It's 1 o'clock on Sunday afternoon and El Tejado Mexican Restaurant is in full swing. At the center of the main dining room, a large Mexican family - two sets of grandparents, four pairs of parents, a half-dozen children and two infants - are decked out in their Sunday best, having gathered together for a post-Mass repast. To make room for la familia, the men push several tables together, while the women commandeer chairs from other understanding guests. In the corner of the room, three young Latino couples squeeze into a booth-built-for-two and munch on salty corn chips under the watchful eye of a forever-breaching marlin. Over near the bar, where the hometown Broncos have just scored on the wide-screen TV, a young mother holds her hija, as the little girl smiles and poses for Grandmother's camera. My husband, in-laws and I make our way through the crowd to our own waiting table, escorted by the strains of live Mariachi and the distinct, tempting aromas that wander in from the kitchen. This is going to be good.
Located in south Denver, El Tejado 1 (there are two locations) is family owned and operated.
As our waitress hands us our menus, we review the extensive offerings and I quickly observe that, despite the fact that we are in Denver - more than 1,200 miles from the nearest ocean - most of the weekend regulars are feasting on mariscos, or seafood specialties. Many around me have ordered such delicacies as campechana (shrimp, oyster and octopus cocktail), ceviche (finely diced peppers, carrots and lime-marinated seafood) and huachinango (marinated red snapper served with beans and rice). Several other guests are at varying depths in large bowls of pozole, a hearty soup made with pork and hominy (available on weekends only). I take my cue from the regulars and order the ceviche and a margarita on the rocks.
My meal arrives along with corn chips that serve as edible utensils. With them I scoop and deliver the refreshing salad to my mouth. At first the flavors are bright and tangy, but then the warmth from the jalapeno comes forward and changes everything. This simple salad becomes the perfect complement to the sweet-sour-salty kick of my margarita.
Soon we're all eyeing one another's dishes and exchanging a taste of this for a taste of that. I sample my father-in-law's carne asada, a well-portioned, perfectly cooked rib-eye steak served with a mix of grilled onions, peppers and a dollop of irresistible guacamole. Next I'm treated to a taste of chicken chimichanga, served inside flour tortillas, deep-fried and topped with guacamole and sour cream. Finally, 1 try a bite of carnitas, fragrant, tender chunks of stewed pork, accompanied by guacamole, green chile, fried onions and pico de gallo, served with two tortillas and eaten like a taco. Of course, all of these dishes are accompanied by seasoned rice and pleasantly salty beans that have been cooked and then fried with manteca--pork lard that no true Mexican pantry should be without.
The wickedly delicious margarita leaves ale limp and unable to exercise good judgment. We each debate, silently, if there is room for dessert. Weakened by the tequila, I find that curiosity and my nagging sweet tooth win out. We order the flan, with four spoons. The satiny, light texture of this traditional Mexican dessert spares us from actually having to chew. The rich egg custard is history in a matter of seconds. Time to siesta - and dreams of the day I'll return to El Tejado