So it should come as no surprise that a couple of weeks ago I found myself sitting at Las Tortugas, waiting for some food and staring out a window at a parking lot. That’s right, I was in a strip mall. Again. For some reason I had a strong urge for a most unholy Mexican sandwich: the Torta Cubana. And as all my decision making is uninfluenced by television, it is an eerie coincidence that a week or two before my craving Mr. Bourdain aired a television show in San Francisco where he was filmed eating a certain large, greasy sandwich of the same name.
Las Tortugas has, by my count, the best tortas in Denver. The Tortugas on Alameda near Tejon is my favorite only because for the longest time they didn’t even have a sign. The building is in a small strip mall or sorts (of course it is) with something like three parking spaces and absolutely no indications outside (like a sign) that there was anything inside open for business, yet it was always packed. In fact, the way I learned about it was from the guy who sold me my washing machine, and he had to describe exactly what color it was and what the two shops next to it were so that I could triangulate and find it.
Ever since then I have been going back with some regularity. This day I found myself waiting in the Aurora branch, which I think has always had a sign, but still sits tucked away in the far corner of a strip mall on Peoria and Del Mar. In more efforts not to draw too much attention to itself, the words “Las Tortugas” are noticably absent from the marquee that lists all the other shops at the strip mall. I don’t know what the owner has against a little marketing, but he certainly hasn’t seemed to need it. Make food this good and the people will find you.
Oh well, no use wondering about it. My agua fresca was ready. Agua fresca, or fresh water, is any combination of fresh fruit or vegtables blended up with ice. I ordered, and always order, a Crazy Agua, which is pineapple, strawberry and orange. All blended fresh. I walked slowly back up to the counter to pick it up. The restaurant itself has a great Mexico City vibe besides the laid back tortero dudes taking their time. The walls are decorated with large black and white photos of Mexico City street scenes, Spanish is the only language being spoken, a soccer game plays out on television, a banner of the owner’s favorite soccer team hangs over the counter, bracelets are being sold next to the cash register and beneath that is a vibrant display of fresh fruit.
Back at my stool I place my crazy water on the stainless steel counter top and reflect some more on strip malls, lechón, TV—you know—the big, important themes of life. Several more minutes pass, ten to be more or less exact, and my name is being called again up front. My Cubana is ready. I am hungry, which is good, because my sandwich is huge. Let me give you a visual: