Sunday, March 31, 2013

Eating More Tortas at East Aurora's Tortisimas

While the torta is almost always found on typical taqueria menus around town, Mexico City-style torterias, with their full juice bars, are happily becoming much more common in and around Denver. When travelling in your local Mexican-centric neighborhood, it's hard not to stumble upon one.

There is nothing quite like the yin and yang of an obnoxiously large sandwich of greasy-grilled meats and freshly blended fruit and vegetable drinks. And given the success of Denver's original torta spot, Tortugas, which seems to always have folks lined up by the dozens, it's not a surprise that torteria numbers are on the rise.

My latest stop was Tortisimas, which my wife stumbled across doing God-knows-only-what deep in the heart of Aurora on Chambers and Mississippi. Tortisimas is another virtual copy of Tortugas, with the same logo on the door (a silhouette of Mexico City's El Angel statue) and appropriately naco touches like this:

While I appreciate tasteless decor as much as the next guy, what I was really there for was a sandwich. So were my boys, who, now two, have learned to ask for tortas by name. It brings a tear of joy to my eye to see them tackle with such ferocity a sandwich bigger than their own heads. 

I had a torta with chorizo, chicken and eggs. It was good. It wasn't anything spectacular, but one can't really complain about a big hunk of bread, avocado, cheese and greasy meats--at least until the next day.

My wife's torta was overflowing with cheese, chorizo and mushrooms. The earthy, thick mushrooms cut through the grease of the chorizo very well, making for an excellent and unique combination. Not quite like mushrooms al pastor I was virtually tricked into eating once, though in some ways better because instead of no meat, there was meat.

From my small sample of Tortisimas, I would judge it to be a good torteria and I would be glad to have it in my neighborhood. It isn't exactly destination-torteria worthy, unless you happen to be coming from Kansas and East Aurora is your first contact with civilization. And if East Aurora is your first contact with civilization--well, just be glad you can get a good Mexican sandwich while you're there. But for us locals, the Denver-area has many other options. So what are you waiting for? Go out and support your local torteria now.

Tortisimas on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Arisen, Albeit not Exactly Shining At Rise and Shine Bakery

My wife and I are not ones to rise early with a big happy smile, at least by nature. No, we would gladly stay up to 3am watching movies, drinking, eating, or in some other way having fun; and then slowly drag ourselves out of bed somewhere well after 10. But, as much as we have tried, our 2 year old boys will not do the same (the sleeping in part). What's more, they have also inherited what I believe to be a dominant trait: being a little grumpy in the morning. So needless to say, in order to prevent some tragic passing, there are some mornings where getting out of the house as soon as possible is a top priority. And since we have to take them with us, we usually go out to breakfast.

Weekend breakfasts usually involve eating way too much, and there are times we go out so early that sitting down (sitting is also often a problem with 2 year olds) to a big meal is not at all appealing. I know this may shock my regular readers (all three of you), as for the most part I enjoy all forms of gluttony no matter what the meal, but sometimes I don't want to eat all that much.

That is how we ended up at Rise and Shine bakery in the Highlands a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning, just as they were opening the doors. Rise and Shine is housed in Basil Doc's and has done like other biscuit and pizza joint combos and opened for the first part of the day when most people aren't in the mood for pizza.

I have praised the pies of Basil Docs before and the role it plays in a recently lapsed tradition of watching the major league all star game on my porch. Their daytime biscuits are equally tasty. And not that big. And priced just right. The biscuit of the day was Rosemary Olive Oil and was light, flaky, rich and moist. The subtly of the rosemary was lost a tad under my bacon and eggs that I smashed inside, but the whole combo was just right washed down with a slurp of Pablo's coffee.

My entire family chowed down--but not too much--and was noticeably merrier following our meal. So if want to get out for an early meal any day of the week, but don't want that post-Sunday brunch stupor-of-a-feeling--or if you just want a decent biscuit--then Rise and Shine is the place for you.

Rise and Shine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Want Some Tacos with Your Torta? Saturday Mornings at Torta Grill

I have become partial to the fine tortas being made and slung by the self-proclaimed guero tortero (and his wife) on 1818 East Colfax Avenue. So much so that I recently procured his catering services for my kids birthday party. The massive pile of foil-wrapped tortas was such a hit that I think some adults even forgot they were at a 2-year-old's birthday party and enjoyed themselves.

Part of my partiality to el guero tortero, who is also known as Steve, is probably his status as a half-Filipino that has come to love and embrace Mexican food. The other part of my partiality is that he makes a mean torta. And his restaurant, instead of trying to make things fancy like so many other non-Mexcians running Mexican food joints, serves a straightforward torta that would rival any on South Federal or East Aurora both in quality and in price. And he's doing it right in the heart of town. So when he asked me to come in and try his newest menu addition before he unleashed it on the public, how could I say no?

Much to my surprise, however, the newest menu addition at Torta Grill is not a torta. It is a taco--three tacos, actually, and they will only be served for breakfast on Saturday mornings. The first two we had were carnitas and carne asada; both served in a single corn tortilla on top of an over-easy egg and drizzled with a bright and spicy green salsa.

It looks simple, and it was. But if you've ever had Steve's carnitas, then you will know you don't necessarily want to have too many other things complicating your lovely little pork chunks. But if you must, the nice green salsa worked well, and so too did the fabulously runny egg. Be prepared for a little bit of a mess with these tacos, but know that it is a mess you won't want to go away.

The steak taco was virtually the same as the carnitas, and although also very good, I much prefer a nice fatty chunk of moist pork over a nub of beef any day, and this was no exception. The last of the trio we tried was in the same format, but instead of meat was a piece of breaded and fried poblano pepper stuffed with queso Oaxaca.

This poblano taco was also rather brilliant. With that fried egg and its velvety warm egg yolk, Steve could put just about anything from his kitchen on these tacos and do pretty well. But choosing this stuffed poblano works especially well I think because of the strong flavors and the different textures. The crisp poblano taste is there, and the egg just adds more richness and depth. OK, I guess I might be getting carried away. Straightforward food deserves straightforward description. Let's just leave it at this: It's a damn good taco. And it's vegetarian if you care about those kinds of things.

You know, besides the rare media dinners I end up attending from time to time, I normally try to go places without anyone knowing I'm there (not that most would care). It's a way to take some bias out of the biased business that is food blogging. So that is supposed to serve as a disclaimer of sorts. Of course I dined at Torta Grill with some level of bias, being that I was invited and being that I think Steve is a great guy and I want to see him do well. That being said, I don't think I have ever had tacos quite like this. That runny egg and those amazing carnitas have me wishing for next Saturday morning already.

This Saturday morning--March 23--will be the first of many more Saturday mornings when you can get your own breakfast tacos. So when Saturday comes around, whether you are still drunk wandering the back alleys of East Colfax and waiting for the liquor store next door to Torta Grill to open--or just like to eat good food, check it out.

Torta Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Walk up the Hill and Down to a Basement: Boulder's Thai Avenue

The Boulder International Film Festival found me in its namesake bubble-like town for only the second time in as many years. I have extolled all the virtues of this paradisiacal niche of forward-thinking uber-athletes and intellectuals in a prior post, so I won't tarry too much longer on that theme except to say that if you were unaware, there are entire sections of Boulder devoted to the development of the next generation of molecular biophysicists, EPA lawyers, aerospace engineers and the like. I am, of course, speaking of the University of Colorado.

The "Hill" if you are not aware, is an area near the Univeristy of Colorado campus where thousands of undergrads live, eat, drink and depending on the time of night, pee then pass out in the street. You might not guess it, and alternatively, it might send chills down your spine, but here lies a representative sample of people who will one day be running the proverbial show.

Luckily, we were there at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, and most of the Hill's residents were still sleeping. And it was here, in this hub of fraternizing (and sororitizing) that we came upon a small, basement-level food court with an interesting array of multicultural food options.

In a basement food court, one would typically expect to find any number of combinations of national pizza and submarine sandwich chains, yet here, wedged between a Canadaian poutine-slinging operation and a Nepalese joint was Thai Avenue, an independently Thai-owned and operated rice, noodle and curry food counter. We are talking Boulder after all. I think the guy behind the Bubba Chino's counter had a PhD.

Thai Avenue, as it were, is nothing more than a counter to place and pay for your order, and behind that a simple and well-used (though clean) kitchen. We ordered from the friendly woman, and after paying she turned her back to us and set to work on our meal. After a few flashes of the pan my wife's pad Thai was placed on a tray and we were beckoned forward. She ordered medium spicy and though not spicy at all, it was a tasty, well-seasoned large portion of this Thai standby.

My drunken noodles, on the other hand were boldly spiced (though not tremendously spicy) and packed with large chunks of beef amongst the wide noodles and fresh veggies including loads of bright lemongrass. It was an impressively good version of this Thai classic.

Thai Avenue didn't have a large menu, but my drunken noodles were so good I would readily come back and sample any number of dishes from this underground eatery. It's probably not worth the drive from Denver if it is your sole destination, but if you frequent our Front Range (step) sister city, check them out. And if you're a Thai Avenue regular, please chime in below on the rest of the menu.

Thai Avenue is open Monday to Saturday. Check them out on the World Wide Web or stumble on over to the hill and downstairs for some tasty Thai. 

Thai Avenue on Urbanspoon


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