Sunday, December 30, 2012

100 Years and Counting: Cafe de Tacuba of Mexico City

I think it is safe to assume that one hundred years ago things were quite different. That is about the extent of my historical knowledge: a long time ago things were really different than now, and more recently things were a little less different. But in different ways. Deep, I know, but lacking some important details I admit.

Luckily there are sites like Wikipedia, where historically accurate or not, you can find all sorts of information on what was happening 100 years ago. For example, New Mexico became a state in 1912. This may come as little surprise, but I didn't know that. Fenway park in Boston hosted its first baseball game 100 years ago, making it baseball's oldest stadium. That I did happen to know, mostly because it was on TV. And the Titanic both set sail and hit an iceberg 100 years ago. I might have guessed that because I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was looking a little old these days. Wait, didn't he drown? He really is resilient.

So maybe things haven't changed all that much after all. Once again, the internet has caused me to re-think history and facts as I know them: Leo is still flourishing in his acting career, people still venture out on large boats through fields of icebergs, New Mexico is still a state and the Red Sox are still losing to the Yankees. Maybe things are exactly as they were 100 years ago.

This point is reinforced at Mexico City's Cafe de Tacuba, which turned 100 on December 13, 2012. Cafe de Tacuba has always been a favorite of mine, and my wife and I make a point of visiting almost every time we are in the capitol city.

We happened to walk in on the aforementioned anniversary date, and true to its timeless nature, didn't notice anything different about the place: Same straightforward but well-executed menu. Same waitresses and hosts dressed in historic outfits.

Same intricate azulejos tile-work. Same shimmering stained glass windows. Same historic paintings, from a distinguished portrait of the legendary (and wonderful, I might add) poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz to gastronomic-themed oils depicting the "discovery" (by Europeans) of chocolate and mole.

We did end up ordering both mole and chocolate--my wife with the latter, a thick-though-light, creamy and decadent hot chocolate  Me, a plate of huevos con mole. My mole was fantastic, embodying all the desirable characteristics of a slowly cooked, carefully prepared chocolate-forward mole: sweet, bitter, pungent, rich and ever-so-slightly spicy. I happily mixed it in with my beautifully fried eggs, done Mexican-style, so the bright yellow yolk just warms, but runs every which way on the plate.

They also brought us each a tamal and a little cup of atole, a sweet masa-based hot drink popular around the holidays. The tamales included red and green versions with pork and chicken, as well as a divine tamal de mole.

It was another great meal, made even greater by the fact that they were giving every table a 50% discount as well as a coffee mug marking the historic occasion.

Not too many restaurants last 100 years. Colorado's Buckhorn Exchange has made it 119 years at last count, but these days making through the first year can be difficult enough. As trends come and go and as bubbles continue to burst, it is nice to see the lasting power of a place like Cafe de Tacuba. Next time you're in Mexico City, take a step back in time and visit them. 100 years of doing it right means you are unlikely to be disappointed.

Cafe de Tacuba is located on, well, calle Tacuba just steps from the Metro Allende and a short jaunt to the Zocalo. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

From Quezon City to Colorado: A Taste of the Philippines Brings Filipino Food to the People

It's hard sometimes being a (half) Filipino in Denver. Not in a struggle-for-basic-human-rights-way or anything like that, it's just there aren't many of us around. When a town isn't overflowing with Pinoys it goes to follow that there aren't many Filipino restaurants. At one time I counted three, all in the far reaches of SE Aurora, and now only one stands. Needless to say that it was with great enthusiasm that I finally made it downtown to A Taste of the Philippines a few weeks ago.

As you may know (whether you believe it or not is another thing), I work for a living. And I don't work downtown so I have missed out on the explosion of food carts and other food related things that are happening currently in great numbers that I believe are referred to as trends. This trend of food carts and trucks has gotten a little out of control for my tastes, but every once and awhile, something good comes along. Something like a Filipino food cart.

The first menu item on owner and Chef Kathy Gietl's A Taste of the Philippines menu is chicken adobo. Adobo is a Filipino standard just like a tortilla would be to many Spaniards, or ratatouille to the French. There are many versions and every Filipino's mother, grandmother or other matriarch makes the best one. Gietl's was very good, but true to a my Filipino roots, I must say that my Auntie Cora's is better. Partly I say that so there is no chance I will have my adobo withheld from me this Christmas, but also because adobo is so deeply personal that the one you had all your childhood and life is without a doubt the best one. Still, like I said, Gietl's adobo was very good-- a comforting blend of the strong usual suspects like vinegar, soy and garlic. The meat was tender and the portion large. It would be an excellent introduction to Filipino cuisine for anyone.

Adobo: brown, proud and up front. 

The same goes for the lumpia, or fried egg rolls. Auntie Cora's is the best. She makes a lighter but thicker version and uses no meat; while Gietl's is thin, tightly rolled and stuffed with yummy pork. She even makes her own dipping sauce (Gietl, that is). Lumpia is something that everyone likes--and this one is stuffed fried with pork, after all. Don't forget to order a pair if you go.

I missed out on the pancit that day, which was gone after the lunch rush. We did have, however, manok sa gata, a sort of coconut curry a la adobo. My wife, who loves diverse flavors was not a fan of the overall combinations in the dish but I really liked it. All Filipino food is not for everyone.

Gietl was born in Quezon City and her mission, she told me, was to educate as many people as she could about Filipino Food-- and then of course, win them over with her cooking. Seems simple, but I think the problem with Filipino food being more mainstream is that it can be quite obscure, and the diverse flavor profiles can be very different than what the average American palate is used to. That being said, Gietl's cart has a nice variety of introductory Filipino foods that should appeal to just about everyone.

One problem many of the failed Denver-area Filipino enterprises share in common is that they might have tried to market to a Filipino population that really wasn't there. I admire Gietl because she doesn't seemed concerned with that at all. Her mindset seems to be that she is going to open Denver's eyes to the good of Filipino food one person at a time. She's cooking not to fill a niche in a cultural demographic, but rather because she loves it and she is passionate about the cuisine. I for one enthusiastically endorse this mission and will continue to punch my frequent diner card there as often as I can.

Regardless of the loyalties we Filipinos inevitably have to our home cooked meals, A Taste is serving up good versions of tried-and-true Filipino standards. And I, for one, don't get to eat my aunt's food but once or twice a year if I'm lucky, so to have A Taste here in my backyard is a blessing and a big step forward for our cuisine. Check her out. I think you will like it. If you do, go back. Learn. Embrace. Filipino for all!

Check out A Taste of the Philippines on twitter for the latest updates or just get on down there to 16th and Champa. A Taste of the Philippines on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fresh Fish in Sayulita: Dining in the Riviera Nayarit

There has been relatively much travel in the Denver on a Spit household of late. Although when one is burdened blessed with twin toddlers, any venture out of the house may qualify as travel in that it is endlessly tiring and unforgivingly eventful. That has been part of the reason for my slow-to-post ways over the past couple months, and while I don't want to bore my Denver readers any more than I already do with non-Denver news, I really wanted to say something about our most recent trip to Mexico.

We ended up staying in a small town north of Puerto Vallarta that, coincidentally, was just written up by another Denver media outlet that you may or may not have heard of before, 5280. I am speaking of the weirdly enchanting little beach town of Sayulita, that somehow has many of the things I despise about many Mexican beach towns: American and European-ized restaurants and shops--yet has me determined to make it back some day. Having only spent a week there, I can't come to any conclusions, but the non-Mexicans who have moved to Sayulita in droves over the past decades do not seem to be the typical big resort types, though some clearly cannot spell:

The food, alas, thanks to the oh-so-many ex-pats can be both expensive and a little bland. Luckily, however, there is still enough local flavor so as one can dish out about $7.50 USD and eat this, at a classic beachside place called El Costeño:

Two fried whole fish freshly caught that morning, only hours from their last desperate flaps to return to their ocean home-- instead steaming hot on my plate quite literally oozing roasted garlic and oil from their gills--or more specifically, the small slices made through their delicate, now-crunchy skin. This is exactly what I crave when I visit a Mexican beach and El Costeño of Sayulita delivered. It was so good in fact, that instead of risking a less-than-stellar meal at an over-priced "dinning" joint I returned to gorge myself on this same exact dish the very next night. Plus, you couldn't beat the view.

The restaurant again, is El Consteño, if you ever make it down.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Udi's "Tacos al Pastor": The Secret's in the Mushrooms

Since the ironic font has yet to catch on to the degree that it really should, and it is otherwise difficult to type one thing while meaning another, I tend to make liberal use of quotations marks in my "writing". A recent trip to the Udi's in Stapleton, Denver's newest "neighborhood", provided me with an irresistible opportunity to fill my post with quotation marks.

We were there for "dinner", which in my toddler-run household happens no later than five, usually while my lunch is still digesting. Nevertheless, here we were, and my spider-pig-like pastor sense zeroed in on the following words emblazoned on the wall menu: "Al Pastor Tacos". Before I knew it, I was ordering them and they were on my table.

Of course I didn't have high expectations for my tacos al pastor, being that I was in a bakery, and even more so because this bakery was in Stapleton. Though there are many worthy tacos within a long home-run of Stapleton's borders, this "urban" community is pretty much the antithesis of raw pork marinated in spices roasting on a spit with an open flame. But I did appreciate that there was no purporting on the part of Udi's about having an "authentic" experience; or certainly no mention of "street tacos", as there is in a certain "taco" shop I just wrote about that is about as far from the "street" as one can get while only being a few feet from it.

My tacos were served on what seemed to be a freshly made tortilla. I suppose that should be a given since I was in a bakery, but nevertheless it did not go unnoticed. It was piled high with a good (but unnecessary on tacos al pastor) pico de gallo-like salsa and came with a respectably spicy (something that "street taco" place can't claim) chipotle-heavy "salsa". I poured it over the top and also noticed there were grilled pineapples on the taco as well. Nice touch. I didn't take the time to examine the rest of the contents, as my kids were frantically doing something or other that they probably shouldn't have been doing, and I practically swallowed the first taco.

It was tasty and not bad. I didn't get much flavor from the "meat", but the marinade was surprisingly much more "pastor-like" than I would have expected. After my second taco I took a moment to examine the contents: this was not pork. I remember seeing chicken and shrimp as options on the wall menu, but I didn't pick either of those, so whatever could this be?

My "taco" it seems, was made of mushrooms. When "reading" the menu initially, I overlooked the actual ingredients, because when I see "tacos al pastor" on a menu, I assume that "pork" is involved. You don't say that you want a meat-product in your hot dog bun when you order a hot dog any more than you would ask for a "pork" taco al pastor. However, upon examining the menu a little closer, I saw that the contents were rather clear: crimini and shitake mushrooms.

I "smiled". I never would have ordered this if I knew beforehand it was made of mushrooms, but I'm "glad" I did because, well, I just ate possibly the world's only mushroom taco al pastor. And although I'm pretty sure no vegetarians have made it past my blog's logo, if you are reading this and you don't eat animal flesh, or even if you happen to know someone like that, it might be worth your (or your friend's) while to get over to Udi's and try this freak-show of a "taco". Me? I'll never eat it again--though not because it didn't taste good. It just felt--and still feels--wrong.

Technically I'm not sure a "taco" can be called a "taco" when it was supposed to have pork and didn't. And although some of the flavors were there (and the marinade better than some "real" pastor taquerias), calling it "al pastor" is also a stretch, so let's compromise and add in some extra quotation marks. For the best mushroom ""taco" al pastor" you may ever eat, stop by Udi's for dinner and enjoy.

Udi's Bread Cafe at Stapleton on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For the Love of Pastor: I Heart It So Much

Sometimes we dream of things that if true would overwhelm us to the point where our whole sense of reality would threaten to implode. For example, not too long ago a reader sent me this picture of bigger-than-life intertwining spits of pastor. For several, awe-inspiring minutes I was frozen, mouth agape, while my poor, feeble brain spiraled out-of-control, trying to grasp this wonderful alternate reality. Then I realized that it was a sculpture. Probably for the best.

I haven't had a dream that specifically involved two intersecting pastor spits in the form of heart (what other form would be more appropriate), but I would be lying if I said I had never dreamed of caressing this lovely chunk of meat and--well, let's just stop there, there's no need to get any more specific. Let's just assume that this reader blurred his friend's face in the photo in the same way a face may be blurred to preserve anonymity in some high-profile adultery scandal. 

Currently I am trying to figure out exactly where this sculpture might be. My best guess is on the Paseo de Reforma outside of one of Mexico City's world-famous museums. And while I like the idea of art for the people, I imagine this glorious work of art--maybe the best piece of art ever made in the history of the world--has had it's fair share of drool and drunken fondling such that it should really be moved indoors so it may be cherished for generations to come. If not the Tamayo in Mexico, at least the MOMA or the Louvre. I want my children's children to lay eyes on this masterwork (though if they could cop a feel that would be good too). 

But first I would like to lay my eyes on it. Do you know where this is? Please let me know. I'm due for a pilgrimage. 

And as for my own pastor journeys? I will be back out to try some old favorites over the next year and if I'm able to come across some new places in Denver, you'll be the first to know. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pinche(s) Tacos Inside: Eating at Pinche Taqueria at Last

I've said it more than once before, but considering the probability of people reading this blog more than once, I will say it again: I love the mixing of cultures and new definitions of tradition. Such was the open mind that I needed when venturing into Pinche Taqueria for the first time not too long ago. I had eaten at their taco truck the summer it first opened a couple times, and was not overly impressed, but the insane amount of buzz that has been coming out of this little brick box of a restaurant finally proved too much to resist.

It was 2 pm or so on a Saturday, and true to the lore that surrounds Pinche, it was packed. We hovered around for about 30 minutes before being seated and I must say we were looked after very well, wanting for nothing. And luckily enough, we were in the good company of Denveater, who also has just written her own take which I encourage you to check out.

When we finally sat I did a once-over of the abbreviated brunch menu and couldn't help but let out a cynical laugh to myself at these words: "Street Tacos". I realize that in Denver and many other urban centers of these United States there are these new food trucks serving meals on tortillas like braised pork belly with tomatillo crema and other fancy-speak garnishes-- but as much as I like re-defining new traditions, I have a hard time calling anything coming off any of these menus (especially this one, where I sat comfortably warm inside while snow blew unrelentingly out of doors) a street taco. And it's not even about new traditions, its like growing up in Littleton but telling people you were raised in the South Bronx. It's not just a stretch, it's a laughable manipulation of the truth.

But again, good food is good food, and when my first bites of pork belly came out I was salivating at the two large chunks of fatty, perfectly cooked pork belly drizzled in an agridulce (sweet and sour) sauce and pleasantly colored with a bright slaw and a candied clove of garlic. It was very good. But as I took a fork (the first time I have ever had a fork given to me at a taqueria by the way) to my huge chunk of meat I almost forgot the whole thing was served on a pair of corn tortillas. So I scooped it up and ate it like one would a taco, and for that reason I suppose it was a taco, but it was so good without the tortillas, I doubt I would have missed them.

The lengua was equally as succulent, and each chunk has a pleasant sear. It was not unlike the lengua I had at the Pinche truck a couple years ago--covered in a roasted tomatillo salsa, but I could have done without the mayo-like sauce on this indoor version. Much more taco-worthy than the pork belly, and just as tasty.

I also had a breakfast taco with scrambled eggs and more of that lovely pork belly. To give you an idea of how tender and luscious my pork belly was, it was hard to distinguish texture-wise from the light and fluffy scrambled eggs. This was a perfect example of the tortilla actually adding nothing to the dish. In fact, in the picture below it isn't even visible. A big plate of eggs with this pork belly and the tomatillo salsa it came with would be a great brunch plate.

My wife's fish taco was bland and forgettable. The fish was nicely cooked but the slaw, guacamole and pickled onions didn't bring much to the plate. Then again, I had a bite in between tacos of pork belly. Imagine me moving my arms back and forth like my hands were a balance scale and sarcastically saying the following "Pork belly? Fried fish? Pork belly? Fried fish?" Hard to imagine me liking fish all that much in between bites of pork, so maybe it was a little better than I remember.

We finished off with the tantalizing churros con chocolate. Serving churros with a milky chocolate dipping sauce is much more Spanish than Mexican, but that is more of a technicality, not a critique. They were good because they were fried, sweet dough sprinkled in sugar. And for some reason I have had a really hard time finding a really good churro in Denver, so that made these even better.

The tacos at Pinche Tacos brick and mortar spot are more like mostly well-executed small plates that have found their way onto tortillas. And street tacos? Maybe if that street was Rodeo Drive or better, Calle Masaryk in Mexico City's posh Polanco neighborhood. And actually, a place not unlike Pinche Tacos would probably do well there, though the salsas would have to be spicy, and the clientele would be dressed to the nines. Classic Mexican flavors have much room for interpretation, and it is hard to go wrong when one executes this well. For that I will tip my hat to the vision of owner Kevin Morrison and those pinches taqueros working hard in the small, open kitchen. I will still likely continue to sate my taco appetites far from Pinche in my further-East Colfax and South Federal favorites, but I am glad I did finally stop in for a bite.

Pinche Taqueria  on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Boom! La Guarida Cubana Cafe in Park Hill

While nothing like the food truck boom, the now-dissipating burger boom or even the under-appreciated cupcake boom, Denver is experiencing something of a boom when it comes to Cuban food. If we are talking pure numbers, it might not seem that impressive: two new restaurants this year. But if we are talking percentages, I think we may have about doubled our Cuban-ness in that same time. And if we are talking family-run, home-cooking-like Cuban cafes, the growth is exponential. Boom.

The Guarida Cubana in Park Hill makes for the second of Denver's family-run Cuban cafes, something of a dream come true for me and my voracious Cuban sandwich appetite. I recently wrote about the other (Cuban) family-run joint way over on the West side of town, so it is nice to see the Cuban scales tipping back East, because while I don't ever mind driving across town for a good meal, the closer the better.

La Guarida is a small storefront on the South Side of Colfax near Jasmine that, like many other great restaurants, you could drive right by without noticing if you didn't have a good nose for Cubans (sandwiches, that is). Unlike many of my other senses that are dull, clumsy and largely useless in my advancing age; my Cuban sense is still strong, and I had this place sniffed out even before it was open for business. Imagine my disappointment when I walked up only to find that it wasn't opening for several more weeks. Then, as is often the case these days, it took me several months to make it back and at least another to write about it.

The night we finally made it in, we were greeted by the quiet but cordial Rosell family, owner's of La Guarida, and they motioned for us to choose a table from the small, empty dinging room. Despite the table service, the vibe at La Guarida was that of few frills. The interior was simple: red-checked table cloths and a few pictures of Cuba hanging from the otherwise bare brick walls. I tend to like simple and straightforward in my restaurants, so everything seemed just about right to me so far. We sat and I got busy ordering my Cuban.

When my Cuban came out I was happy to see it stacked with thick-sliced ham. The bread glistened in the late afternoon light and a line of bright yellow mustard popped out from amongst a pair of sliced pickles. A thin-but-not-too-thin slice of grilled pork stuck out from the top. It looked quite lovely.

And it tasted lovely too. Much of what I liked about this sandwich was that it was thick with meat. The bread was decent as well, grilled and pressed to a delicate crisp. It was a more-than-worthy Cuban and reason alone to return.

I got excited when sitting down to write this and neglected to mention that prior to my sandwich I was served this:

This was a chicken empanada. While innocuous as it may look in the picture above, it was undercooked pastry dough (though flaky and light) filled with some of the driest and blandest semi-ground white meat I have ever eaten. In fact, I wasn't even sure if it was chicken or pork. It didn't necessarily taste bad, it just didn't taste. Dipped in the garlicky sauce it came with helped some, but there was not much good to say about this empanada. 

My wife's dish, however, turned out to be quite good. She ordered the completa del dia, which was a heaping plate of Moros (black beans and rice), fried plantain and a nicely cooked pork chop. 

Though extremely simple and in many ways nothing spectacular, everything was right about this dish, and it was a fine example of Cuban comfort cooking. The pork was moist, the Moros were flavorful and the plantain was fried to perfection. Something I could eat every night of the week.

The boiled yuca we ordered was also good. Again, a simple dish of Cuban comfort. What, in fact, could be more simple that a boiled root vegetable. But it was excellent dipped in the same garlic sauce that could not save that worthless empanada.

We finished the night by splitting a small but richly flavored flan. I skipped the cafe con leche as, I have alluded to in other posts, I really can't stand milk or sugar of any kind in my coffee. I'm sure it's good if you like those kinds of things, but I decided to pass and let the sweet flavor of flan linger all the way home. 

La Guarida Cubana is a welcome addition to East Colfax and while it might not measure up to the warm welcome and all-round quality of its cross-town counterpart, it is certainly worth stopping in and sitting down for a helping of Cuban comfort--and, most importantly, a good Cuban sandwich. 

La Guarida Cubana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On the Road and Eating Tacos de Chicharron Prensado in Pasadena

"I want to take you to my favorite tacos of pressed chicharrones around here," is the loose translation of what our friend told us after she picked us up from the Los Angeles International Airport last week. To live in a town where you can say that is envious. A town where tacos, I believe, have been known to grow on trees. But there are many things about LA that are not enviable in the least, and I love Denver for what it is--and one of those is that it is not all that big. The downfall of course is I have never once picked someone up from the airport in Denver and said those words that our friend said so naturally that day.

Again, I readily sacrifice a few tacos here and there for my good living in my small-town, but fried-smashed-and-fried again pork skins is something of a fetish of mine. In hindsight, re-reading this post years down the road, I might think to myself that I should have replaced "fetish" with some other, less sexual and creepy word to describe my affinity for these pig hides, but I can't think of a better way to put it at the moment. In Denver I often enjoy this style of swine in my savory Salvadorean pupusas, and I always like it very much, but I would have to think hard back to some streetside vendor in Mexico City to think of a time that I had them scooped onto a warm corn tortilla and sprinkled with cilantro, onion and a spicy salsa.

Our friend lives in the relative quiet of Pasadena, not far, yet-oh-so-very-far--from the bustle of LA. "Taqueria" was not the first thing I had in mind when I booked our trip to Pasadena, much less ones that serve things like cabeza and chicarrones prensados. Yet there we were, just an hour or so from deboarding, ordering a plateful of not only steamy head meat and sizzling pork skins, but also more common taco meats like carnitas and chorizo con papas. Four of them and a drink for under six bucks.

Though sizzling, technically, they were not. In what I will chalk up to practicality for anticipation of a lunchtime rush, the meat, rather than being grilled to order was rather in warming trays behind the counter, not unlike some no-need-to-name burrito chain that us Denverites know oh-too-well.

Despite this school-lunch-counter-like service my chicharron tacos were wonderful. They packed a respectable amount of heat even without the very good red salsa, and were overflowing with pork flavor: Mushy, greasy and fried pork flavor in that order. I had two for good measure.

The cabeza in my opinion was even better than the chicharron. Likely because this already tender meat is served well is this hot-tray format. Whatever the case, it was damn good. The carnitas and chorizo con papa were not particularly memorable, but were good tacos nonetheless.

Out back was the Taquito Mexicano Taco Truck, somewhat of a notorious truck in the LA-area I later learned. I also hear that they grill to order, so that should by definition make it all even better.

I didn't have time to go taco hunting in LA--that wasn't the point of our trip at least. But the point clearly illustrated to me that day was that LA, as I have always known, has tacos oozing from its traffic-clogged, sun-drenched, palm-tree laden pores. And another point, or technically question: Does anyone have any recommendations for chicharron prensados in Denver? Please let me know. Please El Taquito Mexicano 2 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cafe Chihuahua: Come For the Pumpkin Empanadas and Stay For a Meal Since You Made the Trip

The other day I found myself driving with a car full of fuss and though very near taco-laden region of South Federal and Evans, the thought of trying to eat tacos from a truck in 40 degree weather and trying to keep two surprisingly fast boys from being flattened by a passing car was not at all appealing. I don't mind the cold part myself, but unfortunately when toddlers are unhappy (and even when they aren't) they try their very best to make you (me) unhappy. Mine seem especially skilled at it. It was now snowing. So when we spotted the glow of Cafe Chihuahua against the darkening sky, we didn't hesitate to stop in.

If you grew up in Denver or pretty much any town that has a Mexican restaurant, there is a good chance that from the outside it looks at least a little like Cafe Chihuahua: adobe archways with wrought-iron bars and neon beer signs in every window all tucked away in the back of a small parking lot.
The menu is also much like you might imagine it: extensive--covering everything from grilled seafood to single orders of tacos--and of course, Mexican egg rolls. I am all for dishes like Mexican egg rolls, and when done right, the crispy won-ton wrapper is a perfect match for typical Mexican ingredients. These, however, were not off to a good start being completely unrecognizable as anything resembling an egg roll.

They looked as much like an egg roll as a baseball does a football. In fact, they weren't much smaller than a small football and their oblong shape and dense, bean-packed filling would make for an excellent projectile in a food fight or thrown up on stage during an event where someone on stage really needs a big splat of beans, rice and cheese in his face. If each audience member were given an order, say, at the recent presidential debate we just hosted, it would have been somehow even messier--and a whole lot more worth watching  But as far as an appetizer meant to be eaten, it was first: bigger than my entree, and second: much, much worse.

My entree was made up of two stuffed green chiles, battered and fried and filled with cheese. I am really starting to love New Mexican and Colorado chiles rellenos, especially around chile season, as the flavor of a Hatch chile beats rivals that of the typical Mexican Poblano. Plus not much is better that a good smothering in green chile, and the chile here at Chihuahua was definitely above average. The only complaint I had was that I asked for picoso and while there was some picante to it, it was certainly nothing noteworthy.

My wife ordered shrimp adobaba which was respectably spicy, though the sauce seemed to be mostly made up of the Tapatio table sauce. It was a little too vinegary and watery for me, though she seemed to enjoy it for the most part as she was craving something with shrimp.

She also had a tostada de ceviche which was piled high shrimp, octopus and other seafood miscellany cooked in lime juice. It could have been better if it were not so dry, but on a wintry night in land-locked Denver for three dollars and fifty cents, it did the trick.

The real prize was at the end when we were able to get our hands on two freshly baked pumpkin empanadas, that we greedily ate one in the car without sharing a crumb with our poor little boys. Though not warm, the made-from-scratch dough and sweet filling with wonderful, stringy pumpkin throughout was absolutely delicious.

Our experience at Cafe Chihuahua was exactly what we needed it to be: a respite from the cold, a place that wouldn't mind our kids and a decent meal of Colorado Mexican food.

Cafe Chihuahua on Urbanspoon


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