Chili Willy’s: Minturn’s Tex-Mex haven |

Chili Willy’s: Minturn’s Tex-Mex haven

Shauna Farnell/Special to the Daily
Kristin AndersonAfter a day in the snow it doesn't get better than the Chicken Fajita Salad with an Eagle River Margarita.

After visiting Chili Willy’s for the first time this winter, a friend from Boston declared the cozy Minturn mainstay the best Tex-Mex he’d had in a long time. And the guy knows Tex-Mex. If there’s any clear measurement of a successful establishment of this genre, it’s the salsa. Chili’s salsa, full of fresh chilies, onions and tomatoes, is good enough to drink and served with warm, made-from-scratch blue and yellow corn chips. Homey, simple and about as good as you’ll find in comfort food with a kick, Chili Willy’s can hold a candle to anything you’ll try north or south of the border.

Just crispy enough to keep the cheese inside until the first piercing with your fork, the Chile Rellenos come either traditional or filled with shrimp. Either way, the rich egg batter coating is exactly what any pepper needs to enliven its flavor and crunch. Arriving with a symphony of sizzles, the steak, chicken or shrimp fajitas hold a note of smokiness even when they cool down a little. The homemade pork green chile could do a championship tour of chile contests around the nation, but settles onto a beef enchilada or Chili’s Especial de Pollo in a way that nothing else can. Mix and match your Mexi classic combo platter, customizing the temperature of your spice or go gringo with the Baby Back Ribs slathered in Chili’s own mouth-puckering barbecue sauce.

Chili Willy’s which, in the 1920s housed a secret casino and then a rowdy dance hall, is inviting right from the get-go, its neon sign catching your eye the minute you roll into Minturn. Box-like and intimate inside its adobe exterior, walls of the tiny bar are adorned with boastful pictures of staffers’ biggest catches while the dining area is lined with large wooden booths for big families to pile into. Despite its obvious family-friendly vibe, don’t get the idea that Chili Willy’s can’t make a mean margarita. From the tangy house blend to the top shelf brimming with Grand Marnier, the ‘ritas are big, limey, refreshing and of course, potent.

Whether you’re with a family or on a date, do your best to save room for a basket of cinnamon-encrusted sopapillas. They put even the flakiest morning donut to shame and are designed to hold healthy doses of honey.

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