¡Qué rico! How delicious is this food? While Colorado — once a part of Mexico — is awash in many restaurants that serve the recipes of our neighbor to the south, other Latin offerings are less well-represented. And though we will never, ever, ever say ‘no’ to an al pastor taco or a breakfast burrito (half-hot and smothered in Hatch green chili, please), the gastronomic specialties of Cuba and Colombia can be harder to find. Here are two local places where you can enjoy a taste of these phenomenal cuisines before your tickets to Laughs in Spanish.
Compared to food from other Andean and Latin American countries, Colombian food stands alone. The food is well-seasoned but hardly spicy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a recipe using hot peppers, and outside of the regions in the “Coffee Zone” (Antioquia, Quindío, Risaralda, and Caldas), beans are not a common ingredient. What you will find is a complex cuisine featuring herbs (cilantro is a favorite), many beloved soups, and empanadas, which unlike the Argentine version are made with corn rather than wheat, and usually fried rather than baked.
La Chiva began as a food truck operated by chef Jorge Aguirre and is now a comfortable two-patio restaurant on South Broadway. Arepas (corn cakes) are Colombia’s national dish, and La Chiva offers them stuffed with your choice of chorizo, shredded chicken, chicharron, or pulled pork and accompanied with avocado and hogao, a traditional creole sauce made with tomatoes, onions, scallions and spices. The sampler platter may be your best bet: it serves two people and offers a taste of the most popular dishes. There’s also a full cocktail bar — try the Huracán made with Tingala liqueur, rum and citrus or a fiery shot of sugar-cane-based aguardiente, a popular Latin spirit.
Cuban cuisine takes inspiration from many influences. Spanish, African and indigenous Taíno ingredients and techniques are to be expected, but Chinese migrants in the 1800s contributed as well. The result is a rich and varied food culture that goes far beyond the widely known Cubano — although that delicious offering of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard pressed between rich Cuban bread is, objectively, one of the most delicious sandwiches in the world.
It’s located in an humble strip mall in Aurora, but Cuba Bakery & Cafe tops most lists both for its expansive menu and for the quality of its bakery goods (including guava and cheese pastries and pan cubano) and desserts such as a silky flan and Key lime pie. Ropa viejo (shredded beef in a spicy tomato sauce) is a perennial favorite, but the daily specials (including oxtail and chicken marsala) are not to be missed. If you’re looking for something closer to downtown or would like a mojito to accompany your meal, Cuba Cuba has locations in the Golden Triangle and Glendale.