Though Eder Yañez-Mota moved to Denver in 1999, his brother Hanzel and father Andreas are much more recent transplants from Puebla, an hour southeast of Mexico City. Together the trio and their crew recreate old family recipes at Chili Verde, which has electrified the corner of a quiet residential block in the Highlands with its bright green trim outside & in—and its superb regional Mexican repertoire.
What distinguishes Pueblan cuisine is its French influence, according to Eder; after all, he points out, Cinco de Mayo does not celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spain, as many Americans believe, but from the Napoleonic empire. Hence the presence on the menu of crêpes—and hence, in his view, the unusual incorporation of fruit (raisins, peaches, plantains, apples) into the ground beef that fills the signature chile relleno (relleno, of course, means “stuffed”).
Perish the thought of anything even remotely like a jalapeño popper, which Tex Mex–style chiles rellenos tend to resemble. This dish is complex, elegant, and devoid of the thick breading in which your average sports bar coats and deep-fries the poor things. “Where we’re from,” Eder explains, “it’s quite expensive because it’s a seasonal dish, served from October to December.” Even here, where it’s served year round, the kitchen sometimes runs out of the pomegranates whose seeds are usually sprinkled on top; then, he admits, “we have to use red berries just to give it some color.”
Actually, when I had it recently, there was no fruit topping at all. But the fact that it didn’t therefore fly all the colors of the Mexican flag—green, white and red, as is traditional—didn’t make it any less emblematic of the regional cookery. As striking as the filling is, it’s the creamy nut sauce that’s most novel for those used to a smothering of chile, cheese, and little else. Tasting it, I had a strange vision of carrot cake, convinced I detected nutmeg. Wrong, Eder corrects me: it contains “Mexican sour cream, sugar, and nuts” (primarily walnuts). That’s it. And clearly, that’s enough.
You can also get the chile filled with asadero cheese—“like mozzarella,” says Eder—instead of beef. But whatever you do, don’t ignore the chips and salsa that arrive at your table first thing. They’re no token gesture; the salsa macha in particular (below right) is wonderful.
“It’s pretty much olive oil and straight-up roasted serrano peppers. We make it every day—it’s a pain,” Eder laughs. Maybe for him; for me, it’s blistering bliss on a tortilla triangle.
Mexican ceviche or cebiche (citrus-marinated fish/shellfish) tends to be chopped a lot finer than the chunky Peruvian version (which may or may not contain corn &/or sweet potato, a nifty twist). That’s neither here nor there in terms of quality; I like it all so long as it’s cold & tangy, with fresh/firm seafood & a little spice.
Confessedly, I am not a fish taco aficionado—I dunno, too much mild whiteness, they just kinda bore me. But as they go, these are A-OK, with ripe avocado & a drizzle of chile aioli, a proper dollop of curtido, & the best part, excellent refritos with a sprinkle of queso mexicano.
In a word, encantador.
Chili Verde: 3700 Tejon St.; 303.477.1377; Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.; $7-$13.