The first time I was in a New Mexican restaurant in Baltimore. I warily looked at the menu and ordered the not-so-southwestern brie and apple cheeseburger. Much to the additional horror of my foodie-friend, I added a liberal amount of ketchup to my meal.

“You have got to get it together,” she said to me, shaking her head in a mixture of disgust and pity.

She was right. I was due to be in New Mexico for a press trip soon and this type of behavior would probably not acceptable. I’d better learn to eat chiles (green, red, and both) stat.

So I did. While in New Mexico I fell in love with Southwestern cuisine. I gobbled up green chile cheeseburgers, posole, lamb stew with cilantro, and Navajo tacos with the best of them.

Then I had to leave. I had to spend two months in Seattle and Las Vegas, pining for frito pies and those cheeseburgers. Luckily I’m in Colorado now, and cuisine from the state next door is readily available at several places around Denver.

Julia Blackbird’s New Mexican Restaurant

There is something different about people who love New Mexico: Their speech is peppered with words like “Earth and Spirit, global connections, beautiful soul” and especially the word “spiritual.” The earthy/new-age feel can be felt as soon as you get five feet off any interstate in New Mexico or as soon as you enter Julia’s restaurant in Denver’s West Highlands. Although the exposed ceilings of her restaurant fit in with Denver style, the rest of the place is all New Mexico. Mexican, Southwestern and Native art decorate the walls (which are painted to look adobe). On the menu is a note from Julia that closes by stating “…feasting and exchange of food reflect the depth of common ideals of reciprocity, community, and the relationship to all life…” It wasn’t just the language and decor that was New Mexico, the food was too. 

For dinner I had Taos style tacos: beef, lettuce, pico and queso on blue fried corn tacos. Delicious. Although the taco shells were just a tad on the soft side.  The Ancho Chili BBQ ribs, chicken cordon green and pecan stuffed acorn squash all sound interesting too, so I’ll have to go back. For desert I probably should have had the pastel de chocolate Diablo, but I went with the not-so-southwestern key lime pie instead.

Julia Blackbirds is open weekdays for lunch from 11 – 2. Dinner hours on Tuesday – Thursday are 5-9, Fridays they are open until 10. Dinner is not served Monday. The restaurant is open from 11-10 on Saturdays and noon – 2 on Sundays.

Jack-N-Grill

This is one of those “if you eat this million calorie gross thing, your picture goes on the wall” kind of places. Don’t come here if you are on a diet. I got one of their more modest burgers (aka it only had one patty) and could only finish half of it. And I can eat a lot. The vibe here is very “family roadhouse.” All the burgers and meals are named after the owners kid and grandkids. Apparently the family came from Albuquerque, started selling burgers, and the rest is history. Although the place doesn’t look particularly New Mexican (no adobe anywhere), the menu has the requisite sopapillas, posole, and green chile menu items.

I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t really like Jack N Grill. They’ve won tons of local and national awards, so go ahead and give them a whirl, but I wasn’t feeling it. I had a Jaxx burger, complete with onions, guacamole, bacon, cheese and green chiles. For some terrible reason, the bacon was infused with maple syrup, making the whole burger taste faintly of a pancake breakfast. The bun was a little weird too, too soft and sweet for me, although maybe I’m still reacting to the bacon.

My house

I made my first posole the other day, which was a little intimidating because my roommate is one kick-ass soup chef. I’m more of a baker, but armed with hominy corn and a recipe from, I was ready to go.

Even though the recipe was definitely on the “easy” side, I think I used like ten pots and pans to make this. I also splattered everything within a ten foot radius of the stove when I was frying up the lamb. The posole turned out great though. I mostly stuck to the recipe, but I did add half an onion to the recipe, and garnished with radishes. I also made cute little cornbread muffins to go with the posole (see above). Good stuff.

I still haven’t found a good place for Navajo tacos (open faced tacos on fry bread), but now whenever I need posole, green chile cheeseburgers, or a chance to ‘feast while reflecting on the common ideals of humanity,’ I don’t have to go all the way down to New Mexico.