Los Molinos does not stand out. Despite the large sign painted on the outside wall, the corner restaurant still can be easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The restaurant is tucked away in a rather unremarkable building in Five-Points, but behind the exterior is cuisine that is as vibrant as the structure is plain. The food is greasy, spicy and bold — the type of meal that requires many napkins, an aversion to diets and a good deal of fortitude. Portions are big and prices are low — all the essential elements for a perfect Mexican meal are there in full. The salsa bar is always well stocked with house-made varieties, cilantro and chopped onions. Within these walls is the kind of comfort food that remains a foundation for eating out West.
Cases along the front counter are filled with Mexican candy, pastries, Capri Suns and flan. The interior is neatly decorated and cozy and the counter service is quick and accommodating. There is nothing even remotely presumptuous anywhere to be found. On a cold day, you can still bathe in the ample light that seeps in from the many windows. Los Molinos is a place to take a load off and enjoy good, honest home cooking.
The gorditas ($4) are colossal. The fried pastry can be filled with your choice of Asada, barbacoa, buche, chicharron, bistec, carnitas, pollo, potatoes, eggs, ribs and several others. The barbacoa is particularly riveting. The meat is dripping with spice and drenched in its own fat — the unbelievably tender cuts are generously doled out. The item could be a snack for the incredibly hungry, or a full meal for any ordinary eater, especially when paired with beans and rice.
As the city’s taco scene becomes more and more dominated by the expensive, trendy variety Los Molinos is a particular oasis for anyone seeking the classics. The taco plate ($8) is four decently sized tortillas loaded with any of the aforementioned meats and topped with onions, cilantro and a side of lime. The steak is exceptional — the beautifully diced pieces of succulent beef are flavorful enough to stand on their own but shine brightest when acting as a vehicle for the several salsas. The smothered burritos ($8) are particularly original. The green chili is unlike any in the city, the flavor is reminiscent of yellow curry — a surprisingly welcome combination — and has enough kick to satisfy spice-lovers but isn’t so overwhelming that the less heat-inclined will be turned away.
Los Molinos’ cuisine is the type to be relished and followed with a siesta. It can be overpowering, leading to glazed eyes and blissed-out expressions. Eating it will slow you down, but that seems to be the point. Food excels for many reasons and sometimes the greatest delight is found in unapologetic decadence. Los Molinos is a good place to train for any of the impending winter feasts, the cuisine having all the heartwarming power and richness of a home-cooked meal. Not to mention, everything can, and should, be washed down with a massive helping of horchata.
Los Molinos is located at 1603 Bruce Randolph Ave., Denver. It is open every day from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.