Sunday, October 30, 2011

Greetings From Boulder: Pupusas Sabor Hispano

In my meager two years of blog-existence, I've yet to write anything about Boulder. I know Boulder is considered an important city when it comes to eating one's way around the Front Range, but for whatever reason--while not exactly avoiding it--it never seems to make it into my eating plans. Boulder is beautiful, of course, with panoramic views of the Flatirons and picture-perfect tree-lined streets. The people too are radiant, each seeming trimmer and younger than the one prior.
In fact it is so idyllic in this foothill fantasy-land that it has been given any number of silly labels and rankings from various media outlets, claiming tops in everything from America's "Happiest" City to its "Foodiest"; and of course it is everyone's favorite "Triathlon-running-ist" town. And if all that isn't sickening enough for anyone outside of its fit, contented borders it is also one of the "Brainiest" and "Healthiest" cities according to one magazine or another--meaning even with all that good food the average Boulderite is intelligent enough to enjoy it in moderation--or at least wake up early and do calisthenics.

I'm sure by now I've managed to piss off just about everyone in Boulder--or at least those without any sense of humor--but I digress (deeply and possibly regrettably so), because what I set out to write about is a speck of color and flavor in the otherwise snow white town (88% by last count) where once landed Mork. What I am  referring to is Pupusas Sabor Hispano, that I manged to fortuitously find while driving back from a wedding in Niwot.

Leaving said wedding (of my friend who conceived the name of this blog) and heading South on Highway 36, I joked to my wife that I was going to stop in Boulder--I believe these were my exact words: "To look for some tacos." I turned South on Boulder's Broadway despite her almost taunting laughter and within several blocks came to a screeching halt in front of Pupusas Sabor Hispano.

Granted, Pupusas are not tacos, but this I figured, was close enough. As the saying goes, when in Boulder, taco-seekers can't be choosers.

I have to say that I was not expecting great things. Again, we were on Broadway in Boulder not E. Colfax in Denver, and this part-Mexican, part-Salvadoreño restaurant was fully catered to the local population, replete with gaudy parrots, Diego Rivera replicas and even a mini-sized version of a yellow casa serving as entrance to another dining area that was intended, I imagine, to give one the pleasant illusion of dining in some idyllic tourist town like San Miguel de Allende.

But I will say that the staff was incredibly friendly (something harder to find at times on Colfax) and Spanish-speaking. And they did not roll their eyes given that we strolled in at five minutes to closing.

We ordered two pupusas with chicharron. Of course. The chicharron in a typical pupusa is pressed and grilled in a way that it becomes a delectable paste of twice-fried, smashed pork skin. (Those words sound so delicious that they merit re-writing: "Twice-fried, smashed pork skin.") It is amazing and undoubtedly the best way to enjoy pupusas, although at Sabor Hispano there was too little of it--either that or it was overwhelmed with the queso. Nevertheless it was a respectable pupusa, and I savored every bite, still smiling at my dumb luck in finding this place.

The rajas con queso also was heavy on the queso, and the rajas, or thin strips of green chile (or bell pepper of some sort) were not spicy in the least. Even doused in the traditional Salvadorean slaw and sweet tomato salsa, this was least favorite of the pupusas we had that night.

The calabaza, or zucchini pupusa was completely overrun with cheese flavor, but of the three was cooked the best, with bits of browned cheese on the edges and more crispy, browned spots on the masa itself. The over-cheesing, which seemed to run rampant that late night at Sabor Hispano, was especially unfortunate in this case because it completely drowned out the delicate flavor of the calabaza.

Calabaza in the top left corner. Apologies for the bad pictures.

I know the Boulder food craze is centered around its award-winning fancy foodie fare, but to me restaurants like Pupusas Sabor Hispano are at the heart of any town claiming a "food scene". And although these cheese-heavy pupusas were not the best I've had around Denver, it was at least a pupusa, which in the grand scheme of eating is in itself a good thing. I can't wait to see what I happen across next time I find myself wandering aimlessly (that is how I usually wander) again through the dark streets of Boulder.

Pupusas Sabor Hispano on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cafe La Habana of Mexico City: No Hype, Just Motuleños

During my recent trip to Mexico City my wife and I had a remarkable amount of free time. This was mostly thanks to not working, but also to our family who was more than happy to snatch my squirming boys from our weary arms. On one day I ventured out for a stroll around the city's centro and happened upon an old favorite of mine: Cafe La Habana.

Located on the corner of Morelos and Bucareli just blocks from Reforma after it leaves the Parque Alameda and heads diagonally to Chapultapec Park, Cafe La Habana has been serving locals and ex-pats alike since 1952. There is undoubtedly a feeling of stepping back in time when one enters this relic of a restaurant. The space is large, open, sparse, utilitarian; while the high ceilings and bright lighting make the room seem even more vast. The clientele is diverse in both age and dress, but what stands out to me every time are the old, solitary men sipping their cafes, reading their papers or maybe just staring out the large glass windows on to the bustling streets, seemingly frozen in time, as much a part of the restaurant as the antique wooden bar or the vintage pump handle espresso machines. The faded sepia photos of old Havana complete the fantastically dated feel of the cafe. It even inspired me to sepia-tone my own photo that I took there just last week.

Any restaurant this old in the center of a city as cosmopolitan as Mexico City is bound to have many, many stories. The most famous of these as far as I know is that Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro met here over coffee in the time leading up to the Cuban revolution.

I am well aware of how charged a topic this is for many Cuban-Americans. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of Castro-loving or hating, I think it is fair to say that it is sad that the Revolution turned into yet another dictatorship and more than a little ironic that Che's likeness is now found on decidedly non-revolutionary and wholly entrepreneurial capitalist garb the world over. Despite this, there is no denying the enormous historical significance of this event and it adds an aura of intrigue to an already enchanting cafe. 

Cafe La Habana, to its credit, does not exploit this purported story in any way. It is mentioned nowhere on their menu nor anywhere in the cafe. Another restaurant with that type of lore would have long ago covered its walls in Che paraphernalia and--of course-- have a entire gift shop with sickening amounts of Che-branded merchandise. Cafe La Habana, on the other hand, in contrast to its historic building, has a sleek and modern menu. And on said menu, despite the name and legendary connections to Cuba (at least for the ten-plus years I have dined there) they don't really even offer any Cuban food. What it does still offer despite this new menu look is a wide variety of Mexican breakfast staples. 

It was for this reason I was here: To eat a big fat Mexican breakfast and sip on strong old-school espresso. In particular, having sated my need for properly prepared chilaquiles the day prior, I was craving a steaming plate of Motuleños

Motuleños start a bit like huevos rancheros, and there are many different ways to prepare them but I like them best when done the way Cafe La Habana and so many other Mexico City cafeterias make them. It starts with a pair of fried corn tortillas upon which is spread a healthy offering of refried beans. Over each bean-covered tortilla is laid a fried egg--perfectly fried in the Mexican style in that the yolk is just hot--wonderfully runny so that it mixes in with the mildly spicy red tomato-chile sauce. Over that are sprinkled peas and somewhere in the middle is sliced ham. The final treat are the fried plantains placed around the edges of the plate. 

It is an incredible and unique blend of sweet and savory. It is hearty and sloppy like so many good breakfast dishes, and one of the best parts--besides the perfect plantains--is sopping up the yolk-y tomato-y remains with big chunks of freshly baked Mexican bread.

As for the espresso? It was gritty, tar-black and would grow hair on a rock if you let it soak long enough. But it also had in the midst of its undeniable concentrated strength a delicate flavor, and on top a wonderful creamy head. It did leave me a little jittery--although that could have been the fact that it was my third coffee of the morning--all the better to continue my walk around the city center. 

It was yet another great meal in Mexico City. There were once again many this trip but being that this blog is supposedly about food one can eat in and around Denver, I should probably get back to those places I ate at before I left for Mexico. Stay tuned as I return with great gusto to what I hope is more regular posting as my up-and-down life settles back to a manageable pace--that is as much as that is possible with a pair of nine month-old boys--oh, hark, I think I hear them squealing now. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dispatch From Mexico City: A Taco al Pastor Plea

In my frequent trips to Mexico City it should come as no surprise that I always stop somewhere for tacos al pastor. In contrast to Denver (and the rest of the US), in Mexico's Federal District there are towering spits of marinated pork properly outfitted with pineapple very literally everywhere; and while some are better than others, for the most part one really can't go wrong. 

In fact a few minutes ago I just polished off the last of several satisfying tacos--this time from Mexico's largest taco al pastor chain restaurant, El Tizoncito. I was going to write about some more out-of-the-way places that we oft visit down here, but I figured there wasn't much point. My wife's family lives way South in Mexico City and even for those of you that will travel to the DF, it is unlikely you would want to detour down to those parts just for tacos that you could get just as good just about anywhere else.

El Tizoncito, despite being the Wack Arnold's of pastor for its omnipresence in this city, serves a good taco al pastor that in Denver would be at the top of my pastor list every year without question.

That brings me to my idea. El Tizoncito, who makes the bold claim of "inventing" tacos al pastor when they opened in Mexico's Condesa neighborhood over 40 years ago, offers franchise opportunities. And despite some knock-offs, as far as I know, no original El Tizoncito has ever been opened in the US. Seems like an easy concept for those with entrepreneurial drive and a bunch of investment capital. The hardest part would be that you would need to get a solid pastorero too, one that can deftly flip that pineapple onto the tortilla with a flick of his knife.

I have no drive for things like that. And I say with confidence that I couldn't possibly find the time. But any potential El Tizoncito restauranteur should contact me. Although I have no real capital to speak of, I would more than make up for it in time (and money) spent in your taqueria. And while I like to pride myself in not whoring out my blog to advertisements and whatever place offers me a free meal, unless you really screwed it up, my whole moral schema would be open to restructuring in exchange for free tacos from a place like El Tizoncito.

I jest of course. About the whoring that is. My food-blogging legs will stay forever crossed. But I am serious in hoping that someone does do this and that it first happens in Denver.

I imagine, though, that you don't want to hear more about far-fetched business plans from a man with as little economic know-how as the 112th United States Congress. What you are probably wondering now if you made it this far is: how were those tacos?

They were average for what I have had recently in Mexico City, which is to say they were fantastic. The taquero, or pastorero, was a little green, and he flipped a couple pineapple slices onto the floor, but we all need to learn somewhere. It was also a slow time of the day, so the pastor was ever-so-slightly dry, but the charcoal-flamed meat was deeply smoky on top of the spicy and sweet overtones of the marinade. It was yet another solid round of tacos al pastor in Mexico City, and although I am fading to sleep and groaning a little more than usual, I am all smiles on the inside.

As you can see, below average taquero. 

It's worth another look. At least this taquero had the skills to slice my meat paper thin:

This ends my plea for some angelic investor to bring a slice of Mexican corporate taco flavor to Denver. Although I will say one last thing in defense of this particular mega-chain: There could be worse things than a business that hangs signs explicitly stating that it doesn't discriminate based on race, sex or religion.

Although on second thought, signs like that get hung precisely because there was discrimination in the first place. Regardless, let's hope for the good of all the pastor-loving public that this smiling animated spit of pastor--or in the tradition of the streets of Mexico City a knock-off just as good--shows up on the streets of Denver soon.

And now, while my in-laws happily entertain my babies in the next room, I am going to push aside my computer at which I am prone and typing on a bed; and take a much-needed though seldom-had opportune siesta.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Over the years of writing this blog I have not taken a break from posting like this. It has now been going on three weeks since I have sat down in front of the computer to write. Write about food, that is-- because in fact I have spent an ungodly amount of time writing on this high-tech typewriter over the past 30 days. In addition to my normal nine-to-five (or better, eight or six) and a pair of boys that have learned how to crawl and find the most life-threatening objects in any room with remarkable speed, I took on even more work that had me hunched over a keyboard for hours and hours on each weekday and up to twelve hours on the weekends.

Suffice to say, I very literally had no time to post, and now even after the proverbial dust has settled (mostly on me), the simple act of powering on this portable computing device has me queasy. At night I close my weary, bloodshot eyes, and burned into my still twitching eyelids is black text on white screen framed by Microsoft blue. The slow, incessant clack of my hunt-and-peck typing plays like a soundtrack in my dreams.

It has been three days now since I have touched this keyboard and stared into the familiar, hypnotizing glow of the monitor above. I'm finding it difficult to type at all, much less type original thoughts. That being said I have a list of restaurants at which I ate before this madness began, and fragments in a notebook (yes, I still write on paper when I can) that I am eager to put together into complete sentences to the best of my ability.

So, to the handful of you besides my wife and mother that were wondering where I have been, I thought I would explain my virtual absence and let you know that I am still eating--it just might take a few more days to get back at writing.


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