Sunday, July 22, 2012

Finally: Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe

I once wrote about a small Cuban joint in Sunnyside and mused, among other things, on how I secretly hoped it was owned by a Cuban family with recipes passed down over generations. I also was hoping it was home to a worthy Cuban sandwich. In the end I was disappointed--not because it was owned by some non-Cubans--but because for the first time in my life I didn't care all that much for my Cuban sandwich.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years, a few dozen Cuban sandwiches later and enter Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe in far Western Lakewood. Frijoles Colorado is owned by the Negrin family-- a family of Cuban descent not-too-far-removed from their most recent home, Miami. I have heard nothing but good things about their food (starting with this great Westword review) and by opening their doors in Denver earlier this year they have filled a niche long-vacant in Denver: A casual, Cuban-owned Cuban Cafe making Cuban food from scratch.

As it has been a while since my last serious Cuban foray, let me keep my new readers up to date by reiterating my stance on this pork-filled sandwich: I love it. When done right there are few sandwiches that come close. I think I once referred to it as a "minor obsession", but I think that it has only slowly become "minor" over my eleven years in Denver out of necessity. I have reduced my Cuban intake dramatically since moving to Cuban-sparse Denver from the relatively more Cuban-dense Chicago, based on simple supply and demand. There is one Cuban I really like in town, and while I do go back with some regularity--and it stays consistently good--I need variety in order to keep any of my food-related obsessions going.

That brings me back to the Negrin family opening up a Cuban cafe in Colorado. Allow me to clarify my stance on this event: I couldn't be happier.

The Frijoles Colorado family sedan

The Denver On a Spit family finally happened upon Frijoles Colorado after spending a long morning in the nearby foothills outside of Genesee. Our babies were tired and it was a risky call dragging them out of their cozy car seats, but I did like any good dad would do, and I couldn't rightly let them miss out on their first Cuban meal. "Trust me," I told them as they were rubbing their eyes from fatigue, not understanding any words coming out of mouth, "You'll thank me for this later."

Frijoles is decidedly casual, with its counter service and informal dining room. It is also incredibly welcoming and refreshingly busy. The vibe is friendly and the Negrin family is endlessly bantering with its customers (many of whom seem to be regulars already), sharing their passion for the cuisine, and patiently--even enthusiastically--explaining any and everything on the menu to anyone who asks. And while the space is small, the menu is relatively extensive; offering an impressive variety of sandwiches and main plates along with a special or two. They also have a full assortment of fresh-made Cuban baked goods and desserts.

While a lot looked really good--especially the arroz con pollo special that seemed to be on every table that afternoon-- I was here to complete a mission and have myself a much-anticpated (and needed) Cuban sandwich.

Our food was out shortly and the short of it was that my Cuban was wonderful. The bread, which is baked in house was perfectly crisp, yet soft and dense on the inside. Layered between them was thick-sliced ham and a thin grilled pork loin. Melted Swiss, pickles and yellow mustard--all smashed together by the grill press--rounded off this rather impressive Frijoles Cuban.

As much as I loved my sandwich, my wife's pulled pork was even better. Shredded, slow-roasted pork between the same great bread. It was a pefect example of how the most simple foods--when done right-- are often the best.

Next up were empanadas and coffee. I love a strong shot of espresso (I even don't mind chewing on coffee sludge) but I am not one to ever put sugar in my coffee (or milk for that matter). Being full aware of this inevitability when I ordered my cafe at a Cuban restaurant, I was prepared to begrudingly sip my little cup--because I really needed a cup of coffee. Nothing magical happened. I didn't suddenly love sweet coffee. But I could see how if you like your coffee sweet this would probably stand out as a very good cup of coffee. I kinda liked it.

The empanada desserts, however, were another story. I love my dessert and especially anything in the pastry family. These sugary, but not-too-sweet, flaky pastries full of guava and cheese were absolutely delightful.

I would like to mention that my boys did not cry once while inside Frijoles--mostly thanks to the large TV (they don't really get to watch TV at home) they sat under showing a baseball game (this place really is Cuban)--but also thanks to the excellent moros-- black beans and rice-- and papas fritas that had them stuffing their chubby little cheeks the entire time. It turned out that father did know best for once in their 16-month existence. If I can keep that up until they leave my house that means I might be right about something 15 or 16 times over the next 20 years. I'd call that a success, but then again, I like to aim high.

The Negrin family has brought Denver exactly what it needs by dishing out Cuban comfort food--in a comfortable atmosphere-- with tremendous respect for the cuisine and care for its preparation. With daily specials like paella, picadillo, arroz con pollo, ropa vieja-- and standbys like lechón and the classic Cuban; Frijoles Colorado has quite literally blown the Cuban doors right off of Denver's Cuban dining scene. Or better, it has allowed us to begin to proudly say that there is a Cuban food scene worth talking about in our town.

Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I can't remember a restaurant getting 98% favorable votes on Urbanspoon. I moved to Colo from Hoboken, NJ. Union City, which at the time had the 2nd highest Cuban population in the country after Miami (or so it was said), was right next door. I don't think I ever ordered a Cuban sandwich (but then I'm not much of a sandwich eater in any cuisine). I always ordered some kind of entree plate with a protein, black beans & rice an fried plantains. Always tasty, as I recall. And in many restaurants, the paella was really good too. Sandwiches seem to have captured the Colorado imagination. I guess I'll have to try some too.



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