Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet: A Poem-like Tribute

I've written about the fabulous tacos at the Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet before, but I finally returned for their buffet spread a couple weeks ago. The buffet at Guadalajara is impressive to say the least, both in quantity and (for the most part) quality. It also includes tacos to order. It was such a great experience, in fact, that I was moved to verse. As a preface to my buffet-inspired lines, over the past month I have been reading Shel Silverstien's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" alternating with "A Light in the Attic"-- every single night (to my kids). Oh, and this incredible book about Mexican food that I can't recommend enough.

The result of my Mexican buffet binge and my immersion in rhyming children's literature-- for better or worse-- is this. If you regularly read actual poetry, or even just have a general appreciation of the art, you may be genuinely offended if you choose to continuing reading. Or enjoy, like I have, with the understanding that once you reach the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.

The Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet is Just Great

The Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet is just great
For a family of four, six, seven, or eight.
Or 11 or 12, bring your grandma and cousin,
Cause this is a spread that all ages be lovin'.

Stay for a while and come with a clean palette,
Avoid fillers like rice, beans, or (worst) iceberg salad.
Stay cool and go slow - don't do anything drastic,
And best to wear pants with a little elastic.

There are chicken legs in a dark mole sauce;
calabaza and corn stewing in a rich broth.
Grilled steak and shrimp with sweet peppers and spice
and more typical plates that are sure to entice.

There's stewed chicharron in a hot red salsa,
that's a little bit salty but still freakin' awesome.
Pozole, meundo, and even green chile,
Indeed the quantity borders on silly.

When my first plate was full I was doing my best
To balance it all and not make a mess,
But I couldn't resist one more chile relleno
fearing that later I would be way too lleno.

But I didn't stop there, I went back for seconds,
Those enchiladas I missed were starting to beckon.
As were the grilled veggies and the tilapia,
You just keep eating and ain't no one stoppin' ya'.

If you are still hungry but want something novel
There's colita de pavo you could eat by the shovel.
In a brown chile sauce that is slightly murky,
that's right you can chew on the tail of a turkey.

There are some items you'd do best to not stomach
like the hot dogs or 2-day old chicken nuggets.
The droopy french fries and the crusty "espagueti"
were other items for which no stomach is ready.

The ambiance is not unlike a school cafeteria,
and though there's no beer, there is birria,
and tacos to order grilled up fresh
with a red salsa that will heat up your breath.

And while it's true that there is no booze,
there is enough food so that you'll snooze
quite well that night and into the morn'
(You might even feel hungover, bloated and worn.)

But don't let that next day stop you now,
Just think of the joy you'll bring your stomach and how
You'll never forget all the great things you devoured,
Cause you'll be burping them up for several hours.

After my third plate I felt a little fatigued,
out of breath and weak in the knees.
But eating this buffet is not for the meek
So come hungry and you'll stay full for a week.

Buffets get a bad rap in the food world these days
But this Mexican diner's no Old Country Buffet.
It's good- no it's great- but I'm repeating myself
Just get there and try it all out for yourself.

Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Araujo's in Jefferson Park: Much More Than Cheap Breakfast Burritos

Once upon a time I was young and considered my stomach invincible. I was also jobless and living in Mexico City, being "smart" by eating as cheaply as I possibly could. I was getting ready to sidle up to a taco cart in some forgotten corner of the city that was advertising tacos for the equivalent of about 10 US cents. I was peering over some bystanders at the grill, trying to figure out exactly what kind of meat was being served, when a wise, wrinkled (and slightly crazy) old man came out of nowhere, grabbed my arm, and basically yelled at me: "Save money now!" And he gestured wildly to the tacos: "But pay later." He winked and seemed to disappear into the crowd. Despite this ominous encounter, I still thought about eating there for a minute as a full meal for well under a dollar is not easy to come by. I stopped for long enough to look the taquero up and down and noticed his grimy hands and the greenish, unidentifiable raw meat festering below his grill. I decided to pass.

The life lesson, of course, is not that cheap food comes at a price, but that the world needs more crazy old men roaming the streets (and I for one, am well on my way to becoming one). But apart from this near miss (and a couple dozen questionable decisions in the years following that led to actual sickness) for the most part cheap street food the world round is amazing. In Denver (and most other US cities), however, you have to go out of your way to get cheap street food, what with all these fancy-Dan food-mobiles abound. And if you want to sit down with a roof over your head? A truly good and cheap meal can be harder to find than it ought to be.

Then there are places like Araujo's, just East of Federal on 26th, where one can still get a burrito for $1.50. While that is much, much more than a 10-cent taco, it's still pretty damn cheap. And for a man like me, hard to resist. So late this summer my family and I headed over for a weekend breakfast meal to see what it was all about.

Instead of ordering burritos to go, we were tempted by the rest of the Araujo's menu. We soon learned, however, that eating a sit-down meal during the Sunday morning burrito rush at Araujo's is not for the impatient. Whatever urgency we saw (and urgency is not a good word to describe anything that we saw that morning) was being directed towards getting burritos ready for the large take-out orders that seemed to roll in endlessly. To more than make up for it, though, was the coffee. The so-called Araujo's "Coffee Station" consisted of an old drip pot on a warming plate on a wobbly table. It looked like it would surely be an acrid, weak office-style brew. The kind that you can only force down because you are in desperate need of caffeine or because you hate your job and yourself. Instead it was a lovely, balanced cafe de olla: strong, but with hints of clove and cinnamon. I had several cups and actually savored our long wait for the food because it meant I had more time to sip.

Despite the excellent coffee that went surprisingly well with the loads of tortilla chips that kept appearing in front of us, I was more than ready to dive into my enormous plate of chilaquiles when they arrived. The only thing that kept these chilaquiles from being great in my mind was that the tortilla chips were too thin (the same that were served in the baskets pre-meal). I prefer a thicker totopo that gets a good soaking in chile. However, to compensate for this, Araujo's pours the salsa on just before serving, so their thin chips don't completely wither away. The green salsa, luckily, was excellent, and the eggs ran gooey all over. Melted cheese, creamy beans and swirls of crema fresca abounded. I absolutely licked my plate.

My wife went non-breakfast. A questionable move at 9am, and I think the cause of much of our delay. However, the result was a plate of perfectly fried flautas topped with fresh guacamole and copious amounts of crema fresca. Nothing fancy or too hard to execute, but flautas done right are one of the world's perfect foods.

Oh, and we couldn't leave without some burritos. My kids ordered one each, and although they do handle their spice well for 3-year-olds, they opted out of the green chile--even the mild. It was therefore hard to fully judge these 150 cent wonders, but with a good dose of green chile I imagine they would be wholly satisfying.

Araujo's is, appropriately, renowned for its cheap burrito eats, but there is a lot more going on in that tiny kitchen. I can't say enough good about Araujo's from our single visit there. Every Denver neighborhood needs a place like Araujo's.

  Villa Cafe Araujo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film, Food and Flowers: The Sustainable Food Film Series at the Denver Botanic Garden

In spite of my general lack of posting over the past year, I just recently passed the milestone in the food-blogging world of having a blog in pretty much continuous publication for a period of five years. What this means is that I am an old man now not only in my real people age but in blog age as well, which is measured in weeks and months.  What this also means is that people have surely moved on. Surely they care less than ever before-- if that were even possible-- about what the hell an aging man and his aging blog have to say about the food in their city. Yet people still contact senile old me to participate in, or promote their events. Surprising? Yes. Frightening? Also yes. I can't even get my new mobile telephone to make calls anymore, much less string together coherent thoughts on the internet (though that was never a pre-requisite for having a blog). Plus these new phones are so big and heavy.

It is rare that I take people up on their offers for publicity in exchange for something free. In part because I don't want to feel obliged to write about it, or worse, meet some sort of deadline. But mostly I'm just a nice guy and don't want to hurt the attendance at a given event or restaurant. 

Yet here I am writing about an event that I was recently asked to attend: The Chipotle Sustainable Food Film Series at the Denver Botanic Gardens--sponsored by that locally bred burrito monopoly we all love (just admit it-- you like it too). If you have read my past posts on film and food, you would know that I love to sneak in food to the movies, and the foil-wrapped burrito is my number one choice. Furthermore, the Film Series costs five U.S. dollars, which seems like a fair market value of advertising space on my blog these days. Lastly, I am a card-carrying Friends and Family member of the Botanic Gardens.  So even if the association with me actually might hurt their image in the long run, I couldn't resist the invitation.

The night went pretty much like I expected. I got a burrito and sat down to watch an interesting film. Pretty much like every other movie I watch in the theater but this time I didn't have to sneak my burrito in and I got to eat it with the lights on.

The film series is fun weekday distraction and a wild deal for $5 a ticket that includes your burrito with all the fixings. Plus anytime you have an excuse to spend some time at the Botanic Gardens I think you ought to go. It really is a unique urban oasis. And as for the films? There is still one date left in November. Get on over if you haven't.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Beef King: The Queen of Denver Beef

I just had one of those birthdays that people tend to think of as ominously important. A gateway into middle age. The path that leads up the hill that we inevitably all go over if we are lucky. I insisted that there be no party. Instead I asked for and received a 48-hour pass from home duties and child-rearing, and went on a two-day relentless food-and-drink-hopping tour of Denver's finest with my two greatest childhood friends from Chicago (and, of course, Brian). That would be a story for another day-- if I could only weave the hazy memories into a coherent tale.

But I digress. As I clearly and repeatedly insisted on not having a party, my loving wife decided to--you guessed it-- throw me a party. A surprise one no less. If there is something I like even less than a party, it is being surprised, but nevertheless it was a great time and it not a party as much as it was a gathering of our 10 or 12 closest friends. Part of the reason it was so great was that she arranged for a woman who calls herself the Beef King to supply a home-cooked Chicago-style spread.

The Italian Beef sandwich, as I have written about many times before, is a food that I have hunted down all over Denver much like my beloved tacos al pastor. If you have still never tried it, and you like great food with meat, then you ought to seek one out. The Beef King version is a juicy and worthy homestyle take that easily puts itself in the running for best Beef in the city of Denver. That might not be saying too much if you compare it with the best beefs of Chi-town, but the Beef King delivers a solid beef experience that will not disappoint any Windy City ex-pat. See you yourself:

Tender and thin beef. Perfect bread (from Le Trompeau no less) that easily handles a good soaking of beef jus. Beautiful giardiniera with just the right spice. Tasty to the last soggy, beef-slurping bite.

I seriously only have like ten friends. So there were a lot of leftovers. Despite the surprise, I can't think of many better ways to celebrate entering one's 5th decade of life on earth than to have a seemingly endless supply of Italian Beef in your slow cooker on the kitchen counter. Or maybe that is the worst way to do it if you hope for another four or five decades. But whose counting? Happy birthday to me.

Get your Beef King on by hitting up the Queen herself on the Twitter:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ha Ha Ha. 18 Years of Laughing Ladies in Salida

There are some restaurants that you just love. The food has to be good for sure, but it's more than that. It's the vibe, or the welcoming service, or the relaxing patio, or the friendly chef. Or it's all of the above. And maybe that restaurant just comes along at the right time in your life and you have irreplaceable memories of just being there. So it is with me and Laughing Ladies in Salida, CO.

Laughing Ladies is a Salida institution of recent memory, having not only survived--but thrived-- in this quiet mountain valley town for 18 years now. I first dined there 11 years ago when I was spending a summer in Salida as a poor graduate student. I remember being enchanted by the day-to-day life in Salida, but as far as food was concerned, I was eating what I could afford on my modest budget which mostly meant cooking for myself in a shared kitchen and with very little time. I was treated to two meals at Laughing Ladies by a family friend who was visiting her son nearby. These glorious sit-down meals on the back patio of Laughing Ladies were among the highlights of my magical summer in Salida.

Years later, my wife and I came back for a get-away vacation and the night we dined at Laughing Ladies was also the night we learned she was pregnant with our now almost 4-year old boys. It wasn't her best meal --only because she was severely nauseous-- but our shared memory of the excitement we felt that night is so vivid that it will forever be etched in our memories. It was truly our last meal where we were only living (and worrying) for ourselves. Almost every waking moment (and most sleeping) since that day our priorities have shifted to the mini-people we now share our lives with (meaning our kids, not our live-in butler).

Then this summer we returned, almost 4 years to the date of our last meal. This time with kids, and to celebrate my wife's birthday. And even though we had two squiggly toddlers with us, we were treated to the same excellent service and welcoming attitude.  We ate another excellent meal and our kids, perhaps also sensing the magical powers that the restaurant seems to hold over us, not only cleaned their plates of fresh salmon and grilled asparagus, but behaved almost angelically. Another unique memory that I will hold on to forever: my kids behaving well in a restaurant.

When we started planning our trip to Salida, there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to Laughing Ladies, though I have to admit I was skeptical that it could still be good all these years later under the management of the same chef/ owner team. The menu was slightly different, but the ever-so-slight Southern Colorado or even Mexican flair that I have come to love was still present (although maybe to a lesser extent-- I still talk about a duck mole I had there once as one of my favorite dishes ever), as were the gigantic portions.

What we ate that night was as good as I remember it. I had a crispy leg of duck paired with a locally made Andouille sausage over a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and a spicy red bean hash. Unfortunately, my pictures have somehow been lost from that night (though if you want to see some of that duck mole, check out my post from 4 years ago). It's appropriate I suppose, as the point of writing all this is not to necessarily highlight the food, but the experience. Of course the experience would never be the same if the food wasn't good, and I really would have liked to share my pictures of the tasty, creative, well-presented and hearty meal we shared, but since technology and I will never, ever be friends, we will just all have to use our imaginations.

Instead, I will share one last picture of Salida. A parting shot, so to speak. It's Jesus, in case you were wondering, totally doing a stage dive on top of his disciples. The church of Punk Rock Jesus? It's Salida. It wouldn't surprise me.

Laughing Ladies Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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