Category Archives: Mexican and Tex-Mex

Zocalito: Oaxaca in the Mountains

Bright & tasty Mexican regional fare in Aspen.

P1030770Turn from Aspen’s Hyman Avenue Mall into a small alley. Go down a flight of stairs into a corner of Mexico.  Atmospheric lighting recalls Mexico after dark rather than blinding sunshine. Sit back and contemplate the interesting and unusual menu. While waiting for the food to arrive, look around at the bright folk art.

Colorful folk art from Oaxaca occupies a prominant corner of Zocalito's front room.
Colorful folk art from Oaxaca occupies a prominant corner of Zocalito’s front room.

The food, which is flavorful and beautifully presented, echoes Oaxaca, the southern Mexico city known for culture and cuisine. It is the city where mole was born. What better Mexican food cred?

Chips and an unusual salsa makes a shareable starter. It is called pico de gallo on the menu, but is unlike any I've had before. Smoky chipotle sauce with the addition of corn kernels, chopped tomatoes and intriguing flavors topped with sou cream and guac.
Chips and an unusual salsa makes a shareable starter. It is called pico de gallo on the menu, but is unlike any I’ve had before. Smoky chipotle sauce with the addition of corn kernels, chopped tomatoes and intriguing flavors topped with sou cream and guac.
Steamed mussels in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, red onion and a Guatemalan-inspired achiote sauce
Steamed mussels in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, red onion and a Guatemalan-inspired achiote sauce.

Continue reading Zocalito: Oaxaca in the Mountains

Mexican Dinner Buffet & Fresh Tortillas

Calvillo’s in Alamosa popular with locals and convenient for visitors.

CalvillosSignI understand that there’s one white-tablecloth Italian restaurant in Alamosa. Just about everyplace else appears to be either a fast food chain or Mexican. A group of 10 of us met for Saturday dinner at this large edge-of-downtown eatery.  A couple played and sang Mexican melodies, servers bustled about and people ate and chatted and laughed. It was a merry scene, and it all but ended by 8:30 on a Saturday. This is ironic, because the southern part of the enormous San Luis Valley is the most Spanish/Mexican part of Colorado. But it is also a rural and agricultural area, and farmers and farm workers keep early hours.

This couple with the guitars and good voices is stationed near the bar and plays Mexican songs -- at least on Saturday evenings.
This couple with the guitars and good voices is stationed near the bar and plays Mexican songs — at least on Saturday evenings.
A rainbow of margarita flavors is available.
A rainbow of margarita flavors is available.
The menu is large, but I opted for the grande buffet with its constantly restocked hot and cold items -- and its small complement of desserts.
The menu is large, but I opted for the grande buffet with its constantly restocked hot and cold items — and its small complement of desserts. Shown here, a portion f the cold table.
Tortillas are hand-made at Calvillo's, and here's the maker.
Tortillas are hand-made at Calvillo’s, and here’s the maker.

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Lunada in Lafayette a Tasty Surprise

001Southwestern restaurant  next to a mall that is becoming a mega-church.

Lafayette’s Flatirons Community Church has been making headlines for its huge congregation (10,000 members) and its expansion into the Lafayette Marketplace, which used to have several restaurants. The church bought the mall from Jim Quinlan,  owner of Jax Mercantile, which anchors the mall.  On Saturday, we were scheduled to do volunteer  tree planting at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, and we were told to expect mud. It was indirectly because of Jax Ranch Supply, where I went to buy rubber boots, so we discovered A) the location of the headline-making church and B) Lunada. It is one of the few remaining restaurants there.

The space was once an Indian restaurant, and the wall colors translate well o Southwestern style.
The space was once an Indian restaurant, and the wall colors translate well o Southwestern style.
Lunada usually referrs to the crescent moon, but the restaurant's dramatic art depicts the full moon.
Lunada usually referrs to the crescent moon, but the restaurant’s dramatic art depicts the full moon.
A good marg in a cactus-steam glass are a good start.
A good marg in a cactus-stem glass is a good start to any Mexican meal.
Nachos, natch.
Nachos, natch.
A trio of sliders on mini-brioche bread are sided with thin, skin-on fries. The burgers are topped with cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo and crunchy
A trio of sliders on mini-brioche bread are sided with thin, skin-on fries. The burgers are topped with cheddar cheese, chipotle mayo and crunchy “tumble weed onions.”
Signs of the times at the former mall.
Signs of the times at the former mall.

Price check: Soups, Salads and Stew, $4-$8.99; Para la Mesa (shareable food “for the table”), $2.99-$7.50; Char-Grllled Burgers, $8.50-$10.99; Los Tacos, $8.49-$12/49 (incl ranchero beans and rice); Las Enchiladas, $9.50-$12.

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Green Chile Cheeseburger: Denver or Santa Fe?

The capitals of Colorado and New Mexico lay claim the best of this Southwestern fave.

SantaFe-logoAsk a Coloradan which city makes the best green chile cheeseburger, and the instant answer is Denver, The Mile High City. Ask a New Mexican, and the reply is Santa Fe, The City Different. There are plenty of reasons to visit beautiful, artistic San Fe, and its Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail is one of them.

Here’s what Santa Fe claims: Santa Fe, NM is a burger lover’s paradise, and ‘The City Different’ spends 365 days celebrating the Green Chile Cheeseburger. Santa Fe’s indigenous cuisine dates back to the area’s Native American roots and their staples of beans, corn and squash. With the introduction of foods brought by the Spanish like onions, tomatoes and of course, chile, the table was set for what became the distinctive New Mexican fare with its enduring emphasis on the use of chile in and on almost everything.  The green chile cheeseburger has been a staple on menus around the state of New Mexico since at least the middle of the 1900s.

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Tortilla Chip Tasting (& Brunch) at Lola

Food Should Taste Good makes products that live up to the brand name.

018Food Should Taste Good is based in Minneapolis, but this line of tasty natural tortilla chips, crackers and other snack foods could be a Boulder area company. After all, the products are gluten-free, cholesterol-free, have zero grams of trans- fats and are even kosher, and some varieties are also certified vegan. Certified organic is the only desirable attribute that is missing, but you can’t have everything — and since it is part of giant General Mills, I’m not holding my breath for organic. What these products do have is great taste — hence the name that resonates with me, because I believe that taste is really important.

A public relations crew came out from Massachusetts on Saturday to host a tasting at Lola Mexican Fish House, a Highland eatery known as much for its brunch as its seafood. I have been wanting to go there for a long time, so I’m grateful to FSTG. Lola, part of the Big Red F Restaurant Group, is something of a melding of Jax Fish House (four metro area locations plus Kansas City) on the seafood side and Centro Latin Kitchen and Zolo Grill (both in Boulder) on the Latin side. This  chef-driven group was founded in 1994 by David Query with Jamey Fader as culinary director. Both are well-known veteran chefs in the Denver/Boulder metro area.

The tasting took place in the basement bar, a venue that along with good brunch drinks, gave the event an after-dark air. In fact, it was a bit of a shock to come upstairs into the bright light of the early afternoon. Lola’s chef de cuisine Kevin Grossi put out a selection of guacamole and assorted dips to mix and match with various Food Should Taste Good chips flavors. Blue corn chips are my favorites. I kind of liked dipping guacamole chips into Lola’s fine guac, but in truth, every combo was good.

I couldn't get the whole line of chips, plus salsas and guac for dipping into one picture.
I couldn’t get the whole line of chips, plus salsas and guac for dipping into one picture.

Continue reading Tortilla Chip Tasting (& Brunch) at Lola

Atmospheric & Inexpensive Mexican Resto in Gunnison

El Paraiso recalls the sounds and flavors of Mexico.

026 Here’s a weird story. My husband and I spent a couple of nights at the super-comfy Inn at Tomichi Village on the east end of Gunnison. We ate in the inn’s Blue Mesa Grill the first night. The next morning, as we were driving to Crested Butte — just before the right turn onto Highway 135 —  I said, “Look there’s a Mexican restaurant.” My husband, always on the hunt for south-of-the-border fare, saw it too — there on the left side of US 50. When we returned from skiing, we somehow missed it. That evening, we looked for it again, and it wasn’t there. When I later told a local friend about the vanished restaurant, she said, “There used to be one there.” Had we driven through a few yards of The Twilight Zone?

Cheerful interior of what might have once been a steak or BBQ place, considering the horseshoes on the ends of the booths.
Cheerful interior of what might have once been a steak or BBQ place, considering the horseshoes on the ends of the booths.

One way or another, we were in the mood for Mexican. I was almost deterred by the words “Family Mexican Restaurant” on El Paraiso’s sign, because “family restaurant” usually mens bland, flavor-deprived food. But we decided to give it a try. Happily, it turns out. Located just off the main drag, it looked like a former house. Inside, it is tricked out with serapes and other Mexicana. Cheerful Mexican music is piped into the dining room, and the welcome was hearty. We slipped into a booth, started munching on complimentary chips and salsa as we waited for our margaritas (a happy hour steal at $5, because we ordered before 6). The food was really good, the portions really generous and the prices really reasonable.

Huge flaming margaritas. The ends of fresh limes must have been filled with a bit of alcohol and set afire. With salt on the rim of the glass, a fresh lime wedge, this has to be the best-presented $5 marg ever. And it tasted good too.
Huge flaming margaritas. With a bit of alcohol in the ends of fresh cut limes set afire, salt on the rim of the glass and a fresh lime wedge, this has to be the best-presented $5 marg ever. And it tasted good too.

Continue reading Atmospheric & Inexpensive Mexican Resto in Gunnison

Los Cabos Hosts Big Food Fest

Sabor a Cabo coming to southern tip of Baja California.

SaborACabo-logoOne way to deliciously fill part of the gap between the Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year’s holidays is at the ninth annual  Sabor a Cabo (Flavors of Cabo) food and wine festival in Los Cabos from November 30 through December 6. For the first time it includes a weeklong series of ticketed events highlighting the renowned regional cuisine of Baja California Sur and the wines of Mexico’s celebrated Baja wine region. And did I mention that high-season lodging rates are not yet in effect then?

These schedule features Country Side Taste, November 30; Sunset Gourmet Gala prepared by Michelin Star Chefs and served aboard a luxurious yacht, December 2;  Oktobeer Fest showcasing artisanal beer, local cuisine and music,December 3; Wine & Art Walk in San Jose del Cabo (my favorite town in Los Cabos), December 4, and a Star Chef Dine-Around, December 5.  The main event on December 6 from 5 to 11 p.m. in the Sculpture Garden in Puerto Los Cabos features 50 participating restaurants putting out what organizers call the “best-of-the-best” of international cuisine and wine beneath the stars.

Confirmed are such world-renowned chefs as Federico Zanellato, chef and partner of Copenhagen’s NOMA Restaurant (ranked No. 1 in the world), and Richard Sandoval, whose 35+ restaurants world-wide include Zengo, Tamayo and two La Sandias in the Denver area and Venga Venga in Snownass. Also, Dieter Koshina, owner of Portugal’s Vilajoya Restaurant (ranked No. 22 in the world); Roberto Alcocer, chef/owner of Malva Restaurant in Ensenada, Mexico; Najat Kaanache, chef/owner of Souk Restaurant, Dallas and former chef of Spain’s sadly shuttered El Bulli Restaurant; Thierry Blouet, chef/owner of Restaurant de Los Artistas, Puerto Vallarta, and Eduardo Osuna, founder of non-profit organization Chef to the Rescue in Mexico.

Festival tickets, which are available online, are $100 for general admission tickets prior to September 30 and $125 thereafter. Special lounge area access tickets are $150, and seats at VIP tables are $1,000 per person.  All the money raised during the Saturday, December 6 gala are to l be donated to the Fire Department, the Red Cross and Children’s Foundation of Los Cabos.

Cross-posted to www.travel-babel.com.