Casa Alvarez

by Jessica on December 8, 2011

3161 Walnut St./Menu

★★★

With Mexican food, I have found that one trend always holds true: the more hole-in-the-wall, the better. So when I accidentally spotted Casa Alvarez in the corner of a shopping center, home to another restaurant I frequent, I figured the randomness must be a fateful success.

Unfortunately, I found the atmosphere of Casa Alvarez to be a little lacking, perhaps even strange. Though usually that does matter to me in the name of good food, something about this place was almost eerie. And in this case, the food wasn’t good enough to make up for the atmosphere.

In true Mexican restaurant form, we were greeted with fresh chips and salsa immediately upon sitting down. Quite tasty, I must say, I just wish I had a margarita to quench my salty thirst! For some reason, I wasn’t bold enough to order a cocktail during lunch.

Soup isn’t something I would typically immediately go for off of all the scrumptious options on a Mexican menu. But I do love a good vegetarian chili, and their menu was boasting several awards that featured Casa Alvarez as the best chili in town, so I thought I had to give it a shot. Though I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as chili, it was definitely delicious. It was more like a vegetable soup with Mexican spices. It did have a ton of flavor and the perfect amount of heat (for me), but for a chili, I was expecting something a little more hearty. Nevertheless, it was the perfect compliment to my single enchilada for my lunchtime appetite.

One thing that I loved from Casa Alvarez’s menu was their ability to personalize any item on the menu or order anything individually, as opposed to in a huge meal. For lunch, one enchilada sounded perfect. After tripping over their endless menu, our served suggested the fajita enchilada, a cheese and chicken (or pork or beef) enchilada topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, avocado and chipotle sauce.

When the plate arrived, I could not wait to dig in. With a heaping mountain of fresh veggies, sauce and best of all, avocado, I doubted whether the enchilada actually existed. But after one bite, I learned that my doubt was nearly true. The enchilada was so tiny, no wonder they covered it in piles of condiments. I’d love to give credit where credit is due, but my 3 bites of enchilada was dry and salty, rather than juicy and oozing with cheese as I was expecting. If it weren’t lunch, I might have left hungry.

I have trouble recommending Casa Alvarez with so many other knockout Mexican joints in this town (Efrain’s), but I vow to return for dinner before I completely rule it out. But for the quality, price and atmosphere, unfortunately they don’t have me dreaming to return.

Village Coffee Shop

by Jessica on December 5, 2011

1605 Folsom St./Menu

★★★★★ if hungover

★★★ otherwise

It honestly shocks me that this place was not absolutely jam packed with hungover students on this Friday morning. Perhaps it was still too early (we arrived around 10:30am), but everything on the menu was under $10, loaded with grease, and there wasn’t a salad or fruit cup in sight- where were the kids?

The Village might be a hungover kid’s dream but a foodie’s nightmare. With everything being cooked on a giant griddle, options ranged from eggs, to pancakes, to sandwiches (think tuna melt, grilled cheese and chicken fried steak). Turned on by nearly the entire grease-loaded menu, I opted for the Spanish omelette, packed with cheese, tomatoes, onions, green pepper, cheddar cheese and picante sauce.

I have truly never tasted better hash browns in my life. The concept was basic: shredded potatoes and maybe a little oil and butter, nothing fancy. They were perfectly crispy without being soggy or burnt, and were even better doused in ketchup. For the omelette, the picante sauce sealed the deal for me. Anywhere can make a good omelette, but the sauce, whether it was homemade or salsa out of a jar, was amazing. It made the eggs feel like something a little more substantial, and packed the flavor and heat. If you can believe it, all this was a “half” order. For a few bucks less, any omelette can be made with one less egg, half the order of hash browns, and half the amount of toast. I couldn’t imagine eating a bite more (but of course it could and would have been done).

No review would be complete without including my experience as a “Village Virgin.” When our waitress asked if we were all first-timers at the village, I expected her to then offer us a complimentary cup of coffee, or walk us through the menu a little bit. Instead, she commanded the attention of the entire restaurant, announced that we were all Village Virgins, and led all the patrons in a round of applause. My friends were mortified, I loved it.

For a cheap, hangover breakfast, look no further than the Village Coffee Shop. The prices simply cannot be beat, and the only thing that could make this locally-owned establishment a little better was if it were open ’til the wee hours of the morning.

San Francisco Soup Company

by Jessica on December 4, 2011

1600 28th St./Menu

★★★(★)

Just the name alone sounds enchanting: San Francisco Soup Company. A company specializing in soup, all the way from San Francisco. I’m intrigued.

We visited the SF Soup Company for lunch on opening day. Though perhaps the opening was not as grand as they were expecting, the customers milling around, sampling from each station, seemed extremely pleased. To draw customers in (or perhaps to deter undecided patrons from similar neighbor Modmarket), employees were offering samples of several soups outside. And if the one that caught your attention wasn’t being offered outside, head in and request a taste from the happy employees ready to help. Customer service: A+. The owner even came over to check on us!

As far as the menu goes, they specialize in soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps, with substitutions, combinations and alterations being offered for anything you’d like. Though I’d assume the spot is renown for their soup, especially in a San Francisco sourdough bread bowl, I couldn’t bring myself to do it on this warm, sunny day. Instead, I opted for the Greek wrap.

Yes, it looks more like a salad than a wrap. The menu advertised that each salad and wrap could be ordered as a half size. But when I requested a half Greek wrap, she said it wasn’t possible. Instead, she only succeeded in stuffing half the greens into the wrap, and piled the other half on top of the wrap. So they could use a little practice…

Aside from this minor setback, my wrap was quite tasty. It came with romaine, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, croutons and balsamic vinaigrette (yes, a little bizarre). I loved the amount of options the restaurants gave to each diner to foster a more individualized experience. Maybe it was superior service for opening day, but they were absolutely aiming to please.

Next time, soup is definitely necessary. As I munched on my wrap, I kept finding myself staring at the heaping pile of sourdough bread bowls on display in the soup section, a little eye candy to tempt me for next time!

Rueben’s Burger Bistro

by Jessica on November 27, 2011

1800 Boradway St. #150/Menu

★★★★★

Note to self: do not embarrass yourself or your date by choosing Rueben’s as your date night location. Picture this: a couple beers or glasses of wine (happy hour!), a sloppy sandwich oozing sauce and toppings out of all sides, and a big plate of fries. And you wonder why he didn’t call you for a second date…

At first glance, Reuben’s menu may seem a little intimidating. Just the burger page alone exhibits nearly twenty creative, mouth-watering creations, each of which may be served with a beef burger, grilled chicken breast, turkey burger, buffalo burger, or homemade veggie burger. And if none of their pre-conceived options appeal to you, take the creative route and let your imagination run wild with The Alp d’Huez- “if we have it, we’ll put it on for you!”

This is the path that I chose to take, topping a veggie burger with tomato, sauteed onions and mushrooms, sprouts, avocado spread and swiss cheese, served on a pretzel roll with a side caesar (or fries). Reuben’s veggie burger was a refreshing alternative to the frozen patties that fill my freezer; it was clearly homemade and made from hearty ingredients. In addition, the pretzel bun was far beyond the bland, packaged and mass-produced rolls surfing the plates of a typical burger joint. It was fresh, delicious and packed with flavor.

My server was even kind enough to bring out a trio of sauces for me to sample: avocado ranch, roasted garlic aioli and chipotle aioli (caution: hot!). In this case, the sauce has the ability to make or break the sandwich. In my case, it made it. I would highly recommend requesting a duo or trio of sauces to sample, and maybe even mixing the two. For me, I favored the avocado ranch and chipotle aioli, yet in moderation because it definitely packed some unexpected heat.

Despite the slightly pricey burgers ($9-$14) and slow staff, Reuben’s is a great option for a casual and quick meal close to the Hill. There is something so luxurious in turning a standard American staple food into a foodie experience, and Reuben’s masters this privilege.

Buchanan’s Coffee Pub

by Jessica on November 21, 2011

1301 Pennsylvania Ave.

★★★★★

For some reason, I am continuously shocked when I find “real people” mulling around the Hill. Maybe it is my assumption that they are superior to the college-geared dives that clutter the area,  or my surprise that they can bear the raucous noise after 2am. But when a Hill trademark is filled with chatty undergrads, frantic grad students, tech gurus and business men, its a sure sign that Buchanan’s is a winner.

Buchanan’s has quickly become my favorite spot to study early in the mornings, before the sanctuary becomes filled with stressed students stopping in for caffeine on their way to campus. For me, the earlier, the better (once in a blue moon). The best part about studying in this cozy hangout is the vast menu of pick-me-ups, served up by a local and genuine staff, who always manage to brighten my morning.

This morning, I selected an everything bagel with cream cheese. Along with this option, Bucnahan’s features several breakfast treats, from bagels (with a variety of spreads), to muffins to breakfast sandwiches. Considering Bucnahan’s does not craft their bagels on-site, my expectations were rather low. However after one bite, my morning spirits were lifted thanks to this perfectly toasted and flavorful everything bagel, shmeared with the perfect amount of rich cream cheese.

Though I cannot stand the taste of coffee, out of fear of being outcasted from the college society I have tried to train my body to enjoy other caffeinated beverages. So I discovered chai, a heavily-caffeinated, spiced tea mixed with milk. By the recommendation of my buddy behind the counter, I agreed to try the Bhakti, a spicier, stronger and more caffeinated version of my trusty treat. Though I don’t doubt that Bucnahan’s Bhakti is top notch, this depends on personal preference, and I simply prefer the original. An hour later as I watched my pen jitter off the page, I regretted my decision to opt for the more heavily caffeinated alternative.

Who could say no to a locally-owned establishment with a great vibe for hanging and studying, and a more-than-friendly staff to enhance each experience? Not me, and apparently neither can the dozens of patrons that keep this favorite spot jam packed during all hours of the day.

Boulder Farmer’s Market- Falafel and Gyros

by Jessica on November 14, 2011

13th Street Between Arapahoe and Canyon

★★★ (maybe ★★★★ simply because it is at the farmer’s market)

Some people have seasonal depression driven by the weather; mine is driven by the farmer’s market. So in the last few weeks before my Boulder happy-spot closes for winter, I have been soaking up all I can get (Note: Saturday, November 19th is the last day until April for the Boulder location!).

Though I did have the chance to sample most of my must-haves throughout the fall, there were a few stands I had been saving up for last. For example, “Falafels and Gyros.” This stand focuses their culinary work on tasty wraps or salad plates like falafel, chicken and lamb schwarmas and gyros. Yet perhaps in an effort to inspire creativity and offer something different to their fans, someone behind the scenes dreamed up the Greek Breakfast Wrap, a pita stuffed with scrambled eggs, feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes and yogurt sauce. My thought process: it was breakfast time, they specialized in Greek food, so it must be good.

It was definitely something different. Though I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, I think I was a little taken back by the drastic breakfast/lunch combo that was mixed up in this wrap. Specifically, the yogurt sauce and feta with hot sauce and eggs. I am absolutely glad I tried the unique offering, but am not confident that I would order it again. Compared to some other culinary masterpieces that I have enjoyed at the farmer’s market, I cannot say this was the best.

Foodies, students, chefs and wanderers: make sure to stop by the last session of the Boulder farmer’s market this Saturday if you will still be in town! Perhaps you, too, will choose to stock up on some non-perishable winter necessities; my roommates now kindly refer to me as a squirrel.

Olive Garden

by Jessica on November 14, 2011

2685 Pearl St./Menu

★★★

I’m not sure if it is even possible to compare a place like Olive Garden to the other world-class, foodie establishments that clutter this gastronomic hot spot. Someone once told me that one can only compare things that are comparable. Yet in an effort to create a fair review, I will consider Olive Garden in a context in its own: an Italian chain restaurant.

We stumbled upon Olive Garden as a solution to our refusal to dress presentable enough to walk into one of Boulder’s more upscale establishments. At Olive Garden, we were greeted with a friendly welcome upon walking in the door, were kindly received with no wait, and served ice water immediately upon sitting down.

I have always been a loyal fan of the Italian eatery for one reason: the unlimited cold, fresh and delicious salad (the option of unlimited soup or salad comes with each entree). I’m not sure if it is the dressing, the freshly grated romano cheese or the always-crisp veggies, but it is consistently to my pleasing. On this evening, it was exactly what I was craving, and I absolutely took advantage of the unlimited family-style refills.

Also served bottomless and family-style are the warm, garlic breadsticks. Beware: highly addictive, especially when dipped in all the other rich sauces that this kitchen churns out. Our waiter was even so kind as to give us a little doggie bag of breadsticks to munch on us later that night :).

Though I was stuffed after about three plates of salad and three breadsticks, I had already ordered the five cheese ziti (most of which I boxed up for later). It is difficult to rave about a dish like this, one made with evidently bulk/processed ingredients, yet it was satisfying and extremely rich. On a cold day, everyone needs to fill their belly with something like this once in a while!

I also managed to snag a bite of my friend’s eggplant parmesan, served with a side of spaghetti and marinara sauce. Its pretty tricky not to like fried food, especially eggplant parm, and it even was just as good as leftovers. The Olive Garden’s was crispy and loaded with melted cheese on top, and balanced out by the side of pasta.

Perhaps it is a little inconsistent that I love Boulder’s best, Frasca Food and Wine, and also care for the Olive Garden. Nevertheless, their unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks are simply unbeatable, and everyone deserves a day to splurge on a guilty pleasure (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

Whole Foods- Sandwiches by the Ounce

by Jessica on November 13, 2011

2905 Pearl St.

★★★★★

What a genius idea: sandwiches by the ounce. Can’t decide? Go for a little of both. For the indecisive folk like me, it is the end-all solution to all my problems. At Whole Foods, the stationary cart-like counter often offers about four options. If you really can’t decide and are especially nice to the thoughtful server, you might even get a free sample.

I narrowed my choices down to the tomato, mozzarella, pesto and balsamic, and the turkey, provolone, arugula, tomato and avocado. I loved that the submarine-style sandwiches, cut to order, allowed each patron to order for their specific appetite. Each sandwich was absolutely delicious, from the bread to the fresh and flavorful ingredients. The bread was crispy and crumbly on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, one of my personal favorite combos. Though I have no reserves in recommending either sandwich, my preference was the tomato mozzarella. The  mix of flavors went perfectly together and was dressed with the perfect amount of balsamic and pesto without weighing down the entire sandwich.

I continue to have a hard time finding something less than perfect being served up at Whole Foods on Pearl. Yet this stand sets this sandwich shop aside from others, in allowing diners a more personalized experience amongst delicious options.

Whole Foods- Pizza Counter

by Jessica on November 11, 2011

2905 Pearl St.

★★★★★

My quest to sample all of Whole Foods’ offerings continues. This time, I headed straight to the pizza counter.

I must admit, my hopes were not through the roof. I questioned how good the pizza could be in a supermarket, even one with fresh ingredients and a visible stone oven. Perhaps reflecting back on my skepticism, it seems foolish that I had my doubts. Yet the second the pizza landed on my plate, I knew I would be proven wrong.

The pizza options changed almost every five minutes as they continued to pull fresh pies out of the oven. When it was my turn to order, my options consisted of cheese, garlic and onion, meat, vegan and Greek (possibly amongst others). I selected the Greek, which was topped with artichokes, red onions, black olives, sun dried tomatoes, and plenty of sauce and cheese. It was a total knockout. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful, and the crust was the perfect balance of crispy and fluffy. I also loved that you could order as much or as little as you wanted, so you have the option to just snack on one piece or share a whole pie.

If you’re feeling ambitious, my recommendation would be to do a little Whole Foods sampling; for example, a piece of pizza and some goodies from the salad bar. But after trying one piece of pizza, you might not want anything else.

Whole Foods- Sandwich Counter

by Jessica on November 11, 2011

2905 Pearl St.

★★★★★

Welcome to Whole Foods, the health food mecca for all Boulderites; on Pearl, its just about heaven. Busy Boulderites are sure to be found buzzing in happiness over the vast (and I mean huge) array of organic food options, prepared food stations, and specialty counters.

To add to the mix, Whole Foods on Pearl features a large patio of outdoor seating facing towards the mountains. Though there was a parking lot directly in front of us, I found it hard to focus on anything but the breathtaking view. We were joined by students, families and business lunchers, similarly enjoying their Whole Foods experience.

The prepared foods section of the store appeared to be endless, and was almost intimidating to a first-time luncher. Just to name a few, diners had options including pizza, tacos/mexican, asian/sushi, sandwiches, BBQ, salad bar, “greens, beans and grains,” soups…I could go on. In a place like Whole Foods, I typically assume that anything being served up anywhere throughout the store is fresh, perhaps local, and delicious. These stations absolutely passed my test, at least from the looks of it. After about three laps around the periphery of the area, I settled on a sandwich.

At the sandwich station, customers were given the option of about eight specialty sandwiches, served hot or cold, a case full of pre-made sandwiches for diners on-the-go, or for the truly innovative, a “build-it-yourself” option. Talk about choices! I chose the Flatiron Sandwich, a flatbread sandwich with smoked turkey, avocado, roasted red peppers, tomato, provolone cheese and a chipotle basil spread, served warm.

The rolled up flatbread, like a burrito, made for a satisfying and filling concoction. Because I requested no bacon, my server stuffed the roll-up with extra turkey. Though it was filled to the rip with turkey and veggies, the flatbread made it seem a little healthy. I would absolutely recommend this sandwich, especially to anyone with an avocado obsession like myself, yet the entire menu had my mouth watering.

My plan is to sample from something from every counter as part of my foodie quest through Boulder. Nearly every counter offers customized, organic options to cater to a personalized dining experience. If every counter delivers quality foods like my sandwich, I’m in.