El Chingon is a must for foodies and lovers of authentic Mexican cuisine
There are several restaurants around Denver and Colorado that profess to serve “authentic” Mexican cuisine. A stroll along East Colfax or North Hampden might give way to a half dozen different locales that boast that true Mexican flavor. For true Mexicans, however, the professed authenticity can leave many appetites unsatisfied.
“Barbacoa was a thing like 20 years ago,” said Mexico City-born and self-proclaimed foodie David Arguello, 39, of Aurora. “If you’re at a place that is saying, ‘try our new barbacoa recipe,’ get out. There is nothing ‘new’ about it.”
Arguello travels back to his home city with regularity to visit family and to experiment the new dishes coming out of the largest city in North America.
“I think food is a great way to know and understand how a cultural climate is changing,” he said. “There will always be tacos, but if you venture out, you’ll find foods with an Arabic influence or a French influence, a Chinese and Cuban influence. Mexico City is a melting pot just as any major city in the world and the food is a reflection of that.”
One local chef who gets that is David Lopez, Executive Chef of Denver’s El Chingon who trained professionally in France and has been following his grandmother’s recipes for years to the tune of extensive press and heightened success. The brainchild of Lopez, his grandmother Gloria Nuñez and his uncle Lorenzo Nuñez Jr., El Chingon is as much about sharing food as it is about sharing culture.
“At Christmas, my dad would bring other families to our home who perhaps weren’t in a position to celebrate,” said Nuñez Jr. of his childhood in a release. “Sometimes he would bring random people off the street, literally. We had a small house in North Denver and there would be 30 of us packed in – but everyone was happy.”
Pick a night of the week that ends with “y” and the same atmosphere abounds at El Chingon where the house is consistently packed – and everyone is happy.
“It’s about hugs and smiles as well as food,” Nuñez Jr. said.
When he decided to open El Chingon, Nuñez Jr., initially had reservations about pulling his nephew Lopez away from his career in fine dining. Having studied in Avignon, France, Lopez brings a style to the menu that is not often found at Mexican restaurants.
“It’s the essence of Europe, while still being 100 percent Mexican that separates [El Chingon] from other restaurants in my opinion,” said Arguello who, though not a regular, visits El Chingon at least once a month. “It’s not that they are trying to combine flavors like those fusion trends or expand their menus like a pizza place serving hamburgers, it’s that they get what the culture of Mexico is and they serve it on a plate.”
As Executive Chef, Lopez continues to keep the salsas, recipes and ingredients a close to traditional as possible. The raving reviews from first-time and regular patrons speak to his abilities.
“It lives up to its name,” said Janet Severino, 27, Denver, who brings to light the salient fact that out of respect to Denver, El Chingon Mexican Bistro avoids the gaudy sign of restaurants of its caliber on the front of its building at 4326 Tennyson Street and instead opts for a discreet banner. “I’m not a taco person at all, but I loved the shrimp taco. Succulent shrimps with some guac, salsa and spices. I’m a fan of most of their menu. Ceviche, flautas and carnitas are all so good.”
Arguello, on the other hand, goes for the rellenos.
“I tell you something, the relleno as served isn’t even Mexican,” he said laughing. “In Mexico a relleno comes with a poblano pepper, like chiles en nogada from Puebla. Even so, I love this recipe. I guess even I can make exceptions.”