Category Archives: Mexican and Tex-Mex

Burrito-Style Chiles Rellenos

Surprisingly tasty randomly assembly pseudo-Tex-Mex dish

This is how Burrito-Style Chiles Rellenos came to be. I found the last packet of last fall’s roasted chiles in the freezer and decided again to make the Chile Rellenos Casserole recipe from the Colorado Cache Cookbook (baked in an egg mantle rather than fried), but with an onion/mushroom/mozzarella filling from The 30-Minute Vegetarian Mexican Cookbook because I happened to have those ingredients on hand too. Even though I really did not think that I make an excess amount of filling. it overflowed the chiles, so I decided to wrap them in tortillas and bake them like burritos but also Colorado Cache-style.

I had such deep doubts about the success of this totally inauthentic dish that I suggested we accompany dinner with strong margaritas. It turned out that they were better than I expected, even before the margs kicked in. So I present you with this enhanced and modified hybrid recipe. Feel free to tinker with it too in order to accommodate ingredients you might have on hand — and let us know what you did and how it turned out.

Burrito-Style Chiles Rellenos

4 roasted, peeled and seeded poblano or Anaheim chiles
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 large mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. plain (unseasoned) bread crumbs
1/4 cup mozzarella sliced (1 large ball of fresh mozzarella)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 eggs
3/4 cup low-fat milk
3 Tbsp. flour
4 flour or whole wheat tortillas (I used whole wheat but think flour would have been better)
1/4 cup grated cheddar or Monterrey jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. In a saucepan, melt butter and saute chopped onion and mushrooms until tender. Add salt, pepper, cumin and breadcrumbs and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Open chiles and fill with onion-mushroom mixture and top with strips of mozzarella. Fold over to close as much as possible.
3. Trim tortillas to about the same length as the filled chiles. Wrap chiles into the tortillas and arrange seam side down, burrito-style, on ovenproof baking dish sprayed with a light coating of PAM or other non-stick spray.
4. Beat eggs and add milk and flour. Combine well and pour over rolls.
5. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, top with grated cheese and return to oven for 10 minutes.

Serves 2.

Serve with sour cream, salsa and/or pico de gallo if you like.

Cinco de Mayo at the Rio

Margs and apps ring in Mexican Independence Day

Our good friends Vivian and Jim suggested that my husband and I join them for margaritas and munchies at the Rio Grande for Cinco de Mayo and also as a belated toast for Ocho de Abril, my husband’s birthday. Why didn’t we take the camera? When our waiter came to our table as I was looking down at the menu, I said, “Happy Cinco de Mayo.” He replied, “Happy Cinco de Mustache.” I looked up and say that he and all the waiters and waitresses sported phony black mustaches.

In addition to the chips and salsa that come as soon as a party is seated, we ordered a round of potent margs and a trio of filling munchies: chile con queso, guacamole and nachos with chicken. The melted queso was velvety. The guac a bit chunky and served in a bowl with grated cheese on the bottom. And the nachos a round, flat-on-the-plate arrangement of thick toasted tortilla triangles with grilled chicken, cheese, black beans, sour cream and salsa, wreathed with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes.

The place filled up fast, and by the time we left, Mexican music was playing and the line was out the door. So happy Cinco de Mayo — or Cinco de Mustache — or belated Ocho de Abril.

Our local Rio Grande, one of several in Colorado (and one in Austin, TX) , is at 1101 Walnut Street, Boulder; 303-444-3690.

Casa Alvarez: The First Time in a Long Time

Unpretentious Mexican restaurant serves reasonably priced fare.

We have a lot of food in the house, but none of it seemed to encourage assembling into a dinner, so we went out. We haven’t been to Casa Alvarez in Boulder’s Willow Gardens shopping center in a very long time, but little has changed. The restaurant, owned by Ernesto Alvarez and Betty Cormane, looks much as it did the last time we ate there. This split-level space is done with pinkish adobe-ish walls, turquoise trim, pottery and other objets de Mexico in glass cases, and a small copse of artificial plants.

Alvarez is from Jalisco, and some dishes come from there, while others are standards on the repertoire of Mexican restaurants here. Their green chile is consistently ranked as among the best in town. If the town were, say, Boulder, NM, instead of Boulder, CO, or even if Boulder had a Denver-style Federal Boulvard, the competition would be stiffer — but still…

The Casa Alvarez menu is quite large, so it preditably took us a while to decide on what to order. We had plenty of time to contemplate, thanks to the restaurant’s generous happy hour (4:00 to 7:00 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 4:00 to 8:00 on Wednesday; 4:00 to 6:00 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and from 9:00 to close nightly). We dipped warm chips into thin salsa and sipped margaritas from large tumblers while we made up our minds.

Chile con queso (top) is my husband’s favorite and therefore was a no-brainer. I don’t care for it as much as he does, and try to restrain myself, but Casa Alvarez’ thick, stretchy version loaded with red and green peppers was spicy and delicious. My husband ordered a large combination plate (center), his usual tactic in a Mexican restaurant. It featured a beef taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada, rice and refried beans, all of which he loved — even the rice, not usually his favorite. I chose the fish tacos (bottom), which turned out to be a mistake. Chunks of unevenly grilled fish — mahi-mahi, said the waitress — were unpleasantly strong, and the slather of mayonnaise, a few shreds of cabbage, some diced but flavorless winter tomatoes and a bit of cilantro were not enough to mask the tacos. I did not trade them in for something palatable, because the irrestible chile con queso had filled me up, and I knew I couldn’t eat anything more.

Price Check: Happy hour prices are $2.50-$5.50. Other than the two-for-one margs, we ended up ordering off the regular menu, which offers appetizers, $4.99-$8.99; vegetarian dishes (a la carte), $2.50-$8.99; seafood, $9.99-$14.50; combination plates (uno, dos or tres choices, plus rice and refried beans), top price $7.99; burritos, $4.99-$8.50; specials, $8.95-$14.50. and desserts, $5.50. There is also a children’s menu and a few American dishes.

Casa Alvarez is at 3161 Walnut Street, Boulder; 303-546-0630.

Tame Tamales for the Road

When we drive to the high country from Boulder, we drive south on Colorado Highway 93, turm west onto US 6 through dramatic Clear Creek Canyon and feed into Interstate 70 east of the Central City Parkway and Idaho Springs. If we need to fill the gas tank or grab some coffee early in our trip, we usually veer off onto Rubey Drive, just off 93 as we are coming into Golden.

Yesterday just after noon, en route to Snowmass for a few days, we decided to try The Tamale Kitchen. It has a bright, inviting sign, and tamales are slow to cook but quick to eat. It turns out that there are eight or so Tamale Kitchens in metro Denver. The tamales themselves come from a central kitchen (a “tamale factory,” according to the website) in Lakewood.

The posted menu includes breakfast items and the usual assortment of Tex-Mex dishes, but when a place has “Tamale” as its middle name, that’s what I order. They offer two kinds, one each with with red chili and green chili. Of course, the corn husks encase the requisite rectangles of masa. Between these masa layers, the red tamales are made with pork and mild red chiles, while the green ones contain very modest slivers of pork, silvers of green chilies, corn kernels, zucchini cubelets and perhaps other vegetable bits. Both versions are mild. The price is right (half-a-dozen tamales for $5.50) and the location convenient. But otherwise, these tamales are not memorable.

This location of The Tamale Kitchen is at 109 North Rubey Drive, Golden; 303-273-9999.

Pupusas for Pupusas and Other Latin American Treats

Hungry after a morning hike, my husband and I stopped at Pupusas, a small Salvadorian and Mexican restaurant in North Boulder that opened a little over a year ago and has developed quite a following — including us. Boing from Mexico was our drink of choice — and mango or guava being the choice of the choice. Pupusas also offers real Mexican Coca-Cola, made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup. It’s the only kind purists will drink.

I ordered a Salvadorian chicken/vegetable tamales (above left). The vegetable was primarily potato cut into chunks about the same size as the chicken white meat chunks, plus a couple of chickpeas (garbanzos) and a couple of small pieces of green bean in each tamale. In El Salvador, tamales are cooked in banana or plantain leaves instead of corn husks. The kitchen unwrapped the pair of tamales, served with a bit of shredded iceberg lettuce and tomato, some delicately flavored rice and beans topped with shredded cheese (I prefer whole black beans to refried, but both are available). My husband had a small open tortilla (I think it’s called a taco on the menu) De al Ambre — a mix of grilled carne asada, spicy chorizo, bacon and cheese (above center). It came with some iceberg lettuce and chopped tomato.

We also shared a chile/cheese pupusa (above right), a Salvadorean specialty made of a pair of thick, fresh corn tortillas filled with a choice of ingredients. It resembles a double-sided quesadilla made with corn rather than flour and as thick as a piece of pita that somehow had been filled before it was baked. The chiles were hot — heat that was offset by a sweet, smooth red salsa. The dividing line between the pupusa and the salsa was a row of excellent cole slaw.

Pupusas is one of the few restaurants serving tongue and tripe (menudo), which we didn’t order but are rare treat for those who enjoy these ingredients. I’m just hoping it will all last. The building directly to the south, which I think until recently house Salvation Army offices, is vacant — and “vacant” in Boulder these days means ripe for redevelopment. Our filling lunch cost well under $20, and I hope that if it has to move, Pupusas will find an affordable spot from which to service authentic and yes, affordable, meals like ours.

Pupusas Sabor Hispano is at 4457 North Broadway, Boulder; 303-444-1729.

Santa Fe (NM) Comes to Santa Fe (Boulevard)

Upscale NM Eater to CO

The Santa Fe Tequila Company, an upscale (but moderately priced) New Mexican eatery, celebrates its grand opening next week, bringing swanky Santa Fe-style cuisine and ambiance to Denver’s burgeoning five-block Art District on Santa Fe. Santa Fe cuisine is that fortuitous blending of Spanish, Mexican, Cowboy and Pueblo Indian culinary cultures, presented with style and flair, and usually accompanied by tequila (straight with lime and salt or in mixed drinks), sangria or wine; beer optional).

The new restaurant is the brainchild of Bill Kennedy and Joe Falko. Kennedy brought a club, lounge and tapas bar called The 9th Door to LoDo. Falko is in the real estate biz, but his passion for Santa Fe cuisine is palpable when he talks about this new venture. Kevin Marquet, executive chef at The 9th Door (and before that at MODA Ristrorante and a couple of country clubs), has assumed that role at the Santa Fe Tequila Company too. He has created such dynamite lunch specialties as a chili cheeseburger served with Spanish-style aïoli (derived from Marquet’s tapas time, no doubt) and fall-off-the-bone cowboy-style ribs at dinner (I’m not guessing at the provenance of that dish).

The restaurant with tequila with in its middle name stocks 60 tequilas, some with little known labels, some very moderately priced ($4-$5 a shot) to ultra-pricey premium labels (up to $80 a shot). Food prices are reasonable too, with entrées $8 to $12 lunch and $12 to $18 at dinner.
The restaurant is at 901 West Tenth Street, Denver; 303-534-7900.

Just as Santa Fe authenticity is coming to Denver, the original bastion of Santa Fe cuisine has changed hands. Mark Miller who is credited with creating this distinctive modern New Mexican cuisine has sold the Coyote Cafe that he founded to a quartet of new managing partners (Sara Chapman, Tori Mendes, Quinn Stephenson and Eric DiStefano), all of whom have been associated with the Santa Fe, NM, restaurant. Chapman and Stephenson began busing tables there as teenagers, which makes for a nice culinary Cinderella story. Mendes has been managing the restaurant for more than three years, and DiStefano has more recently been executive chef at Geronimo Restaurant. The Coyote Cafe menu will probably be tweaked, but the core concept will continue. The Coyote Cafe is at West Water Street, Santa Fe; 505-983-1615.

Sandoval at La Sandia — In Person

Just last week, Westword restaurant critic Jason Sheehen took Richard Sandoval to task for having become too distant from his numerous restaurants. He was named Bon Apetit’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2006, but now his restaurant group operates Tamayo, Zengo and La Sandia in Denver; Maya in New York, San Francisco and Dubai; Zengo in Washington, DC; Pompano in New York; Isla in Las Vegas, and another La Sandia in Tysons Corner, VA. Five more restaurants will open soon in Mexico City, Acapulco Chicago, Scottsdale and San Diego. That’s an overloaded plate, and Sheehan noticed.

Setting the backdrop for his review of La Sandia, Sheehan wrote, “Because Sandoval has so many restaurants to keep track of…he has no day-to-day control over his properties…He sets a concept, writes a menu, staffs up with trusted lieutenants (sometimes), trains a crew and then unlocks the doors. His business is not so much about creating great restaurants as it is about creating great food-service machines that can run flawlessly in his absence. And there’s nothing wrong with that — as long as customers understand that going in….As a chef, I can’t help but be impressed by his menu from an organizational and force-disposition standpoint…[but] I’m not a chef anymore. And what might have once made me respect a guy for his smarts now makes me disdain him for his detachment and those parts of the dining experience that are just too cold-blooded and calculating to be ignored.”

Yesterday evening, I went to La Sandia for the second time. Previously was for lunch with friends, and it was fine — a little programmed, but fine. The space is attractive, every item dishes was very nicely presented (a Sandoval signature), the guacamole was good, and the tortilla soup and house salad made for a nice, moderately priced lunch. There was a sterility to the place, partly because it’s in the NorthfieldStapleton “village” which alone equates to sterility, plus La Sandia occupies a fairly large space, and very few of us were in it. Still, because I enjoy Tamayo so much, and I was ready to return to La Sandia at dinner, to see what other dishes were like.

Last night, I did. New York-based Richard Sandoval Restaurants hosted a small media dinner, complete with tortilla-making demonstration, and Richard Sandoval himself (top photo) was there to do a little demonstrating and a little Q&A with writers. Outstanding watermelon mojitos, and regular and hibiscus margaritas were passed around before the demonstration. Then, we sat down at a very long table set with baskets of tortilla chips, three-legged lava bowls with guacamole and little bowls of roasted tomato salsa. The waiter took our orders for a choice of “Mexico City-style” tacos, which means on soft, freshly made corn tortillas. The offerings are from the regular dinner menu.

I picked the grilled chicken, which was cut into a rough dice and well cooked — perhaps a tad too well, because it was no longer moist. Grilled slivered vegetables and a small bowl with two sauces (a light and a dark presented in sort of a yin/yang fashion but not easily identifiable) were came on a hot platter. On the side were a small plate of rice and black beans and a basket of napkin-wrapped tortillas to make the “fajita-style” tacos.

Maybe it was because I’d drunk two mojitos, or eaten entirely too many tortilla chips with guac and salsa, but my taste buds wouldn’t hook onto anything. The textures were pleasing, but something was missing in the taste department. Dessert was churros with hot chocolate for dipping. The chocolate was thin (maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be), but didn’t have much taste either. What I really like about Tamayo is the interplay of strong, distinctive flavors. I didn’t find them last night. Like the Northfield/Stapleton venue, it was all watered down and bland. The Cafe de Olla (made with decaf coffee on request, orange zest, cinnamon and piloncillo, a Mexican dark brown sugar) was so delicious that it made me almost forget the empty flavors that marked the rest of the meal.

We were told that Sandoval visits Denver about every six weeks and hosts events in various cities. I asked whether the events were all for the media or whether some were open to the public too. I didn’t get a real yes or no answer. Sandoval is an engaging man, one who has created awesome food elsewhere. I just haven’t found it at La Sandia. Neither, FWIW, did Jason Sheehan.