Type in “restaurant” on Google Maps and set the filter to “open 24 hours.” You’ll be hard-pressed to find any local restaurants serving up food to the night owls, late workers and early risers.
Unless you’re seeking around-the-clock Mexican food.
“We’re open 24 hours, and it’s something fresh, you know?” said Govanny Alvarado, a member of the family who runs Alvarado's Mexican Fast Food. Compared to other restaurants, “you can taste the difference,” Alvarado said.
The new Englewood spot that opened in August adds to a small but mighty list of Mexican joints that offer all-day, all-night service in the Denver metro area — a type of restaurant that’s becoming more difficult to find since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“Most people like us, you know, we’re always looking for a late-night snack,” said Alvarado, 21, adding that his family “understands the struggle” to find restaurants that are open late.
His family members, longtime workers in the Mexican fast-food industry, gained experience at his uncle’s restaurant in Arizona. They later started working for Taco Star and Tacos Rapidos, two chains with 24-hour locations in the metro area, Alvarado said.
“And Taco Star, the one in Thornton here, that’s where my dad worked, and that’s where I started as well when I was young,” Alvarado said of the location near 84th Avenue and Washington Street.
When his family members had the chance to start their own restaurant about six years ago, they opened Tacos Los Compas — another 24-hour eatery, near downtown Denver and the Auraria Campus.
“Most of the people that I’ve known or talked to customer-wise, they’re all from Arizona or California, and they all say they miss that taste of authentic Mexican food,” Alvarado said.
Carrying on authentic recipes is part of the job as well for Tamale Kitchen, a longstanding family business with locations around the metro area.
What makes the restaurant unique is “the green chile, the New Mexico-style red chile, the tamale flavors, just the flavors in general of just old grandma recipe — the beans, the rice, everything’s grandma’s recipes,” said Jose Bishop, owner of the Westminster and Northglenn locations.
The restaurant grew out of an effort to sell tamales door to door in 1980, and the first Tamale Kitchen opened in Lakewood in 1981, according to its website.
Its Northglenn location at 104th Avenue and Huron Street stays open around the clock on the weekends, running from 5 a.m. Friday through 10 p.m. Sunday.
The business has expanded to eight locations, stretching from Adams County all the way to Highlands Ranch, and some are franchises run by people outside the family, Bishop said.
Familiar places see challenges
Alvarado noted that after the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the economy, it’s difficult to find 24-hour restaurants.
Staples of late-night food in Denver permanently closed amid the pandemic, including the Denver Diner off Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue and, to the south, the Breakfast King at Santa Fe Drive and Mississippi Avenue. Both had been open 24/7.
Tom’s Diner, also on Colfax Avenue near downtown, shut down in March 2020 during the pandemic’s early days. It reopened in 2022 as a bar and lounge called Tom’s Starlight, no longer open 24/7.
Pete’s Kitchen, located on Colfax in central Denver, remains open 24 hours Friday and Saturday night, according to the diner’s webpage.
Other than that, though, 24-hour options in the metro area tend to be confined to chains that aren’t local, such as IHOP, Denny's, McDonald's or Waffle House.
The trend of restaurant headwinds during the pandemic applies to the entire industry, not just 24-hour restaurants, said Denise Mickelsen, a spokesperson for the Colorado Restaurant Association.
“Operations are proving increasingly difficult in the face of the ongoing labor shortage and soaring costs, causing restaurant owners and operators to make changes that include decreasing operating hours,” Mickelsen said.
‘All walks of life’
Bishop, the owner of the northern Tamale Kitchen locations, has felt the challenges himself.
His Westminster location used to offer some 24-hour service like the Northglenn spot, but staffing issues led to shortened hours starting around spring 2020, he said.
Though they can be tough to operate, Bishop, 38, said 24-hour restaurants serve different parts of a community.
“There’s still 11 p.m. (movie) showings, so people going home at 1 or 2. We get a lot of nightshift workers, people who are going to work at 4 in the morning, a lot of construction workers bringing burritos to their coworkers,” Bishop said. “It’s a little mixed — people of all walks of life going out for entertainment, getting off of work late. Just a variety of different people out and about.”