The Centennial State has an array of locales for your palette
Delicious, authentic and provoking ethnic cuisine from all parts of the world can be found throughout Colorado. A trip down Colfax Avenue from Lakewood to Aurora gives patrons a chance to sample anything from south of the border (Mexico) and way south of the border (Argentina) to the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East and Asia in the span of about 20 miles. Of course Colfax isn’t the only street in town that is flush with delicious ethnic foods as small, family-owned and operated establishments continue to pop-up in the melting pot of Colorado.
One sampling a taste of the Caribbean, one would seemingly opt for something sea worthy; in Cuba however, the country’s designated national dish is a colorful, shredded beef and vegetable dish known as Ropa Vieja. The name comes from the Spanish phrase meaning old clothes and why not seeing as the dish of shredded beef in sauce bears resemblance to a pile of colorful rags.
“The dish dates back centuries to the Sephardi’s in Spain who would use it to stretch leftovers,” said professor of Hispanic-American studies at la Universidad de Las Americas-Puebla, Alonso Montelongo, a Mexican of Cuban decent. “Once Spain began looking to expand its kingdom to the Caribbean, some of its traditional cooking came with it and the Cubans turned Ropa Vieja into their own.”
“Making it their own” meant taking out some of the middle eastern spices the Sephardi’s used and replacing them with their own combination of spices. Central to the dish, traditionally, are beef and tomatoes. From there variations will include added ingredients such as bell peppers, caramelized onions and an array of spices typical to the Cuban palette.
“It’s not a spicy dish traditionally,” Montelongo said. “It’s very savory and has a strong hint of vinegar which is typical of Cuban cuisine as they tend to occupy olives and capers in their dishes.”
Finding Ropa Vieja in Colorado can be a task due to the effort it takes to make it. Several of the state’s Cuban restaurants do offer it on special; however, patrons will want to contact the restaurant to find out when those specials are avaliable. Some restaurants that offer Ropa Vieja include Frijoles Colorado in Lakewood, El Bohio Criollo Cuban Cuisine in Golden, Cuba Cuba Café & Bar in Denver and Cuba Bakery & Café in Aurora.
Just as difficult as it is to find authentic Ropa Vieja in Colorado, it’s even more challenging to find authentic Puerto Rican cuisine and nothing is more authentic to “La Isla Borinqueña” than mofongo.
“Mofongo can be done a lot of different ways,” said Luis Calvart, 34, a Puerto Rican native. “The most traditional way is the stuffed mofongo, but you can get it as a side dish as well with just sauce and spices.”
Fried plantains are the primary ingredients in mofongo. Picked green and fried they are mashed and mixed with salt, garlic and oil. Once mashed the mixture is molded into a ball and stuffed with vegetables or meat.
Though difficult to find Calvart recommended two Denver locales: El Coque D’Aqui on Colorado Blvd. in Denver and the food truck Areyto Puertorrican Food.
A more traditional, and much easier to locate, stuffed cuisine from Latin America is the pupusa. From El Salvador, the pupusa is a thick hand-made corn tortilla stuffed with beans, cheese, chicharrón and loroco.
With growing popularity pupusas have taking on several variations with stuffings that include chicken, pepperoni, zucchini, spinach and squid among others. For Salvadorian Rosario Castillo, however, nothing beats a traditional pupusa “revuelta.”
“There are many combinations that have come out lately, but they’re unnecessary,” he said. “Pupusas are delicious and simple, I don’t see the point in trying to make them a pizza.”
Unlike the previously mentioned Caribbean plates, pupusas are easy to find throughout the state. Some hot spots include Pupusas in Louisville, El Chalate and Tacos Acapulco on Colfax in Denver and El Callejon in Golden.