Patio dining, great music, powerful margaritas and delicious food. All that and more at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Colorado.
Two weeks ago Michele and I took a short trip to Denver to take her son Jacksen to college orientation. I had most of Friday to myself, as Michele and Jacksen had orientation all day. I worked out, worked on the blog, had a fabulous lunch at Hapa Sushi, and took a nap. Then I headed to downtown Denver to meet them for dinner and funtivities. I loved Mike, my Uber driver; Oklahoma native, spent 25 years in the Air Force, and we solved all the world’s problems during the 25-minute drive. More people in the service industry need to be like Mike, because it made the trip go by very fast.
Michele got several recommendations of fun places for food/drinks. Our first stop was Linger, a restaurant and bar near downtown with a fabulous rooftop. Mike had said that by 3PM on Fridays, many people in Denver call it a week. He wasn’t kidding; everything we passed was packed. Jacksen and I would have both stayed at Linger, but Michele said later it wasn’t the vibe she was looking for. She was behind the wheel, and therefore in charge.
We headed to Cherry Creek, which Michele said was a fun area with lots of bars and restaurants. Nope, Cherry Creek is just a mall..an upscale mall, but not what we wanted. I then made the call that our next stop was Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, which was on the list of recommendations. It turns out Rio Grande is in LoDo, the area Michele was originally looking for. Of course we had to give her tons of grief for that one.
LoDo is Lower Downtown, the oldest area of Denver. The neighborhood has gone through extensive renovations and revitalization, and is home to restaurants, shops, boutiques, and is just steps from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies MLB team.
There are 6 Rio Grande locations in Colorado, including one at the Rockies ballpark. Also, Rio Grande is turning 30 this year! As we walked up to Rio Grande, we saw quite a few people sitting outside the front door. That’s never a good sign. Our wait was about 45 minutes, which really isn’t that bad, especially on a beautiful Friday evening.
Rio Grande is a very spacious restaurant. There is a large outdoor patio to the right of the building, and a full bar at the back of the patio. There are 2 floors inside, both with a main dining room and large bar.
When you put your name in for a table, rather than the square thing that buzzes, you get a text from the host stand. I really like the concept, and I hope more restaurants go to that process. If you change your mind about waiting you can just respond to the initial text, rather than going back to the host stand.
We were starving, so we went to the upstairs bar to have chips and salsa while we waited for our table.
The chips are crispy and delicious. The first bowl looked like it was the bottom of the batch, which wasn’t a good look. Our server said the same thing when she brought our drinks. A few minutes later she brought a new bowl, filled with fresh and warm chips. The salsa is delicious as well, and has a slight kick. We also ordered a bowl of queso. The queso options are regular; spicy (with salsa atomica); and deluxe (with black beans & guacamole). Jacksen isn’t a spicy fan, so we did regular
The queso isn’t as thick as I’ve had at other restaurants, but it does have a very good flavor. I would like to try the spicy. “Atomica” does sound a little intimidating, though, so I would get the salsa on the side.
I started with one of Rio Grande’s famous margaritas
There is a strict limit of 3 Classic margaritas, which I’ve never heard of at a restaurant. They make the margaritas each morning in big containers; therefore, they can’t control the exact pour amounts of liquor for each drink. By halfway through my second margarita I understood the limit.
Michele got the jalapeno margarita
I tasted a sip, and it was really delicious.
We wanted to sit outside, to enjoy the beautiful weather. When they called our name they took us upstairs and inside. We discussed waiting, but Jacksen over-ruled us and just wanted to sit and eat.
The Rio Grande food menu isn’t huge, but it does offer all of the menu items you would expect to see on a Mexican restaurant menu. One unique thing that stands out is Rio Grande has a weekend brunch menu, and also offers breakfast tacos.
As I reviewed the appetizer section, the crispy jalapeno caps caught my eye
Frying jalapenos normally tones down the spice. But they didn’t remove the seeds, so you play Russian roulette with the spice factor. The dipping sauce and the veggies are perfect to tame the jalapeno heat. These jalapeno caps are fabulous. The breading is very light, and adds a nice additional crunch to the jalapenos.
Jacksen got the crab & shrimp enchiladas
Jacksen raved about the enchiladas, so I tried a bite. They are fabulous.
Michele and I decided to split an order of steak fajitas. They offer both regular and large, and we ordered the large
I’m quite sure we got the regular size instead. The fajita meat is super tender, and is extremely flavorful. Michele liked it, but said it wasn’t as good as her favorite place in Texas. I have to admit that I’ve had better fajitas as well, but these were really good and in my top 10. I don’t normally order black beans, but that is the only option at Rio Grande. However, one bite changed my tune. I’m not sure how they season the black beans, but they are fantastic. At many Mexican restaurants, they are much too generous with the rice portions. However, this was the opposite, as the rice is truly just a side. The tortillas are delicious, and I’m pretty sure they are homemade. I always eat just one tortilla with the fajitas, and then eat the rest with a fork.
This is the first restaurant I’ve seen that offers cheddar cheese with fajitas. I don’t normally add cheese, but I did add some of the white cheese and it is delicious.
We ordered the large fajitas, because our server said it was more than enough for two. What we got definitely wasn’t the large. I intended to ask him, but then completely forgot.
Will I go back to Rio Grande? No question. I probably won’t test the 3-margarita theory, but I definitely want to sit out on the patio and enjoy the atmosphere. We already talked about doing that when we go visit Jacksen during school.