I was saved by a bowl of pozole. That’s not quite true—it was two bowls—but the sentiment is the same; nothing heals like a long-simmered broth, stirred with chiles, garlic, cumin and other mending spices, and studded with hominy and fork-tender meats to replenish all you’ve lost.
If you’re less-than-familiar with pozole, well, you’re like many people in Denver. La Diabla Pozole y Mezcal is the city’s first restaurant devoted to the traditional Mexican soup. We may not eat it much here—yet—but in Mexico City, where chef/owner Jose Avila is from, slurping pozole is as common as munching on tacos. And he’s ready to lead our pozole awakening.
“I wanted to open a pozoleria to showcase dishes and concepts from where I am from and prove that Mexican food is more than just tacos and tequila,” Jose says. “Although pozole creation is labor intensive, it's worth it to provide the people of Denver an authentic experience.”
Typically, he says, people in Colorado have discovered pozole when someone’s mother or grandmother make it for a special event. But in Mexico, pozole isn’t a special occasion only dish. It’s an everyday staple, eaten to celebrate the small victories, to patch a broken heart, and, like it did for me, to restore your health when you’re sick.
Like you’d find in Mexico, La Diabla features a range of pozoles, spanning four colors (verde, blanco, negro and rojo) as well as a chayote squash and mushroom vegan option. The red chile and pork packed rojo is the best-known version in the States, but La Diabla’s best-seller is the verde, a style simmered with tomatillos and serranos that’s popular in northern Mexico. Jose’s favorite is the spicy, garlicky pozole negro. “It's the most unrecognizable style, using traditional flavors and techniques from Yucatan, Mexico,” he says. Soon, La Diabla will add a pozole flight to the menu, so guests can try them all and pick favorites.
All bowls are loaded with hominy, chewy, dime-sized kernels of corn that Jose finishes himself at the restaurant via a flavor and nutrition-enhancing process called nixtamalization. He also grinds the corn to make the tortillas used for the restaurant’s tacos. (Yes, there’s a taco menu at La Diabla, complete with mouthwatering fillings like birria with bone marrow, and red snapper with pineapple butter.)
And then there’s the mezcal. “The addition of mezcal to me went hand-in-hand from a historic standpoint,” Jose says. “Mezcal being one of the first Mexican spirits, and pozole being one of the first Mexican dishes, it just made sense.” The bar boasts more mezcals than you should ever attempt to drink in one (or two or three) sittings, and a mezcal and tequila based cocktail menu with fun offerings like the MILF (Madre I Like Fiesta) made with Madre Espadin mezcal, tequila, mango habanero puree and citrus.
If there’s a common thread at La Diabla, it’s bringing the lesser-known food and drinks Jose grew up with in Mexico to his Colorado audience. Because we, too, deserve the rich, soulful pleasure of being saved by a bowl of pozole.