Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet: A Poem-like Tribute

I've written about the fabulous tacos at the Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet before, but I finally returned for their buffet spread a couple weeks ago. The buffet at Guadalajara is impressive to say the least, both in quantity and (for the most part) quality. It also includes tacos to order. It was such a great experience, in fact, that I was moved to verse. As a preface to my buffet-inspired lines, over the past month I have been reading Shel Silverstien's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" alternating with "A Light in the Attic"-- every single night (to my kids). Oh, and this incredible book about Mexican food that I can't recommend enough.

The result of my Mexican buffet binge and my immersion in rhyming children's literature-- for better or worse-- is this. If you regularly read actual poetry, or even just have a general appreciation of the art, you may be genuinely offended if you choose to continuing reading. Or enjoy, like I have, with the understanding that once you reach the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.

The Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet is Just Great

The Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet is just great
For a family of four, six, seven, or eight.
Or 11 or 12, bring your grandma and cousin,
Cause this is a spread that all ages be lovin'.

Stay for a while and come with a clean palette,
Avoid fillers like rice, beans, or (worst) iceberg salad.
Stay cool and go slow - don't do anything drastic,
And best to wear pants with a little elastic.

There are chicken legs in a dark mole sauce;
calabaza and corn stewing in a rich broth.
Grilled steak and shrimp with sweet peppers and spice
and more typical plates that are sure to entice.

There's stewed chicharron in a hot red salsa,
that's a little bit salty but still freakin' awesome.
Pozole, meundo, and even green chile,
Indeed the quantity borders on silly.

When my first plate was full I was doing my best
To balance it all and not make a mess,
But I couldn't resist one more chile relleno
fearing that later I would be way too lleno.

But I didn't stop there, I went back for seconds,
Those enchiladas I missed were starting to beckon.
As were the grilled veggies and the tilapia,
You just keep eating and ain't no one stoppin' ya'.

If you are still hungry but want something novel
There's colita de pavo you could eat by the shovel.
In a brown chile sauce that is slightly murky,
that's right you can chew on the tail of a turkey.

There are some items you'd do best to not stomach
like the hot dogs or 2-day old chicken nuggets.
The droopy french fries and the crusty "espagueti"
were other items for which no stomach is ready.

The ambiance is not unlike a school cafeteria,
and though there's no beer, there is birria,
and tacos to order grilled up fresh
with a red salsa that will heat up your breath.

And while it's true that there is no booze,
there is enough food so that you'll snooze
quite well that night and into the morn'
(You might even feel hungover, bloated and worn.)

But don't let that next day stop you now,
Just think of the joy you'll bring your stomach and how
You'll never forget all the great things you devoured,
Cause you'll be burping them up for several hours.

After my third plate I felt a little fatigued,
out of breath and weak in the knees.
But eating this buffet is not for the meek
So come hungry and you'll stay full for a week.

Buffets get a bad rap in the food world these days
But this Mexican diner's no Old Country Buffet.
It's good- no it's great- but I'm repeating myself
Just get there and try it all out for yourself.

Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Araujo's in Jefferson Park: Much More Than Cheap Breakfast Burritos

Once upon a time I was young and considered my stomach invincible. I was also jobless and living in Mexico City, being "smart" by eating as cheaply as I possibly could. I was getting ready to sidle up to a taco cart in some forgotten corner of the city that was advertising tacos for the equivalent of about 10 US cents. I was peering over some bystanders at the grill, trying to figure out exactly what kind of meat was being served, when a wise, wrinkled (and slightly crazy) old man came out of nowhere, grabbed my arm, and basically yelled at me: "Save money now!" And he gestured wildly to the tacos: "But pay later." He winked and seemed to disappear into the crowd. Despite this ominous encounter, I still thought about eating there for a minute as a full meal for well under a dollar is not easy to come by. I stopped for long enough to look the taquero up and down and noticed his grimy hands and the greenish, unidentifiable raw meat festering below his grill. I decided to pass.

The life lesson, of course, is not that cheap food comes at a price, but that the world needs more crazy old men roaming the streets (and I for one, am well on my way to becoming one). But apart from this near miss (and a couple dozen questionable decisions in the years following that led to actual sickness) for the most part cheap street food the world round is amazing. In Denver (and most other US cities), however, you have to go out of your way to get cheap street food, what with all these fancy-Dan food-mobiles abound. And if you want to sit down with a roof over your head? A truly good and cheap meal can be harder to find than it ought to be.

Then there are places like Araujo's, just East of Federal on 26th, where one can still get a burrito for $1.50. While that is much, much more than a 10-cent taco, it's still pretty damn cheap. And for a man like me, hard to resist. So late this summer my family and I headed over for a weekend breakfast meal to see what it was all about.

Instead of ordering burritos to go, we were tempted by the rest of the Araujo's menu. We soon learned, however, that eating a sit-down meal during the Sunday morning burrito rush at Araujo's is not for the impatient. Whatever urgency we saw (and urgency is not a good word to describe anything that we saw that morning) was being directed towards getting burritos ready for the large take-out orders that seemed to roll in endlessly. To more than make up for it, though, was the coffee. The so-called Araujo's "Coffee Station" consisted of an old drip pot on a warming plate on a wobbly table. It looked like it would surely be an acrid, weak office-style brew. The kind that you can only force down because you are in desperate need of caffeine or because you hate your job and yourself. Instead it was a lovely, balanced cafe de olla: strong, but with hints of clove and cinnamon. I had several cups and actually savored our long wait for the food because it meant I had more time to sip.

Despite the excellent coffee that went surprisingly well with the loads of tortilla chips that kept appearing in front of us, I was more than ready to dive into my enormous plate of chilaquiles when they arrived. The only thing that kept these chilaquiles from being great in my mind was that the tortilla chips were too thin (the same that were served in the baskets pre-meal). I prefer a thicker totopo that gets a good soaking in chile. However, to compensate for this, Araujo's pours the salsa on just before serving, so their thin chips don't completely wither away. The green salsa, luckily, was excellent, and the eggs ran gooey all over. Melted cheese, creamy beans and swirls of crema fresca abounded. I absolutely licked my plate.

My wife went non-breakfast. A questionable move at 9am, and I think the cause of much of our delay. However, the result was a plate of perfectly fried flautas topped with fresh guacamole and copious amounts of crema fresca. Nothing fancy or too hard to execute, but flautas done right are one of the world's perfect foods.

Oh, and we couldn't leave without some burritos. My kids ordered one each, and although they do handle their spice well for 3-year-olds, they opted out of the green chile--even the mild. It was therefore hard to fully judge these 150 cent wonders, but with a good dose of green chile I imagine they would be wholly satisfying.

Araujo's is, appropriately, renowned for its cheap burrito eats, but there is a lot more going on in that tiny kitchen. I can't say enough good about Araujo's from our single visit there. Every Denver neighborhood needs a place like Araujo's.

  Villa Cafe Araujo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film, Food and Flowers: The Sustainable Food Film Series at the Denver Botanic Garden

In spite of my general lack of posting over the past year, I just recently passed the milestone in the food-blogging world of having a blog in pretty much continuous publication for a period of five years. What this means is that I am an old man now not only in my real people age but in blog age as well, which is measured in weeks and months.  What this also means is that people have surely moved on. Surely they care less than ever before-- if that were even possible-- about what the hell an aging man and his aging blog have to say about the food in their city. Yet people still contact senile old me to participate in, or promote their events. Surprising? Yes. Frightening? Also yes. I can't even get my new mobile telephone to make calls anymore, much less string together coherent thoughts on the internet (though that was never a pre-requisite for having a blog). Plus these new phones are so big and heavy.

It is rare that I take people up on their offers for publicity in exchange for something free. In part because I don't want to feel obliged to write about it, or worse, meet some sort of deadline. But mostly I'm just a nice guy and don't want to hurt the attendance at a given event or restaurant. 

Yet here I am writing about an event that I was recently asked to attend: The Chipotle Sustainable Food Film Series at the Denver Botanic Gardens--sponsored by that locally bred burrito monopoly we all love (just admit it-- you like it too). If you have read my past posts on film and food, you would know that I love to sneak in food to the movies, and the foil-wrapped burrito is my number one choice. Furthermore, the Film Series costs five U.S. dollars, which seems like a fair market value of advertising space on my blog these days. Lastly, I am a card-carrying Friends and Family member of the Botanic Gardens.  So even if the association with me actually might hurt their image in the long run, I couldn't resist the invitation.

The night went pretty much like I expected. I got a burrito and sat down to watch an interesting film. Pretty much like every other movie I watch in the theater but this time I didn't have to sneak my burrito in and I got to eat it with the lights on.

The film series is fun weekday distraction and a wild deal for $5 a ticket that includes your burrito with all the fixings. Plus anytime you have an excuse to spend some time at the Botanic Gardens I think you ought to go. It really is a unique urban oasis. And as for the films? There is still one date left in November. Get on over if you haven't.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Beef King: The Queen of Denver Beef

I just had one of those birthdays that people tend to think of as ominously important. A gateway into middle age. The path that leads up the hill that we inevitably all go over if we are lucky. I insisted that there be no party. Instead I asked for and received a 48-hour pass from home duties and child-rearing, and went on a two-day relentless food-and-drink-hopping tour of Denver's finest with my two greatest childhood friends from Chicago (and, of course, Brian). That would be a story for another day-- if I could only weave the hazy memories into a coherent tale.

But I digress. As I clearly and repeatedly insisted on not having a party, my loving wife decided to--you guessed it-- throw me a party. A surprise one no less. If there is something I like even less than a party, it is being surprised, but nevertheless it was a great time and it not a party as much as it was a gathering of our 10 or 12 closest friends. Part of the reason it was so great was that she arranged for a woman who calls herself the Beef King to supply a home-cooked Chicago-style spread.

The Italian Beef sandwich, as I have written about many times before, is a food that I have hunted down all over Denver much like my beloved tacos al pastor. If you have still never tried it, and you like great food with meat, then you ought to seek one out. The Beef King version is a juicy and worthy homestyle take that easily puts itself in the running for best Beef in the city of Denver. That might not be saying too much if you compare it with the best beefs of Chi-town, but the Beef King delivers a solid beef experience that will not disappoint any Windy City ex-pat. See you yourself:

Tender and thin beef. Perfect bread (from Le Trompeau no less) that easily handles a good soaking of beef jus. Beautiful giardiniera with just the right spice. Tasty to the last soggy, beef-slurping bite.

I seriously only have like ten friends. So there were a lot of leftovers. Despite the surprise, I can't think of many better ways to celebrate entering one's 5th decade of life on earth than to have a seemingly endless supply of Italian Beef in your slow cooker on the kitchen counter. Or maybe that is the worst way to do it if you hope for another four or five decades. But whose counting? Happy birthday to me.

Get your Beef King on by hitting up the Queen herself on the Twitter:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ha Ha Ha. 18 Years of Laughing Ladies in Salida

There are some restaurants that you just love. The food has to be good for sure, but it's more than that. It's the vibe, or the welcoming service, or the relaxing patio, or the friendly chef. Or it's all of the above. And maybe that restaurant just comes along at the right time in your life and you have irreplaceable memories of just being there. So it is with me and Laughing Ladies in Salida, CO.

Laughing Ladies is a Salida institution of recent memory, having not only survived--but thrived-- in this quiet mountain valley town for 18 years now. I first dined there 11 years ago when I was spending a summer in Salida as a poor graduate student. I remember being enchanted by the day-to-day life in Salida, but as far as food was concerned, I was eating what I could afford on my modest budget which mostly meant cooking for myself in a shared kitchen and with very little time. I was treated to two meals at Laughing Ladies by a family friend who was visiting her son nearby. These glorious sit-down meals on the back patio of Laughing Ladies were among the highlights of my magical summer in Salida.

Years later, my wife and I came back for a get-away vacation and the night we dined at Laughing Ladies was also the night we learned she was pregnant with our now almost 4-year old boys. It wasn't her best meal --only because she was severely nauseous-- but our shared memory of the excitement we felt that night is so vivid that it will forever be etched in our memories. It was truly our last meal where we were only living (and worrying) for ourselves. Almost every waking moment (and most sleeping) since that day our priorities have shifted to the mini-people we now share our lives with (meaning our kids, not our live-in butler).

Then this summer we returned, almost 4 years to the date of our last meal. This time with kids, and to celebrate my wife's birthday. And even though we had two squiggly toddlers with us, we were treated to the same excellent service and welcoming attitude.  We ate another excellent meal and our kids, perhaps also sensing the magical powers that the restaurant seems to hold over us, not only cleaned their plates of fresh salmon and grilled asparagus, but behaved almost angelically. Another unique memory that I will hold on to forever: my kids behaving well in a restaurant.

When we started planning our trip to Salida, there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to Laughing Ladies, though I have to admit I was skeptical that it could still be good all these years later under the management of the same chef/ owner team. The menu was slightly different, but the ever-so-slight Southern Colorado or even Mexican flair that I have come to love was still present (although maybe to a lesser extent-- I still talk about a duck mole I had there once as one of my favorite dishes ever), as were the gigantic portions.

What we ate that night was as good as I remember it. I had a crispy leg of duck paired with a locally made Andouille sausage over a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and a spicy red bean hash. Unfortunately, my pictures have somehow been lost from that night (though if you want to see some of that duck mole, check out my post from 4 years ago). It's appropriate I suppose, as the point of writing all this is not to necessarily highlight the food, but the experience. Of course the experience would never be the same if the food wasn't good, and I really would have liked to share my pictures of the tasty, creative, well-presented and hearty meal we shared, but since technology and I will never, ever be friends, we will just all have to use our imaginations.

Instead, I will share one last picture of Salida. A parting shot, so to speak. It's Jesus, in case you were wondering, totally doing a stage dive on top of his disciples. The church of Punk Rock Jesus? It's Salida. It wouldn't surprise me.

Laughing Ladies Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pasty, Paste, or Semicircular Food Item? The Cornish-Mexican Connection

The empanada has many names and variants. It seems like just about every country or culture has its own version of baked or fried dough filled with any number of combinations of proteins and/ or veggies. In fact, Wikipedia list 35 countries under its "Empanada" entry-- from Afghanistan to the Philippines and just about every South and Central American nation as well. But curiously, while Wikipedia describes just about every regional empanada variety in some amount of detail it fails to give much description to the United Kingdom's version, the Pasty. In fact, it links out to a separate entry, where it is not described as an alternate form of empanada (I know they are different, keeping reading to find out how), but rather as a "semicircular food item".

Now I am all for simple and straightforward descriptions of the places I eat and the things I eat in those places, but even to me "semicircular food item" does not sound the least bit appetizing. That being said, baked dough stuffed with meat is very hard to mess up (although if anyone could make it bad it would be the English), and now in Denver there are at least two places where one can sample what is probably the UK's best-known food contribution to the world after Fish and Chips.

Part I
Everything I hate about driving and suburbs and traffic is summed up by the intersection of Parker and I-225, so for this reason it probably took us so long to actually go check out Los Pastes. By the time I did wrestle my way in there at about 6pm on a weekday (and after missing my turn once), my boys had learned two new words that they are not allowed to repeat in public, and I was more than ready to unwind with some hot meat in a steamy bun (somehow that sounds wrong, but it couldn't have been truer).

Los Pastes explains in detail the history of Cornish miners introducing their Mexican compadres of Hidalgo to what the Cornish called a Pasty. Of course, they are pretty much the same thing, and Mexicans just sort of rolled with it as they had been eating empanadas well before those English miners came over-- though there is one important distinction to be made: the ingredients of a pasty are folded into their dough raw, where Mexican empanada fillings are often pre-cooked or at least partially cooked.

Of course, in the end (as foods and cultures all over the world tend to do) the Mexicans changed the spelling to "Paste" (pah-steh) and filled them with more Mexican-born ingredients. And of course at Los Pastes this is what you get (though I pretty sure the ingredients are pre-cooked).

There is a modest selection of pastes to be had at Los Pastes, and most are pretty good. In general they lack the refinement of a place like Maria Empanada, or the flavor and satisfaction of Buenos Aires Grill or Empanada Express. For example, El Norteno (steak, green pepper, onion) was under-seasoned and the meat was chewy (maybe a shout out to the English); and El Hawaiiano was just a little silly. Both, however, were saved by the insanely good and wonderfully spicy red and green table salsas. In fact, these salsas alone would give you faith in the skills of the culinary minds behind Los Pastes, even if all the fillings were not quite there.

On the other hand there are some rather good empanadas-- I mean pastes-- like the dark mole-filled chicken one, the Veggie (potatoes, peas, onions and oregano), and El Minero (potato, beef and onion).  Also the dessert versions were all great, but especially memorable were the guayaba with cheese and the arroz con leche.

Part II
Way across town, a month or so later I stumbled upon The Pasty Republic. Located in the hip-and-getting-hipper Tennyson St in Berkley Park, The Pasty Republic is quite different in more than just location than Los Pastes. The Pasty Republic, as the name implies, slings the British original, though purports a modern twist to these handheld classics.

I think when I went to Pasty Republic it hadn't been open all that long. I know it can take a few weeks --or even months-- for a restaurant to get rolling, but I hate to say that I didn't like any of the savory pies we tried: a Miner, a Shepard's pie and a chicken pot pie. Each was enormous and piping hot. Each seemed like it would be a wonderful hearty meal-- juicy meats and well-seasoned veggies-- like a nice comforting stew in a buttery, fluffy pastry. Unfortunately, it ended up being much more of a "semicircular food item". One was so undercooked I even threw it out.

We didn't leave entirely disappointed as we finished with the Nutella-orange pasty, which in itself is worth making it back for. I don't think you should take my single visit as a reason not to go try The Republic for yourself, but in the end, in this comparison of Denver's Pasty and Paste, there is no question that the Mexican version is better.

I'm pretty sure that mixing any cuisine with English cuisine makes it a little worse--and likewise, adding a little Mexican flavor to anything is sure to make it better. So while I might have been at the Pasty Republic on an off-night or too early on, if I'm in the mood for a Cornish-inspired empanada, I'll probably stick with a Paste.

Los Pastes on Urbanspoon Pasty Republic on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Happy Hour With Toddlers: Pikka's of Cherry Creek

I have documented and commented on Cherry Creek North's downward spiral into mediocrity (albeit expensive mediocrity) before, and it has continued with the closing of the neighborhood's arguable best restaurant, Ondo's Tapas. But mediocrity is not just limited to the eroding restaurant scene that has quickly transformed Cherry creek into an irrelevant stop on Denver's otherwise booming food scene. Other small, long-time retailers continue to shutter their doors, like the recent closing of Kazoo toys, whose original location will undoubtedly be replaced by more box-cutter condos or another doldrum restaurant catering to the moderately rich and advancingly middle aged.

My family and I were here to pick up some goods at the nearby indoor retail space, which was depressingly busy considering the sunny skies and near perfect temperatures outside. We decided it would be a good idea to stroll the neighborhood and at least stop by the Public Library to see if it too had been razed, being that it is one of the last places left in those parts where the riff-raff of the upper middle class and below can loiter. We emerged an hour later with a pile Spanish toddler literature, and stumbled upon Pikka's.

I had read about Pikka's and its sister restaurant Taita when they opened, but being so happy with my beloved Pisco Sour Restaurant and Longue, I had never bothered to check them out. We were lured in not only by the thought of a fresh ceviche but also because it was 5pm and we were just in time for happy hour. 

Pikka's had the look of a place that we would not dine in under most circumstances with our two toddlers, so happy hour in an otherwise empty restaurant was probably a perfect time. Indeed, Friday happy hour has become our new favorite family time. And while many other 'nice' restaurants only seem 'OK' with it when you roll in with two toddlers, the folks at Pikka's seemed genuinely happy. From the beginning we were treated to exceptional service and the most welcoming of attitudes.  

We immediately relaxed after feeling so welcome here, and with our boys engrossed in a book about  their lofty dream profession of being garbage men, my wife and I settled back to enjoy a Pisco Sour and a fresh draft beer, respectively. 

The food specials for the happy hour were quite impressive, both in the discount and the representativeness of the overall menu. We started with a round of croquettes that were exceptionally light and airy as well as perfectly crisp, and filled with a nicely flavored ground beef. This quickly became our boy's favorite and we happily handed it off to them and dug into the ceviche. 

The ceviche was Mahi Mahi with cilantro, onion, lime and not much else. It was quite good partly because it was so simple, and came with the typical slice of boiled sweet potato and yucca which both go quite well just about anything. 

The Peruvian Paella was the next plate we dove into and it did not skimp on the good stuff. Each bite was packed with grilled seafood of some sort: shrimp, calamari, octopus or baby scallops. There was no crispy burned rice goodness you might expect from a Spanish paella, but it was a good bowl of seafood rice. Very good indeed. 

The menu listed out next dish as a chicken salad with yellow potatoes and avocado but our server recommended we sub in crab, which we happily did. It came out in a circular stack which looked deceptively like a cake. Our boys immediately dropped their croquetas and dug into this crab salad "cake" only to be sorely disappointed and return, unsatisfied, to their wonderful potato beef dish. We too, were a little disappointed in this dish, but I think maybe because we had the strong flavors of ceviche and arroz con mariscos that this dish, subtly flavored, and cold-- fell flat. On its own, with a clean palate, I imagine it would have been quite a bit different. 

Still not completely full we finished our afternoon meal with a beautiful beef lomo over a bed of fried potatoes and rice topped with grilled tomatoes. It was absolutely divine. The meat was cooked wonderfully and the bed of mashed potatoes was mixed with rice and all somehow fried together so that the outer layer was slightly crispy. On top of it all were grilled tomato slices and a rich, beefy broth. Absolutely the best plate of the afternoon. 

Pikka's is one of a few places that has opened over the past few years that offers some sabor to the otherwise dreary and plain Cherry Creek neighborhood. Pikka's also has one of those dreaded basement spaces that has swallowed several promising restaurants over the years, including my beloved Ondo's. But Pikka's is also another breath of fresh air with welcoming service, a diverse menu (and a great happy hour) that helps to keep Cherry Creek somewhat interesting dining-wise. That, unfortunately, has proved time and time again to not be a winning combination in Cherry Creek North. All the best to Pikka's, and I guess there is always Taita. 

Pikkas Peruvian Cuisine & Pisco Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Orange Crunch: My Kind of Food Truck

If I had never met my wife and was left to my own derelict, anti-social ways, I would probably be holed up in log cabin somewhere outside of Nederland, CO: sitting on a rocking chair, spitting into a spittoon and grumbling to myself about society's ills. In fact, that sounds like a pretty appealing prospect to me at least once on any given week. However, my latest foray into this quirky mountain township wasn't to scope out my mountain refuge, but rather to give our toddler boys a little taste (and smell) of our favorite mountain freak-fest: Frozen Dead Guy Days.

Most of the morning we spent meandering through the crowds that had swarmed Nederland largely to celebrate death and drinking with such notable events as a hearse parade, coffin races, frozen turkey bowling and of course, jumping in an ice cold lake. It was only on our way out of the festival, alternately trudging through mud and negotiating icy snow pack, that I spotted a beat-up blue truck that seemed to be selling food, but just as easily could have been mistaken for any work-related utility vehicle from a laundry truck to a handyman.

At first glance, this was my kind of food truck.  The words "The Orange Crunch" were scrawled on the side using the fat part of a piece of chalk. The menu was scotch-taped onto the side. That's it. As I have made it known before, I am very much tired of the all-too-common flashy food trucks that have clearly spent more time on their custom paint jobs and LCD displays then on their actual food. One look at the Orange Crunch food truck and you would know that could not possibly be the case. If they spent less time on the menu than the time it took them to scrawl their name on truck, it would be logistically impossible to actually have made any food at all.

Now this could be a turn off for some people, but not those who have been eating at food trucks since before food trucks were hip and cool. No, it is very well-established that food truck flashiness tends to have an inverse relationship with the taste and quality of the actual food. The Orange Crunch was no exception.

I wasn't able to get any details from the Orange Crunch team that day, as they were slammed, but I am going to assume that it was named for the orange-colored empanadas it slings. These empanadas are often considered a regional specialty from Ilocos, Philippines. They are made from rice flour dyed orange and while they can have many fillings, but almost always feature an egg. That is, they are rolled out fresh, an egg is cracked into the center before it is folded up and deep-fried.

There were two kinds of empanadas that day, and I had the bacon and cheese one. It was fantastic. The eggs were cooked to medium-hard and the gooey cheese was rich but balanced well by the thick-sliced bacon. Hard to go wrong with fried dough, cheese, egg yolk and bacon; and though not always the case, this was yet another example of how bacon does indeed make things better.

Though still full from breakfast, I had to try a lumpia. It was a delicious version of this Filipino classic: crispy thin layers of dough packed with fresh veggies and meat.

They also had a take on Turon, or banana lumpia. These caramelized bananas were folded into little squares--fried-- then coated in powdered sugar. There was a chocolate dipping sauce on the side. A worthy turon by any standards and a welcome replacement to my favorite that went missing many years back (RIP Tropical Grill).

They also had a chicken adobo, which is a must on any Filipino menu, but I didn't get to try it. There were also a couple of other cultural-melding menu items that looked interesting. But there wasn't that much on the menu and that's probably another reason why everything was so great. Just a couple people, cooking food they love and spending the time to make it right.

If you don't know Dead Guy Days or haven't been, I highly encourage you to go at some point in your life-- unique only begins to describe it. And if you can ever track down the Orange Crunch, please eat there. It is one of the rare food truck gems that you don't want to miss--and I'm not just saying that because it serves Filipino.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Denver Traditions and the Bonnie Brae Tavern

Fellow Denverite, when your out-of-town guests come to pay you a visit and have never been to Denver before where do you take them? After they tell you how amazed they are that the sun is shining so bright and that there are so many tall buildings and so few actual cows, where do you bring them to eat something quintessentially Denver? And I don't mean what Denver is now-- no, not one of the plentiful new, excellent, hip eateries-- but rather where do you go for something tried and true? A Denver tradition, so to speak.

It's a tough question, and it gets tougher. Where do you bring your wife's Mexican cousin who has never even been to the United States before? Where do you bring him at the end of his week's trip after he has already smothered his burrito with green chile, sipped a steamy pho, shared a shwarma, nibbled on some noodles, and tasted the buffalo for the first time?

You don't bring him to eat tacos, that's for sure. Although there are some storied Denver taquerias, some quite different from Mexican taquerias, tacos aren't what you want to eat on your first vacation outside of tacolandia. After consulting with some friends in a text message flurry the likes of which my phone has never seen-- a quantity of texting that would make any pre-pubescent teenage girl madly jealous-- I decided on one of our cities most historic restaurants: The Bonnie Brae Tavern.

I hadn't been to the Bonnie Brae tavern in years. Maybe ten or more. I remember going with some Denver friends who had been raised on the place and I remember thinking how great I also would think it would have been if I also grew up eating there. I remember thinking how rarely I eat pizza with anchovies and how fantastic it was. And I remember thinking, besides the anchovies and the ridiculous stack of other meats and veggies on our pizza, it wasn't necessarily all that great of a pizza.

This time around I felt about the same as far as the pizza goes. The plain pepperoni was fair, and the House Special--the aforementioned anchovy-laden meat and veggie combo-- was great again because of those salty little fish and because there is just something so American and so heartwarming (and heart-stopping) about putting as much food as possible together at once--in this case on top of a pizza.

This time around I also had the green chile. I never would have thought to go to Bonnie Brae tavern for green chile, and I probably wouldn't have even ordered it if my curiosity wasn't piqued by the big 5280 Banner inside, touting it as the best of 2013. Shows you exactly how much I know. This little bowl of chile, although not spicy in the least, and almost the consistency of a lentil soup had delicate layers of rich flavor: green chile, tomato, garlic, cumin. Simple but with fantastic depth. Truly one of the better bowls of green chile in Denver as far as I'm concerned-- even without the heat.

This time around I also appreciated the place itself. In addition to introducing our cousin to a slice of Denver tradition, it was also the birthday of my twin boys. They were elated when their names were announced over the restaurant loudspeaker (by the way, what other restaurants can you think of that still use a loudspeaker?) upon delivery of our desserts, and then just about jumped out of the booth with joy when the entire restaurant broke out singing happy birthday to them. It's certainly one of those times when-- for good reason-- families start to feel a bond to a place and return--maybe not because it is the best food they have ever had, but because of the memories they start making there.

So here's to Bonnie Brae Tavern as a heartwarming place to eat a ridiculous pizza, a great green chile and just to soak up the history-- 80 years to be exact. In a young city like Denver, 80 years is pretty amazing.

  Bonnie Brae Tavern on Urbanspoon


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