Sunday, September 26, 2010

El Diablo Comes to Broadway

I went to El Diablo a few weeks back with my wife and another couple, one of whom is a Chicano studies professor. In Chicano folklore, he told us over a round of Tecates, El Diablo is often depicted as a well-dressed man that appears mysteriously in town during a fiesta and dances with an innocent and beautiful girl. When she then sees his one hooved foot, and his other like that of a chicken's, she faints into his arms.

A reader recently pointed out that the devil has visited Denver at least once, at Los Caporales night club years back, to woo women with his unparalleled dance moves, or display his unmatched prowess on the mechnical bull depending on who you talk to. The devil is different for all of us. And he comes in many forms. Not sure where that fits into the story of this Diablo on South Broadway, or what inspired the name. But there is one thing I know: Jesse Morreale has set his sites on another Denver neighborhood, put Sean Yontz in charge the kitchen and together they have put together another slick Mexican-themed restaurant with unmatched crowd-drawing appeal.

By now the good folks who over the years have brought us such eateries as Mezcal, Tambien (RIP) and Chama (RIP) have figured out a thing or two about niche marketing, location and bringing Mexican-like food for the masses. They have done an amazing job with their detailed decor choices over the years, and El Diablo is a step up-- both in seating capacity and amount of kitsch Mexicana. If it wasn't because I liked their food and style, I admit the decor at El Diablo would all seem a little bit forced, what with the tall altars a la Virgen side-by-side with Diego Rivera replica paintings next to dia de la muerte skulls, luchadores and other random Mexican (and Chicano) miscellany. That being said, this is one slick low-rider bathroom tile painting:

Orale.

We were there on the second Saturday of September, less than a month after El Diablo opened its doors. There was, we were told, an hour and a half wait. Luckily, my wife and I arrive everywhere we go at least a half an hour late, and that left our poor friends to wait it out themselves. When we rolled in we were already thinking of just getting slices from Famous when to our surprise, our friends were seated at a prime patio table. That's a good thing, I suppose, just not sure how an hour and a half turns into 20 minutes--but this is a new operation-- so a few miscommunications are to be expected.


To clarify, this place was slammed, and there was more than one flustered looking server that passed by us at race-walk speed. I think I read somewhere that they can seat 400, and three weeks in I didn't expect perfection from the service, the timing or the execution, but I know that these guys know what they're doing, so I figured it was worth a try. Plus, I heard they were planning a late-night taco take-out service, and that in itself makes this place worth patronizing. That being said, I am getting old, and just like I was happy to eat outside because it was so loud inside, I will be happy to be in bed by midnight  most weekends instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to eat fresh tacos at 4am. Nevertheless, this is likely the single greatest contribution El Diablo is making to those lucky energetic youngens that hang out into the wee hours on South Broadway.

pa' llevar

But back to the night at hand. Our server was very friendly and attentive. The kitchen and bar, however, seemed like they weren't quite as prepared, as the food took a real (emphasize real) long time to come out, and they were out of my first two beer selections (tap selections from local brewer Del Norte). Fair enough, I'm a patient guy and we were there to relax and enjoy ourselves with friends. As soon as I had my beer, we were happy to munch on fresh tortilla chips (for two dollars and fifty cents) and dip into some familiar salsas.


The chips and salsa are served with I think the same table salsas they serve at Tambien, of which my absolute favorite is the smoky red (chipotle or chile mora?). I like it so much (and am so entirely without shame) that after running out of chips (and waiting too long for more) I started to eat some with my fork.

The menu is full of new taco choices and everything is proudly made in house and sourced locally if possible. They run around $6-7 for a plate of three taqueria-sized tacos. They do also come con copia (with two corn tortillas) and a respectable amount of filling. Below are the lamb tacos, El Diablo's take on barbacoa, I suppose, but not really. They were still very good. A creative twist on a classic with a smoky salsa and queso panela (de la canasta, or the basket).


The steak and potato tacos were quite good as well. Moist chunks of steak, crisp yet soft potatoes, mildly spicy salsa.


My wife ordered the conchinita pibil tacos. They came with black beans, thinly sliced greenbeans and were sprinkled with cheese. They were excellent, the star of our taco sampling that night.


To everyone's surprise I ordered something that wasn't tacos. The duck mole (unlike many traditional moles) was just what you might envision when you think of a mole. It was brownish, bittersweet and rich. The duck was cooked well, but the whole thing needed salt. Just a few dashes, though, brought out the rest of the complex flavors in the mole and combined with some Mission figs and sweet plantain made for a very good dish. (Though check out this duck mole.)


The desserts were amazing and quite possibly the highlight of the night. Background to foreground in the picture below was a delicious capirotada (bread pudding), three flavors of flan (horchata, chocolate Abuelita, vanilla) and a sundae with vanilla bean ice cream, roasted piñones and a habanero-caramel sauce. Each one was better than the next--starting with the sundae and ending with the bread pudding topped with dulce de leche ice cream, which I could have laid down in and rolled around in if there only would have been enough of it.


The rest of the menu recycles some classic dishes form places like Tambien: a red chicken mole, shrimp cocktail, pozole. They also have newer items like a huitlacoche quesadilla and puerco pibil (read Denveater's post for a more thorough run through the menu).

The same astute reader, who enlightened me about the devil's visit to Denver, also engaged me in a stimulating dialogue about Mexican food in Denver. He brought up the point that El Diablo falls into that ironic category of Mexican Restaurants Without Mexicans (MRWM).  El Diablo, however, I pointed out, separates itself from other MRWMs by making good food, using authentic and non-mainstream dishes and executing them well.

South Broadway has been waiting for something like this for years: a restaurant that serves Mexican food worthy of discerning Mexican food lovers like myself, yet hip enough for the typical SoBo hipster and equipped with canned PBR for the old-school Broadway drunks. El Diablo has good food, there is no doubt about it, but it will always fall into that category of restaurants brining mostly Mexican food to mostly non-Mexican diners.


I'm not sure where that debate takes me. I don't think El Diablo is the devil, and I'd rather that Joe Average Hipster learns to like Mexican food from a place like this, and maybe stops calling Hacienda Colorado "Mexican Food" at all. But I do think it is a little sad that people will flock to places like El Diablo and give it rave reviews (although deservedly--it really is quite good), while many other places I've eaten and written about are better-- only more obscure... and more Mexican. Stayed tuned, as I have one of those places coming up. 

El Diablo on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

  1. All around agreed. My favorite salsa too, BTW.
    Did you get a look at the crew, since it's an open kitchen? (I didn't think to.) I mean, surely it's not totally run by gringos? :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't understand what does chicano has to do with Mexican food. I would relate Chicano more with TexMex.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymo - Sometime my stories are irrelevant, repetitive and boring I admit, but I thought it would be fun to talk about el Diablo as it relates to the US of A, hence the Chicano folklore bit. And being in Colorado, I relate Chicano more to New Mexican. Spicy. http://www.denveronaspit.com/search/label/New%20Mexican

    ReplyDelete

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