Jack-n-Grill was one of the first places I visited when I moved to Denver in 2002. One of the contractors my ex and I worked with said it was one of the best Mexican food places in town.
He was wrong.
It’s actually one of the best New Mexican places in town. I loved it, but the ex hated it. “Too spicy,” he complained. Just one of the reasons why we’re not together anymore…
What’s the difference? New Mexican food has enough hallmarks to make it distinctive from other regional variations of Mexican/Southwestern cuisine. Corn, beans, stacked enchiladas, sopapillas and blue corn all set this cuisine apart. But the liberal inclusion of chiles is its beating heart. It’s often transformed into green chile, a delectable stew or sauce consisting of pork, chiles, onions, tomatoes and spices. Every local cook has his or her own version, but Jack-n-Grill is one of the most beloved among Denver residents.
There is a real Jack (Martinez), and he and his family moved here from Albuquerque twenty years ago. They opened a business to sell their roasted chiles and plate-size burgers on the same site their ultra-successful restaurant stands today. While they have two other locations, the original beats both in terms of home-style and food quality.
When you come to Jack-n-Grill on Federal, chances are it’s going to be jammed, and if it isn’t, it will be just before you leave. One of the walls in the dining room is covered floor-to-ceiling with magazine covers and certificates proudly announcing the restaurant as one of the city’s best.
You’ll also notice every bit of “Jack” paraphernalia around, including Jack Daniels, Captain Jack Sparrow (from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) and Apple Jack cereal.
National media like the Travel Channel (especially on the program, “Man vs. Food”) and Food Network and its companion print publication, have also take notice of the place lately. A lot of that recognition likely comes from the Breakfast Burrito from hell.
The restaurant cooks up this outrageously massive 7-lb monster. Consume every bit of it (with a full dozen eggs, 5 lb. of potatoes, ½ lb. each of ham and cheese and of course chile sauce) and you’ll get on their Wall of Fame. A surprising number of people have their stuffed mugs posted up there.
Ask for some chips and salsa when you’re seated. Unlike most Mexican places, they won’t bring them automatically. Get them anyway, because even at $1.49, you’ll have a limitless supply, and the homemade salsa is a tasty concoction of tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, garlic and onions.
No matter how many times I’ve come to Jack-n-Grill, I always order calabasitas, a buttery veggie mix of corn, squash, beans, tomatoes and onions. I’ve had it in both a burrito and enchilada, but it’s best served as is.
I don’t even care that it’s not the healthiest vegetable dish I can eat. It’s comfort food, Southwest style.