Monday, June 13, 2011

Bubba Chinos

Located in a bright yellow building at the corner of the Colfax and Franklin, Bubba Chinos prow-like fa├žade beckons diners onto its cozy patio. Which, if you eat there, you will have to cross as Bubba Chinos only has window service and outdoor seating, at least for the near future.

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As noted in the Westword review, Bubba Chinos serves up a a “chicano cuisine”. A mashup of Mexican meets American, perfected over the course of generations. The menu focuses on burritos, which can then be customized further, but tacos, tostadas, Mexican hamburgers also make an appearance.

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Table space is scarce, so be prepared to mill about, listen for your order number to be called and try to be casual as you wait for a table to lunge at the moments fellow diners push their chairs back. The pick up window dishes out food in foil or styrofoam, whether or not you dine in or out.

The ground beef tostada was a traditional combination of iceberg lettuce, cheese and beef atop a tortilla. Serviceable? Yes. Memorable? No.

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The egg and chorizo burrito, smothered in green chile, brought some heat to the table. The thick green chile lit up in your mouth with a warmth that was noticeable, maybe even putting a little sweat on your scalp, but not torturous. If on backside of a drunken night out this burrito, given its heft and the green chile forcing you to down water, would go along away to mitigating the impending hangover.

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Having sat vacant for years, it is an exciting step in the evolution of Colfax Avenue to see this site active. The good food, priced reasonably, will hopefully have the staying power so sling chicano cuisine for years to come.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Famous Pizza

Located at 1528 East Colfax Avenue, Famous Pizza serves a menu that extends beyond pizza, and includes staples such as lasagna, spaghetti, calzones and sandwiches. Yet, when the sign says “Famous Pizza”  it is only fitting to focus on the pizza.

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At 6:30 the only options available were a spinach with ricotta and a pepperoni slices. Both slices were what I would describe as serviceable. Ample in a time of need, such as a few, or far too many, beers into the night, but nothing I would go out of the way for. The spinach had spent too much time under a heat lamp and 60 seconds in a deck oven was not going to resurrect much flavor. The pepperoni slice dripped grease as expected, much of which had penetrated crust, ruining any of its former crispness.

The dining room is nearly an afterthought. Given the stack pizza it appears that to-go business dominates, so the soiled feel that accompanies the dining-in experience should not have been much of a surprise.

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The ubiquitous television, which is such a common occurrence in restaurants I am beginning to wonder if it is a condition of receiving a license, played sports while a painting of John Elway served to remind diners of Denver’s better sporting days.

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The idea behind the Colfax Eats project is to experience a diversity of restaurants by eating at places we would otherwise pass by. Famous Pizza is a place I have passed by for years, and will continue to do so. I will eat a variety of pizza but prefer something from a brick oven and features a crisp crust, such as Marcos or Protos, but when that is not available and given the options of better pizza from a traditional oven, I will be headed to Benny Blanco’s or driving across town to Hops and Pie.


Famous Pizza on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Irish Snug

The Irish Snug restaurant and bar looks like a nice enough place from the outside -- there is a decent sized patio and a lot of frontage.  But it hides much more, the place is expansive inside, with a basement that runs below the entire half-block building.  There is also a wide variety of environments inside, including a couple "snugs," which are booths with walls and doors of their own, historically used for private conversations.  There is also an area with big couches downstairs, and an area that looks like a theater, as well as numerous high-top bar tables upstairs and down.

In ethnic restaurants, I always like to order as prototypically as possible, so we perused the appetizers for something "Irish."  Nothing particularly screamed its ethnicity, but the British Isles are known for their love of Indian cuisine, and there were curry fries on the menu, so we had to try them.  The fries were a bit soggy and the curry didn't add much until you got down to the bottom of the pile of fries, but the curry sauce was pretty tasty.


I think I went pretty authentic for dinner -- I ordered fish and chips, and drank a Guinness.  The chips had the same issues as in the appetizer, somewhat soggy and not all that interesting.  The fish, though, was very good.   It had a very light breading that was just crispy, and it smelled terrific.  The fish itself had good flavor and wasn't overpowered by the breading.  I was a bit put off by the shape, just because I like it when fish looks more like fish, but the taste more than made up for it.



We also ordered a Reuben, which, according to Wikipedia, is more of an American Irish thing than authentically Irish.  I have to admit not being a Reuben expert -- I don't know that I've ever ordered it before, but the tastes, while bold, were not overwhelming, and it made for a decent sandwich. In the annals of reuben, this would go down as solidly average.



There were signs up saying there is live music, but we came early on a weekday, so we missed it.  I also noticed that there were many men there with shaved heads, which seems like a popular fashion choice for Irish men, so I took it as a good sign.

As an aside, for those readers who are runners, the Snug sponsors a Thursday night running club. The participation is impressive with consistently 200+ runners showing up for a 3-miler, followed by free salad and spaghetti. A far cry from traditional Irish food, but it is free, the beer is happy hour prices for runners and it provides a reason to run.

Irish Snug on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kinga’s Lounge

Kinga’s Lounge, technically located at 1509 Marion Street (that is to say, not a Colfax address), holds courts at the corner of Colfax and Marion. Its door, located on the southeast corner of the building, diplomatically spills you onto the intersection of both these streets, but with significant restaurant frontage, including a patio, on Colfax Avenue, and a crowd that runs the gamut from blue collar to hipster to polish natives, Kinga’s belongs to Colfax.
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Kinga’s is housed in a mansion that was built in 1889 that has seen renovations and additions ever since. Originally a single family home, the space has since become the home of restaurants and bars since 1960. With that said, the interior is a little worn, but more would be described as soft around the edges versus run down. Also, it is large. Walk in and you are immediately in the bar. Head far left to the quasi-lounge after going around the pool table, head up the stairs into the first dining room, keep going for something that feels like a living room, check out not one but two patios, and if you really need space, reserve the basement.
The full bar has a lot of vodka, including infused, and offers a large list of mixed drinks and a smattering of eastern European beers. over the course a few visits, the dining areas were rarely full, but the bar was often full.
Our meal started with “Placki ziemniaczane,” known stateside as potato pancakes, served with either applesauce or sour cream, which our server provided both due to our indecision.
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Not quite hashbrowns, and definitely better, crispy on the outside, soft in the center and hint of cooking oil remaining behind. With sour cream these felt like an appetizer. With the applesauce these felt like dessert.
To be expected, meat is featured across the menu, and wanting to participate in the Polish mores of consumption next up was the Polish Platter, featuring a hearty selection of staples, including the following:
  • schnitzel
  • meatball
  • pierogi
  • white fresh and smoked kielbasa
  • cucumber salad
  • sauerkraut
  • home fried potatoes
  • mushroom sauce
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It is hard to go wrong with kielbasa and this was no exception. The pierogies had a tender mouth feel and were offset well by the home fried potatoes. The sauerkraut, while good, did not best the efforts of the Cheeky Monk. The only dissent voiced over this particular dish, was the cucumber salad, which was inundated in sour cream. Otherwise, it provided an excellent tour of the menu at a quantity to satisfy three people.
I typically do not eat this hearty nor heavy, which is the reason I would be hesitant to return. Yet, if one is looking for a meal that is focused around meat and potatoes, and beyond the four walls of your standard American steakhouse, then Kinga’s is worth a visit.

Kinga's Lounge on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 14, 2011

La Abeja

La Abeja is a small Mexican panaderia (bakery) and restaurant.  I didn't see hours listed, but it only seems to be open for breakfast and lunch.  As you walk in, you are greeted by racks of fresh Mexican dessert breads, and as you eat, you'll likely see the bakers bring out even more.


Beyond the breads, the menu is filled with Mexican staples.  While it is entirely in Spanish, the woman tending the counter spoke English and was happy to explain any of the items.


We had a smothered carnitas burrito, a lengua taco, and a pastor taco.  The burrito was large, filled with plenty of meat.  The green sauce it was smothered in had a delicious spicy kick.  While not extraordinary, it was a better burrito than you'll get at many places.


The street style tacos were quite flavorful and the varieties we tried were just a touch out of the ordinary.  Lengua (tongue) isn't really very different from other beef, but this was tasty and had a good texture, better than what usually gets called "steak" in Mexican food.  The pastor was a marinated pork with pineapple, and was probably the better of the two.



None of it was unlike what you'd get at plenty of other places in town, but it was all tasty and not too expensive.  The drink situation was a little unusual -- there was a cooler with a selection of ethnic drinks.  Prices weren't readily visible, but they seemed to add a couple bucks each to the meal.


I know some people hunt down Mexican coke with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and La Abeja sold it by the half-liter.  They also had a selection of Jumex "nectar", but that's not so interesting -- you can get that on the Mexican aisle of any grocery store.  Overall, La Abeja's menu is like what you'd find at lots of other places in town, but the follow through is good and the food can be easily recommended.  Also, if you like looking at ceramic chickens, they have a pretty good variety marching along the top of the wall of the dining area.


La Abeja Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pita and Hookah Grill

The Pita and Hookah Grill, located at 911 East Colfax Avenue, is wedged amidst yet another block of disparate uses. Between Emerson and Ogden one can take a payday loan and then be confronted with the choice of purchasing a Cricket phone, smoking accessories, a manicure, middle eastern food and time in front of hookah, cigars, or music (either live at the Ogden Theater or on vinyl or CD at Independent Records). And this only accounts for the north half of the block.
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It is non-descript, meaning easy to walk by, and I have never seen more than a table or two taken. The dining room for this meal was no different. One takeout order came and went, otherwise we had the dining half of this establishment to ourselves. The dining room is sea foam green on the top half, and wood paneling on the bottom half. Art work was abundant, but was not the standard travel posters touting the beauty of the Tigris River or the Karakoram mountains, but instead an odd mix of botanical prints and poster of Halong Bay, in Vietnam.
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One topical piece did include hookah use. Evidently the precursor to the modern hookah was a 55 gallon vessel.
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The dining room and hookah lounge are separated by a windowed wall. Even with this barrier, the aroma of exotic tobacco blends was present and clung to our clothes hours later. The lounge is easily 10° warmer than the dining room, pungent with the smell of tobacco, and filled with music. Being a fairly intolerant ex-smoker, this is all the attention I gave to the hookah half of the business.
Dinner began, as all middle eastern meals should, with hummus and pita. The hummus was creamy, with a rich, firm texture. If accolades were based on texture alone, this hummus would earn many. Yet for all its silkiness, it lacked flavor. There was a little trace of tahini, but no hint of lemon or garlic. Billed as a garbanzo spread, it would be wonderful, but billed as hummus, it needs a few more ingredients.
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The arayes, which is an oven baked meat pie made with spiced lamb, was as simple as it was good. The piquant lamb, pressed to the thickness of a steak-umm, was nestled in a warm pita and served with lettuce and tomato. It is a little dry and would be well served by tzatziki on the side, but if you like gyros, you will like this.
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The combo plate features hummus, roasted vegetables, chicken, gyro and grilled lamb, served atop a bed of rice. The onion was charred on the outside but still pungent, roasted over high heat and seemingly rushed. The green pepper and the tomato were exactly as you would expect, redolent with an earthy sweetness, and firm but giving in texture. The meats are the keystone of the meal. All were moist and well spiced. The highlight was the lamb. Supple cubes of lamb with just a trace of pink in the center.
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The greatest drawback is the speed of service. On our visit, and something that has been echoed elsewhere, is the fact that one server covers both the hookah lounge and the dining room. There are long periods of time in which you may want another a drink or another appetizer…pace your meal accordingly. Given the proximity of Shish Kabob Grill, I would likely walk the 1/2 mile to enjoy some of the best hummus in town, consistent service and a distinct lack of smoke.

Pita Grill and hookah bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tom’s Diner

Located at 601 East Colfax Avenue, Tom’s Diner is a throwback to the golden age of diners. While other similar establishments have closed their doors over time, competing against the likes of Perkins and Village Inn, Tom’s, which I remember initially as the Rainbow Diner when I moved here in 1998, has been serving standard short-order-cook fare for approximately the last decade. Insulated from the chain pressures that inhabit interstate exits and the American suburban and exurban landscape, Tom’s location on a yet another rough and tumble corner of Colfax limits competition. There is little doubt that a Denny’s franchisee would not want the unpredictably of Colfax Avenue and Pearl Street.

The place is all windows, so before you even step through the doors, you know a long wrap around lunch counter, yellow and red formica booths and horseshoe shaped purple naugehyde tables await. Mid-morning sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating the soft yellow walls as any lingering melatonin is chased from your system, as you pass from Colfax Avenue and into the retro-chic bosom of Tom’s Diner.

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The repetitive efficiency of lessons long learned are evident throughout, and include the exact same collection of condiments spaced ~4 feet along the lunch counter. A geodesic dome of creamer that would do Buckminster Fuller proud, flanked by salt and pepper and sugar.

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And behind the counter, cereal. Two bowls for a few bucks, all economy sizes, none of those single serving boxes from childhood.

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The menu, like any 24 hour diner, is extensive. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu is multi-page affair, spanning full five pages, and brimming with the expected diner classics: blue plate specials, milkshakes (made on an ancient mint green milkshake machine), club sandwiches and dinner entrees such as chicken fried steak, that come with your choice of two sides.

The coffee is hot, offered fast, refilled often, and in the tradition of diners across the nation, fairly weak. This seems to be a universal truth, whether dining on Colfax or rural Route 29 in Virginia, or anywhere in between. The coffee will be watery, but what it lacks in boldness, it will redeem itself in sheer quantity.

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The huevos rancheros featured a full plate that oozed a hansel and gretel drip of green chili from the kitchen to our table. It was what you expect from a diner, a large portion of food, all hot, some of it originating from a can, but completely serviceable.

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Eggs and bacon! A staple of the American diet and staple of breakfast menus across the land (Watercourse withstanding).

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The omelet was standard three egg affair that elicits alarm at its size, but then is inevitably finished and laying waste to any to-do list motivation for the next few hours. The toast comes heavily buttered and the hash browns a mix of crispy bits and soggy potato, unsurprising given the size of the pile placed on the griddle.

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Tom’s Diner offers up classic diner fare in a vibrant environment. Catering to anyone and everyone, the mood changes with the time of day. Quiet mornings were inevitably preceded by a last-call lush rush just a few hours prior, with loud conversations and tipsy excitement evident. If you like food off a griddle you will find something at Tom’s to satiate your appetite.

Other reviews of Tom’s run the gamut, as to be expected, from great to awful. The negative reviews whined about the low quality of the food, but I have never considered diners to be on the forefront of the dining experience. Diners are known for uninspired food that will offend few, not for applewood smoked bacon and buckwheat pancakes. One should approach a diner expecting to hand out a “C” if asked to grade the meal. One should approach a diner expected to be fed for a low cost. If expectations are higher, then one should skip Tom’s Diner, and any other diner for that matter, and make room eaters with more realistic expectations, who will undoubtedly enjoy Tom’s Diner.


Tom's Diner on Urbanspoon