Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907. With her 47 years on Earth, she went on to be one of the most influential and revered artists of the 21st century. To this day, she is admired as a symbol of feminism, LGBTQ rights and Mexican identity. Her continued influence is immeasurable.
The newest restaurant from Noe Bermudez, the chef and owner behind South Federal institution Tarasco’s, is a wonderful tribute to the artist. Serving cuisine from Bermudez’ home state of Michoacán and featuring an emphasis on healthy, vegetarian dishes, the venue on 450 South Newton Street in Westwood continues in the manner set forth by its sister restaurant. Items like cactus, huaraches and fresh juices sit comfortably next to the more commonplace Colorado nosh like tamales and enchiladas. Whether diners are feeling adventurous or not, everything on the menu is immensely satisfying.
While the two function as sisters, Kahlo’s menu is a stripped-down version of Tarasco’s. Bermudez has spent 13 years laying the groundwork and proving the durability of the cuisine. Burritos and tacos are very much present and the green chile is no joke. But the real stars of the show are the Michoacán traditional fare, especially the mole. The sauce — slow-cooked with more than 30 ingredients — is a national treasure, and in Bermudez’ adept hands, the flavor has a complexity that could only arise from generations of development.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, Tarasco’s can be easy to miss. Located off the street next to a much more brightly-lit former karaoke joint, the restaurant can get hidden behind the cars in the tightly packed lot. But behind the muted facade is a small, charming dining room complete with photos of their many juices, traditionally-dressed effigies and plaques bearing statements like “All I ask is for the chance to prove that money can make me HAPPY!” In less dexterous hands, the signage could give the feeling of being obnoxiously quaint, but the obvious warmth of the staff leaves it feeling more like a dining room at a close relative’s — cheesy fridge magnets and all.
Kahlo’s, on the other hand is nearly impossible to miss. Situated on a now-flourishing strip of Morrison Road, the bright exterior is covered in several murals, all loose homages to the late artist. Inside, framed photos of Kahlo cover every wall, ensconced between clay vessels and dried chilies. The younger restaurant is located within walking distance of its older sister, a convenient five-minute drive from Tarasco’s. Opening a second location so nearby could risk over saturating the neighborhood, but the tiny dining room on Federal was due for expansion. Kahlo’s is much more spacious but has all the same comfortable allure.
The two restaurants are not identical, as Kahlo’s menu is about half the size of the original. Each spot has taken significant measures to be vegetarian and vegan friendly, something that can be hard to find in many of the city’s Mexican joints. The huaraches de nopales ($10) is a thick, fried corn tortilla with fried cactus, onions, beans, salsa verde and a healthy topping of dense queso fresco. There are various salads and soups, including the sopa tarasca ($10), a Mexican bean soup with crema fresca, queso fresco and shredded tortilla chips. Everything on the menu is labeled to indicate vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free status, and nearly everything has a vegetarian alternative.
Some of the best items on the menu are the many fresh-squeezed juices. More familiar blends like the Maria Felix ($7) — orange, mango and pineapple — are joined by equally delicious, but more out-of-the-ordinary mixes like the Cachucha ($7), a refreshing combination of milk, granola, pecans, almonds, oatmeal and bee pollen. If you don’t stop by for anything else, these drinks are perfectly quenching for the dog days of summer. Many Coloradans like to believe that their Mexican food expertise is nearly unparalleled, but Bermudez’ duo provides a distinct angle unlike any in the city.
Tarasco’s is located at 2930, 470 South Federal Blvd., Denver. It is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. – 9:15 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Kahlo’s is located at 3735 Morrison Road., Denver. It is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.