Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Not-So-Good-Tho-Not-That-Bad and the Funnny: A Modern Day Food Truck Adventure

There's a lot wrong with food trucks these days--not the original loncheras--no, those are doing just fine, but the fancy ones with generators that sound like jet engines and flat screen liquid crystal displays that serve the same purpose as a Xeroxed piece of paper or a scrawled message on a wipe board. Of course as with any trend there are real gems among the boom of the overpriced and over-hyped "street food" "movement", which of course was a "movement" without having to be called one well before it got trendy and expensive--and then there are the rest. 

I came across a sampling of food trucks at this year's Denver County Fair, and the silliness of the food truck boom was plain to see upon walking into the Stock Show Fairgrounds.

In case you can't tell by my photo, that is a solar powered (that means powered by the sun--trust me I Googled it) food truck inside (where the sun's rays do not penetrate--looked that up too, it's solid fact). Although I realize that there are probably ways to store energy from solar panels and use them at a later time (and I have never tried their coffee brewed using the force of the sun so I can't comment on the quality), I thought this simple shot summarized the food truck trend perfectly.

Moving on to the outdoor food trucks, our eyes and stomachs were drawn to the well designed and not-too-flashy Route 40 food truck and its promise of good Argentinean food.

The service was quick and friendly, the menu simple: mostly sandwiches and fries. We got a milanesa and a pair of lamb sliders.

The sliders were good, though they lacked something very important: flavor. The goat cheese provided a nice balance with the lamb, which was not overcooked, but nothing else really stood out or accented either. OK, but could have been great.

The milanesa was flavored even less, and the thick bread, though nicely buttered and lightly grilled, took away any chance of tasting the thin meat strips inside. The main flavor was from the fresh tomato and greens. Not bad, but crunchy veggies is not what I have in mind when I think of steak sandwich.

The fries came with chimichurri, which was a good idea, but the chimichurri was not chopped very fine: the coarsely cut parsley was hard to keep on the fries and the oil separated out to pool on the bottom. While I am not opposed to dipping fries in olive oil, it is a little excessive, even for me.

I've spent what is probably an undue amount of blog space poking fun at Denver's mobile food scene, and I like to think I go into each new food truck experience with a relatively open mind. I really was prepared to like Route 40 for being so relatively simple and unpretentious, and I think the concept is perfect for a food truck. The price was fine too. I hope I was there on an off night, because with a little tweaking they could really be great.

Route 40 Argentinean Grille on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mexico City Restaurant and Lounge: Old School Denver

As I get older so does my definition "old school", but the other day I was flipping through radio stations in my car and heard a disc jockey mention something about playing an "old school jam" so I paused, wondering what nostalgic area of my brain would light up. Then on came some whiny Sublime song from the late 90s and I cringed. This wasn't old school. I suppose it is the day and age when people will call the 90's old school, but old school is also a state of being. For example, "Wham", even though they made music in the 80s, is not old school.

KRS-One, on the other hand, is undoubtedly old school. So are the Blackbyrds singing Rock Creek Park. The '85 Bears on Tecmo Bowl. Nolan Ryan in the 80's Astro's uniform. Reading Rainbow? Does it get more old school than Reading Rainbow?

Mexico City Restaurant and Lounge at 2115 Larimer St is old school. Not just because it has been open for over 40 years, but also because as LoDo has gone from run-down to over-run with hipsters and yuppies alike, Mexico City has kept on going pretty much like it always has. Sure maybe the walls are a little brighter than they used to be, and the bar was clearly been renovated at some point; but the low-lit, bare bones interior with fading Bronco memorabilia is not the kind of place that would get built these days in this neighborhood. It is a testament to staying power, to just being what you are. It's older than 95% people that come out to party in its neighborhood every weekend. Clearly, it's old school.

Mexico City Restaurant and Lounge is known for its fried tacos. Fried tacos. Even the name conjures up old school thoughts, and although I don't know when exactly they got added to the menu, this is an example of out-of-this-world Den-Mex, and the kind of dish that will keep a restaurant around when rent keeps going up and trendier, pricier places come and go.

The tortillas are corn, which is a possible homage to Mexico City, as Den-Mex and New Mexican food almost always opt for the flour kind. The tortillas are covered on one side with cheese-- white cheese, another nice shout to the land down south, and then pan fried in oil until the cheese melts out a little but and gets that fabulous brown, crispy, cheese-char to it. It is then folded in half like any taco, and into it are stuffed your meat of choice (avocado for a dollar extra) and the ubiquitous Mex-US toppings of shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes and onions. The salsa, a homemade medium-hot red variety, is served in a ketchup squeeze bottle.

I had the steak with avocado. The meat was fresh enough and tender. The tortilla was still pliable, and shining in oil, but overall the tacos were not too oily. It was a fantastic taco, and I am a little sad that it has taken me so long to try them. The bites that had those bits of crispy, browned cheese were by far the best, and after tearing through three, it was only not wanting to miss any more of the baseball game I was down here to see that kept me from ordering more.

You might see other people eating other things besides fried tacos while inside Mexico City Restaurant and Lounge. You might even see people drinking at the bar and not eating any food. Those people are old school, and you? If it's your first time, or even your second or third, get those fried tacos and pay your respects.   

Denver is a relatively young city but has some notable dining traditions and institutions. What is your favorite old school Denver restaurant or meal? 

Mexico City on Urbanspoon


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