Over the years, my reports on Mexican and Mexican-inspired eateries have recounted fruitful searches for the out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall, weird-body-parts-made-into-tacos joints. Yet, for all that travel and effort, I neglected Vallejo's Restaurant, a pleasant throwback where loving hands turn out classics. It's a fascinating blend of Mexican American, Tex-Mex and Mexico City cuisines, with an all-American diner feel. On St. Patrick's Day, Vallejo's celebrates its 45th anniversary, and three generations of nourishment for locals in the know. All three of those generations often sit happily at the same table, munching on crisp tortilla chips dipped in medium-spicy, hand-prepared salsa. The stove's helm has likewise descended through the generations, passing from founder Paula Vallejo to her daughter Lydia Martinez.
Appropriate to its age, Vallejo's occupies a century-old adobe that blends into the landscape near the old train station just south of East Pikes Peak Avenue. Its red pleather booths with Klee-inspired backings, oilskin tablecloths, posters of toreadors and framed photos of Pancho Villa are as timeless as its recipes, many of which Vallejo brought to Colorado from Mexico City in 1923.
Old-fashioned though they may be, the love and care poured into Vallejo's handmade treats will never go out of style. The rustic char contained in each bite of the slightly chewy flour tortillas, made fresh daily, sufficiently proves the point. A practiced balance between cheese and heat suggests similar craftsmanship in the chile rellenos ($8). The time required to stuff each poblano, dip it in a light egg batter and dunk it in the deep fryer means they're only available on Fridays, and they're often gone before sundown.
Thursdays bring another compelling special, sour cream enchiladas ($8.50). Rolled and filled with cheese and/or chorizo, these beauties are topped with a thick, tangy, bright green tomatillo sauce and a hefty helping of sour cream. Otherwise, enchiladas come with a dark, earthy and smoky Tex-Mex red sauce.
Vallejo's regular green sauce, rich and savory with green chiles, tomatoes and chunks of pork, offers a welcome dose of late-breaking heat. Try it with some tortillas ($3.50), as an entre with beans and rice ($8), or over the top of chorizo con huevos ($8.50).
Combinations offer an easy way to explore many of Vallejo's offerings at a single sitting. A meaty option ($9) includes a nicely made pork tamale, a cheese enchilada and a tasty, hard-shelled chorizo taco. A cheese-only option ($8.50) embraces a taco, an enchilada and a lovely miniature tostada that features refried beans slathered onto a flat, hard taco base, topped with lettuce, tomato and cheese. Both combos offer a taste of the solidly prepared frijoles, plump and floating freely in their own rich, reduced, pork-pocked juices.
Remarkably friendly and attentive, Elizabeth delivers efficient service. Although sad to strike out in our efforts to try the sopaipillas, we kept in mind that Martinez is essentially running a one-woman show. Plus, it's good to have an excuse to go back soon. There's something special about a room whose walls hold 45 years of the sights, smells and sounds of happy customers talking and laughing over plates of honest food.