The fact that Jorge's charges $3 for chips and salsa, a virtually universal freebie, is the first indication that something's off.
"We have to pay for the renovation," our waitress quips, leaning in to be heard over the noisy dining-room din that is the soundtrack to two of the most dismal Tex-Mex meals I've endured.
Had I not spoken to owner Jorge Ayala twice during the 11-month renovation period and learned of his half-million-dollar price tag, I'd have thought she was joking.
But structural overhauls don't come easy, especially when bankrolled on the back of the more-than-quarter-century-old Jorge's Sombrero in Pueblo.
And there's nothing funny about food that's not just not good, or even just a little bad, but literally repulsive: Ladies and gents, meet Jorge's chorizo.
When I encountered it in a taco on the #1 Combination Plate ($13), I first thought of dirt (and not in that good, earthy chili way), as if I were chewing on wet fertilizer rolled in Chimayo chile powder. Morbidly curious, I ordered a stuffed sopapilla ($11) with the offender on my next visit. Same game, only this time it came wrapped in a quickly sogging mound under a decent, if not very hot, "hot" pork green chile sauce.
I'd say the chorizo was the worst of the worst, but that'd shortchange the nacho cheese dip appetizer ($7.50). It was watery with goopy, stringy, utterly generic-tasting cheese lumps — an absolute mess that makes what your kid did with Velveeta and a microwave look like culinary masterwork.
And those aforementioned pay-to-play tortilla chips: While the crisp ones were good, along with the thick, truly spicy salsa, half our basket in both visits contained chewy chips that appear to have not been dried properly post-fry, leaving them partly oil-logged.
How do you manage to eff up chips, melted cheese and ground sausage? To the apparently satisfied 89 percent of Urbanspooners — I'm speechless.
Besides the chorizo taco, the other three elements of that combo plate were off: the tostada bland, the tamale bearing a slightly burnt corn flavor, and the cheese enchilada being another gummy dairy bomb with no subtlety. The bean dip and guacamole ($8.50 as an app pair), though not bad, were both plain.
The same could essentially be said for the titular Jorge's Burrito ($8.50), a perfectly fine but not outstanding mass of chicken, avocado, green chile (the mild is extremely so) and fixins. Hey, at least it provides two meals.
Also ranking in the serviceable range was the Camarones à la Diabla ($11), with a loose chile de arbol sauce next to decent Mexican rice and refried beans. The churros ($4.25) were more dense and spongy than most, but OK. The margaritas ($7 to $9) came big and potent, if a little sweet-and-sour-dominant for my taste.
Finally breaking through into the land of something I'd return for, the omelet-style (versus deep-fried) chili rellenos ($10.25) were flavorful and nicely drowned in your chile choice. But with redemption came relapse: a whipped-cream-smothered, off-textured flan ($4.25) that somehow tasted like cotton candy. I wanted a bullfight, not the circus.
With all that was spent to make Jorge's spacious and spiffy, some should be spent to improve the food quality. Even tourists will see through the large Mexican masks on the walls. And as it stands, it's not a pretty sight.