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.
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.
One topical piece did include hookah use. Evidently the precursor to the modern hookah was a 55 gallon vessel.
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.
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.
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.
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