The Story of Friday Lunch: Finding the Best Mexican Food in Denver


Courtesy of Tia Maria

The outside of Tia Maria, the longtime home of Friday Lunch, that has since closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Every Friday at one o’clock for 35 years my stepfather would get up from his desk and go to Tia Maria on Pecos and 36th with his friends and clients for Friday Lunch. The brick building was dilapidated, worn down by decades of use. The interior was cozy, with sombreros and paintings of cowboys covering the walls, and a small TV sat in the corner playing a seemingly never-ending Spanish soap opera. Most importantly, the food was great. Every regular had their order, but everyone, man, woman, and child, swore by the carnitas. The company was great and the prices were right, but it was the food that brought us back, time and time again, every Friday, for three and a half decades.

And then it all fell apart. COVID-19 struck, and Tia Maria closed, permanently. We spent the next two years searching and searching for a new venue only to find that the food wasn’t good enough, or the building was too small, or often that it was just too far from the office. I can only liken it to Goldilocks, tasting every bowl of porridge until she found one that was just right. Here are our discoveries.

  1. Il Paraiso – I-70 & Harlan
    1. Il Paraiso can only be described as fun. The food is good, the standard Mexican restaurant fare. It’s good, but nothing to write home about. The atmosphere is what makes the experience, it’s loud, it’s colorful, and it’s fun. CHS Senior Patrick Doty said the restaurant “feels like I’m in a fever dream.” This is what prevented the migration to Il Paraiso: it was too loud to hear yourself think, let alone tune into a conversation.
    2. Pros: Large portions, relatively inexpensive, fun atmosphere.
    3. Cons: Loud, packed, and the food is on the whole unimpressive.
  2. Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant – 72nd and Federal
    1. This was one of the better restaurant experiences we had. The food was universally excellent, but we waited about an hour to get seated and served. The wait was for good reason, as soon as we got our food we understood that much, but the building had maybe 15 tables, and the situation was entirely untenable for bringing in large groups.
    2. Pros: Great food.
    3. Cons: Long waits, small space.
  3. La Casita – Tejon & 36th
    1. If you like Tamales, this is the place to be. I discovered it at a family friend’s birthday party. Do you know how good something has to be for it to be edible after it’s been sitting open on a porch for an hour? Pretty freakin’ good. La Casita is famous for its Tamales, both Red and Green, piled high with the best green chile anywhere. On top of that, it’s spicy. My mother won’t eat here anymore because they made the green chile too hot the last time she went. The space is small, but we ultimately didn’t pick this because it was a healthy trek from the office and not everyone loves tamales as much as I do.
    2. Pros: Tamales are out of this world.
    3. Cons: Small space, limited variety.
  4. Los Dos Portrillos – 470 & Kipling
    1. Remember Tia Maria? Well, she had a younger brother, and said brother owns Los Dos Portrillos. With three locations across Denver, this was the closest we had found to the original Tia Maria. Unfortunately, the magic just wasn’t there, and the crucial factor: the carnitas, couldn’t stand up to the original. The food was good, and this would have made a new Friday Lunch location, but the portions were small and the prices were high.
    2. Pros: Good food, original vibes.
    3. Cons: Expensive, small portions, far away.
  5. Los Aquascalientes – Wadsworth and 31st, the new home of Friday Lunch
    1. My compliments for this place are endless. Wide selection, large dining room, and best of all, great food. Los Aguascalientes is the new, if semi-permanent home of the illustrious Friday Lunch. The portions are large and the food is great to boot. Personally, I would go straight for the Carnitas.
    2. Pros: Good food, good prices, good space, close to work.
    3. Cons: To be discovered