Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Pig is a Pig: Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria of Boulder

A few weeks ago my family and I were passing through the homey hamlet of Boulder, CO, when from the back of our car came the all too familiar sound of hungry toddlers, who instead of saying, "I want to comer," like any normal Spanglish-raised kids would, simply say, "um," as in a shortened version of "yum."

Um. Um. Um. Um. Um.

It started somewhere north of town, which gave us enough time to come up with a plan. The "umming" reached a feverish pitch when we hit city limits and just as the crying kicked in, we pulled up to Cuba Cuba's self proclaimed "sandwicheria". We jettisoned through the bright entryway and headed straight for the counter, where before ordering I reflected a minute on how much I like the word "sandwicheria", and added it to my mental list of great restaurant names. 

I got a Cuban of course, one of my favorite meat-bread combos. This version was pretty standard, which was good to see as there is really no use in trying to fancy up a sandwich like this. As the saying goes, it would be a little like trying to put lipstick on a pig-- because as everyone knows, pigs, and their natural evolution into sandwiches, taste just fine without lipstick.

My wife ordered a lechón and we both preferred this pulled pig pressed panini over the original Cuban for its rich flavor and generous size.

Meanwhile my twin toddlers tore through a kid's Cuban, an order of rice and beans (that were not called Moros y Cristianos) and a plate of delightful fried plantain.

This being my second or third post on Boulder, I have very few sarcastic, biting comments left to hurl upon our neighbor to the north who continue to annoyingly excel in just about everything (besides diversity). The latest accolade that they can smugly tout (or at least whisper politely behind our backs) is being Colorado's best bike city. I hope the person responsible for that list out didn't spend too much time crunching numbers to decide Boulder was tops. Calling Boulder the best bike city is a little like calling pigs the best food in the animal food kingdom-- it is just stating the plainly obvious. 

Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria is a worthwhile stop in the vast culinary landscape that is Boulder. Whether you are just passing through, re-fueling after a day of some extreme sporting activity or other, or just stoned out of your mind (as were the two young men sitting across from us that day), this sandwicheria and its simple Cuban fare should hit the spot. 

Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tocabe and the Frybread Taco

Denver, CO is for some reason or other a hub for the fast-causal restaurant industry. And from burgers to noodles to subs to falafel, the undisputed king of this foothill monarchy is that ubiquitous foil-wrapped place that just about everyone likes. Even those overly-serious "foodie" types and ironic hipsters who don't like to admit they like something so mass-produced and mainstream-- yes, even they like it. And while it is not at the top of my list, what isn't to like about a Mission-style burrito, even if it is a little bland?

It is no surprise then, that this Denver-based success story has inspired a slew of other entrepreneurs, some who have copied the model more closely than others, and how can you blame them? Who wouldn't want to roll around in crisp $100 bills or jump into piles of gold coins ala Scrooge McDuck as the result of a booming capitalist empire with ridiculous profit margins and brilliant strategic marketing?

So I wasn't surprised (nor critical) when I walked into Denver's Tocabe a couple weeks back and did a double-take thinking a Chipotle had gone in so fast they hadn't had time to switch the name on the outside of the building. But no, I had indeed found my way into the NW Denver fast-causal home of the Frybread, or Indian, Taco.

The Frybead Taco, instead of tortilla, has a base of puffy-- you guessed it-- frybread. Frybead if you have never had it, is a little like the New Mexican sopapilla-- fluffy, sweetened dough fired in oil. Made from refined sugar and white flour, it is far from what its inventors, the Navajo, originally dined on. No, Frybread is not a good representation of what this proud tribe consumed centuries ago, but rather represents the blending (oppression is a better word) of this Native American tribe (read more about the fascinating and complicated history of Frybread here) into a cruel new world order.

Whatever meaning frybread might mean to a Navajo living today, at Tocabe, it is about the celebration of this Native American dish. And as is the case with all fast-casual dining, you must wait in line patiently for your food, and make your way down a uncannily familiar looking assembly line of beans, rice, meats and salsas.

The Indian taco was certainly impressive-looking. This one was loaded down with chicken, pinto beans, a mild green salsa (supposed to be hot), and many other burrito-like fixings. It looked like it would be packed with a ton of flavor. It wasn't. It was severely under seasoned-- and not just the mild hot salsa-- everything from the beans to the chicken lacked flavor. I managed to eat it anyway (it is fried dough) but was a little disappointed. Only when I was mostly done and had some strands of stray frybread lying around did I get to appreciate the frybread itself. With a little spread of honey it was fantastic.

The stuffed fry bread was much better. I think that had to do with our choice of meat: the shredded bison. The shredded bison, unlike the chicken, was full of flavor and it stewed with all the other toppings inside this calzone-like creation.

Maybe even better than either frybread plate was the flavorful hominy salad pictured above. And a side of wonderful, earthy long-grained rice dish filled with dried cranberries and corn was probably my favorite plate of the night.

Tocabe is not a chain at this point, and I am not sure what plans this family-owned place has for expansion, if any. And while I think it was for the most part under flavored, it was packed with families the entire time I was there with a constant line of at least 10 people. So who am I to say? I am not not recommending Tocabe, and I do see how it is a nice place to bring the family for a quick meal, but when I think of adding fried dough to what otherwise is a burrito, I expect great things. Tocabe falls a little short of that.

Note: Apparently Tocabe has recently appeared on that one Food Network show with the spiky-haired dude that no one really likes. How refreshing to not have said fact advertised in every little corner of the restaurant--or at all. I had no idea until today. Thanks Tocabe!

TOCABE - An American Indian Eatery on Urbanspoon


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