Restaurant review: 7 Leguas Mexican Grille in Denver – The Denver Post

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Customers Carlos Menendez, left, and Jose Reyes enjoy Coca-Colas during lunch. It was their second consecutive day to eat lunch at 7 Leguas, which is named for Pancho Villa's horse, in the picture above the booth.

The chicken fajita burrito at 7 Leguas.

Owner Bernardo Villa holds a number 6 combo plate.

You don’t find too many cities with restaurants named after horses, Louisville, Ky., being a possible exception. The Secretariat Diner? Man o’ War Steak House? (Insert joke about the European horse-meat scandal here.)
But 7 Leguas Mexican Grille in Denver is named after one of the most famous steeds in Mexico’s history. The horse carried Pancho Villa into battle during that country’s revolution, and once bore the wounded general 21 miles, or 7 leagues, to safety. Hence the moniker.
Some horse.
The restaurant occupies a small room on the southwest corner of East Colfax Avenue and Cherry Street. It’s a cheery place. Brightly lit with walls the color of butternut squash adorned with sundry images of a mounted Villa, 7 Leguas draws diners from the surrounding Park Hill and Mayfair neighbors, many of them with children in tow.
This is old-school Mexican fare — nothing nuevo about it — and the menu is awash with combo plates laden with burritos, enchiladas, tacos and rellenos. If you’re of a certain age you might remember the gatefold photo in ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” album, one of the great Pavlovian images in rock ‘n’ roll. It’s that sort of place.
The extensive menu boasts its own enticing photos, though not all the food lives up to their chile-bedecked promise. Much of it does, however. You just have to be selective.
Chips and salsa arrive almost immediately. The salsa is thin but potent, flecked with cilantro and diced green chiles, and rewarding the decision to order a cold, squat-bodied bottle of Negra Modelo.
Unfortunately, there was no need for a cooling beer on the combination plate I ordered: Both the bean burrito and ranch beans were tepid. The shredded chicken taco came in a hard, overbrowned shell. The beef enchilada was underwhelming, too. The cheese enchilada, warm and rich, was the sole redeemer on a mediocre $8.99 plate.
But the carne tampiqueña ($14.99), delivered on a lovely yellow oval platter, won me over. Grilled flank steak was served with an enchilada smothered in a dark mole sauce, sided with a chicken flauta, rice and beans — properly warm — plus guacamole and a roasted jalapeño. It was a lot of food and a lot of flavor.
I liked the mole enough to pursue it in a free-standing dish on another visit. The mole was kissed with chocolate and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and covered a moist chicken breast and leg. The latter is a cut you don’t always find on modern menus, although it’s easier to find than chicken thighs.
The restaurant is an interesting mix of rural tradition and somewhat gringo-ized food. Take the chimichanga, a dish that purportedly was invented just a few decades ago in Tucson when a cook accidentally dropped a burrito into a deep fryer.
They are on the menu at 7 Leguas, just as they are in all the restaurants in Arizona that cater to winter visitors from the Midwest.
But just opposite the chimi roster on the menu are not-so-common tacos packed with tripe or carne desebrada, a hearty take on shredded beef.
Two familiar soups appear here: Menudo, the tripe-studded broth that some tout as a hangover cure, and posole, the rich hominy stew.
The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily. If you start your day here you should consider the chilaquiles ($7.99) , deep-fried tortillas topped with red or green chile, plus eggs and other goodies. Spicy or mild, your call.
All told, 7 Leguas is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. And I tip my hat to the waitress who comped my beer when I pointed out those tepid beans.
William Porter: 303-954-1877, or
4550 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-4431
* Good
Atmosphere: Casual, contemporary
Service: Fast, knowledgeable
Beverages: Beer, wine.
Plates: Soups/salads, $7.99-$9.99; tacos, $6.99-$7.99; entrees, $6.99-$16.99, with most $10 or less.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m.- 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Details: Street parking
Two visits
Our star system:
****: Exceptional
***: Great
**: Very Good
*: Good
Stars reflect the dining reviewer’s overall reaction to the restaurant’s food, service and atmosphere.
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