Oh, sure, in some ways it's a no-brainer. El Tac's the ultimate in hyperlocal go-tos for straight-up, hardcore Mexican grub, no frills & no BS. Sam's No. 3…isn't.
What it is is your average Greek-run urban diner: it’s been around, in 1 form or another, run by one family member or another, for 80 years. It’s downtown Denver’s only answer to the crowded, clattering, chattering, clanking, cranky diners of New York, with their phosphates & blue plates, cheap coffee & bagels, souvlaki & hash. And for that it's to be commended: every city needs at least one.
Being, however, in this particular city, it must needs delve into comida as well. It does so with no more or less aplomb than it does anything else: okay. But the Kickin' Pork Green Chile really is pretty kickin.' And porky. And chile-y. Not so green, granted, presumably containing fewer actual chiles & more tomatoes than some versions (which is wholly legit; there's no one correct, "authentic" recipe).
That's it in the bowl, in the center of the Mexican Breakfast, between the dry chorizo, jalapeño & jack omelet with tomatoes & onions, the stale flour tortillas & the slightly crispy refried beans—which are actually pretty decent. Still, the chile's the best thing on the plate by far—startlingly spicy but not merely spicy, & neither too thin nor too thick.
(It's also better than the Greek salad—which isn't bad; but even considering that the platonic ideal of a diner salad is precisely "not bad"—if it were memorably sumptuous it would be incongruous—the gryo meat on my recent order was less than fresh. The veggies were crisp, however, & I liked the fluffy pita & the basic, thick tzatziki.
As for the squishy, blah French toast, anything's better than that.)
All that said, I'd be a fool to say the green chile's better than El Tac's, not least for reasons of context: at the bright yellow long-timer on Santa Fe, it's in its element & its purest form.
The notoriously stone-faced—but quietly polite—ladies who run the open kitchen make both pork & vegetarian green chile, the former as a stew, the latter as a sauce. Said sauce, is, as you can see, much thinner & greener than Sam's—& much more about the flavor profile of roasted chiles per se; they are, after all, vegetables (actually, botanically speaking, they're fruit, but who's counting), not just heat-seeking missiles.
That there's the breakast burrito, chock-full
of scrambled eggs, Spanish-style rice, refried beans & chorizo & topped with cheese. I like to add a few spoonfuls of the soupy red salsa on the side. Then I like to stuff myself silly. Then I like to bitch & moan about how I full I am until my next meal.
Of course, there is one ugly blotch on El Tac's stellar rep: no booze. On that score, then, Sam's sweeps: it makes a cheap & killer, in every sense of the word, loaded bloody mary.
That & a bowl of the green chile would be a meal in itself. And by meal I mean a satisfyingly masochistic scorch-&-burn siege on your whole digestive system.