While some ski towns strive for reputations as meccas of fine dining, Summit County has quietly, if inadvertently, begun to develop as a center for authentic Mexican food. Central to it all is the carniceria, which in Spanish means “butcher shop” but in this country often broadens to include a restaurant or mini-mart selling hard-to-find Mexican items—essentially an umbilical cord that connects Mexicans to Mexico.
Nestled in a strip mall near the outlet stores in Silverthorne, Carniceria La Perla (1161 Blue Ridge Road) is a locals’ secret that’s hard to keep quiet about once you dive into a plate of carne asada tacos. Manager Greg Urtusuastegui says family-owned-and-operated La Perla’s aim is to “keep it simple,” and the result is probably the most authentic Mexican dining experience you’re likely to have anywhere near a ski resort.
The restaurant, equipped fast food–style with plastic tables and chairs and an open kitchen where a focused line of cooks rolls out the daily lunch rush with amazing precision, adjoins a grocery store selling everything from butcher meat and real Mexican white cheese to piñatas and chile powder–coated candy.
Most mornings, La Perla’s chefs whip up batches of red, green, and purple (red onion and habañero peppers) salsas, fresh and with a kick. Made-from-scratch Mexican is the rule at the restaurant, whose menu comprises primarily a select few—but very savory—beef and chicken dishes. The meat, never frozen, is as fresh as the recipes will be to a palate trained on American-Mex.
Over in Frisco, the menu at Hacienda Real (842 N. Summit Blvd. #31) focuses on authentic Tex-Mex but also includes traditional Mexican dishes like aguachile (shrimp cured in lime juice and cilantro, onions, and cucumbers) and menudo (touted as a “best hangover cure,” it’s a spicy soup made from tripe and calves’ feet). Authentic doesn’t mean everything’s unfamiliar, though. Hacienda Real serves up burritos and nachos, too, and it has a two-page menu of that most Mexican of bevvies, the margarita, with recipes employing an enviably large lineup of tequilas.
Hacienda’s fresh-roasted tomato salsa will have you licking the bowl and asking for more—if not grabbing a batch to go. Just about everything on Hacienda’s lunch menu is less than $10, including the mountain-size combo plates. Prices don’t swing up too much on the dinner menu, where nothing exceeds $20 and even the Mexican top sirloin (charbroiled with peppers, onions, and mushrooms and topped with cheese and salsa) is $15. For the sweet tooth, especially one with a hankering for fried dough, Hacienda’s postres menu flaunts flan, sopapillas, and churros.
Inching more toward fine-dining ambience minus the price (just about everything is less than $15), Carlos Miguel’s Mexican Bar and Grill (740 N. Summit Blvd., Frisco) has high ceilings and a spacious patio. Sure, it’s a Colorado chain, but don’t be fooled—this ain’t no Chili’s. In addition to the usual gringo faves, it also serves up more obscure Mexican dishes (many on the mild side) that showcase simple but fresh and flavorful cooking. The tilapia Chapala is a simple whitefish cooked with olive oil, garlic, and mushrooms. The carnitas Uruapan is slow-cooked, ultra-tender pork strips served with guac, pico de gallo, and tortillas. For spice lovers, Carlos Miguel’s habañero cream sauce sets the mouth ablaze on several dishes, including the pollo barracho (chicken stuffed with poblano chiles, cheese, mushrooms, and bell peppers).
For palates that savor Mexican fare, Summit’s authentic establishments showcase what real Mexican cooking can be.