Denver’s La Popular is a tamale, Mexican-bakery wonderland3 min read
Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
The Mile High City is a great place to get intoxicated — by fresh air and sunshine, by postcard views, and by our various legal vices. But there’s also the intoxicating aroma of corn tortillas and masa wafting perpetually from La Popular, a six-decade-old Mexican bakery and tamale purveyor.
From its one-story brick building at 2033 Lawrence St., the company churns out thousands of traditional, red-and-green Mexican tamales every week, but also to-go breakfast burritos, Denver’s best hard-shell tacos, giant bags of hearty tortilla chips, gallons of spicy salsa, and a rainbow’s-worth of immaculately crafted Mexican cookies, brownies and fresh breads — most for 75 cents apiece.
It’s a visual and olfactory treat just to walk through the door, let alone order something so fresh that it barely had time to sit still. Carryout is the word at La Popular, which often has the simmering atmosphere of a business ramping up for a catering blitz. Still, it’s fun to fantasize about spending more than a few minutes amid such magical smells, one’s feet lifting, cartoon-style, off the ground as aromas drag them willingly into the kitchen.
Whether it’s a holiday, family gathering or supply run, tamales are both the workhorse and star of the show. Soft and pillowy and hot as a furnace, they quietly steam-clean your soul but don’t overload your stomach with chicken or pork (depending on which you order; you should get both). Freeze ’em, snack on ’em, or turn them into a meal — there’s no wrong way to revel in their richness. Just don’t sleep on the Colorado-style green chile (much like New Mexican, but thickened), which is the fiery-hot way to top everything.
It’s dangerous, at times. I feel a buzzing tranquility that threatens to turn into naptime after each visit, akin to the way my favorite Indian and Ethiopian restaurants make me feel. It’s a drug, and a powerful one.
While everything around it in the Ballpark neighborhood has gentrified over the last decade, the tidy La Popular has remained the same, minus new coats of paint and signage. That may not always be the case, as developers last year submitted plans to tear down the building, according to Denverite (La Popular’s owners had no comment).
Perish the thought. But if it comes to pass, La Popular had better find a new place, because it just won’t smell like Denver without it.
La Popular is open 7 a.m.-3 pm. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays; and closed Sundays. Call 303-296-1687 or visit lapopulartamales.com for the full menu.
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