days, El Tepehuan was a dump, with old restaurant furniture and poor lighting. As is the case with the RJG now, those things didn't bother me then either. I dipped the chip into the "hot sauce", placed it in my mouth, and I knew I'd be a regular at "The Teep" forever. To this day, I would argue that El Tepehuan's salsa is one of the best, if not the best salsa one can get at a restaurant. It's very spicy with a unique taste I haven't experienced anywhere else. This "unique taste I haven't experienced anywhere else" is actually the storyline of El Tepehuan in general. It doesn't taste like Mexican food I've had anywhere else in Denver, or DFW, or the USA, or Mexico. It's one of a kind.
I don't think it's an exaggeration for me to say I've been to El Tepehuan more than 200 times since that first night in late 1995. The restaurant has definitely improved the interior with homemade carved heavy wood furniture. But other than that small facelift, the place still has the look and feel of a 1960s breakfast diner. And the food quality is pretty much the same now as it was then. Maybe even better. Every time I go to Denver, I want to eat here at least once. And that's precisely what I did this past May.
So what are the favorites there? The Spamlamb swears by the chile relleno - says it's one of the best of its kind (there are a couple of types of chile relleno's that he can give full dissertations on). And he's also very fond of their Huevos Rancheros, something I too can attest for.
Naturally being from Texas, I had a tendency to go for more Tex-Mex offerings at first. That's not a good idea in principle when eating Mexican in Denver. It took me awhile to find my favorite dish there, but once I did, it sold me even more than just the amazing salsa. First of all, I love their ground beef. Just a good old fashioned ground beef taco at El Tepehuan is a fantastic taste experience. But it's their chicken that steals the day. Their shredded chicken is the gold standard by which no other place can even get close too. They heavily season it, then fry it lightly to give it crispy edges and the taste of a grill that probably hasn't been replaced since 1966. Throw those bad boys into a taco and slather it with El Tepehuan's salsa, and you will go home happy. And maybe a little scared because the heat of the sauce is still on your lips.
But even better, is to get that same chicken stuffed into a burrito the size of your head, and then have it doused in their incredible green chile. Like everything else, El Tepehuan's green chile is like none other you've had. First of all it's not spicy (What? The RJG likes something that isn't spicy?). But the flavors are incredible. I do know they use bay leaves, which isn't in your typical recipe. So: Chips and salsa, one big fat chicken burrito buried in green chile, washed down with a cheap Mexican lager. I'm presuming this is what heaven is going to be like. It better be. :-)
This is one of the RJG's favorite restaurants on the planet (and Mrs. RJG loves it as well). It was a deep secret in the 90s. Word's gotten out over the years, but it's still a "local find". The place is always crowded - whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner. But it's never packed. There's always one or two empty tables awaiting you. Look at that Urbanspoon rating with over 100 votes. Need I say more?