By Mark Antonation
By Nathalia Velez
By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
Life is full of small pleasures and little joys. Sometimes, they're all you get. The bad stuff is big, often overwhelming, frequently spinning madly out of control. Focus on it and you'd think the whole universe is going to hell. What with wars and disasters, tragedies both personal and global, there are days when it just isn't worth getting out of bed.
Lots of people fall back on religion when the all-encompassing crap of the world starts getting them down -- on the sweet love of Jesus or Buddha or whoever and the flittering of angel wings -- but not me. I grew out of my faith a long time ago, and what I've got in its place is Mexican Coca-Cola.
I mean, Mexican Coca-Cola isn't all I've got, but it's a start. These days, I am a big believer in the quick hit of happiness, the rapid flash of a fleeting smile. I am trying hard to appreciate the little things: the way even cheap whiskey tastes good at midnight, the smell of cool rain hitting hot blacktop, finding that sweet spot in the traffic flow that lets you hit fourth gear when you're headed for home. I am trying to be a better, happier person -- and Mexican Coke is a big part of that.
4978 Leetsdale Drive
Denver, CO 80246
Region: Southeast Denver
Shrimp soup: $10.99
Shrimp cocktail: $10.99
Octopus cocktail: $11.99
Everyone knows Mexican Coke is better than American, right? It's sweeter, thicker, more syrupy, and lighter on the bubbles. It still comes in glass bottles, thick and curved like in a Life magazine ad from the 1940s, sweating beads of cool water in the heat. You still need an opener (or a Bic lighter, or the edge of a table) to pop the top off, and I love that sound -- the sizzle of carbonation and tink of the crimped cap hitting tile. It's a noise that lives deep in the collective unconscious of entire populations, proof of the efficacy of global product marketing.
At El Coyotito #3, our waitress slides two bottles across the table -- Mexican beer for Laura, an effervescing Mexican Coke for me.
"Bebidas," she says, and smiles. Then she says about fifty more fast, slurring words, and I don't understand any of them. Probably, she is telling us what the kitchen has on special today (menudo; huge shrimp cocktails served in hurricane glasses painted with green palm trees; chocolate rice milk; and seafoods of every description, judging from the construction-paper signs on the walls and what's on nearby tables), but I don't know. She could be reciting the Gettysburg Address or issuing a warning not to order the soup. Laura and I glance at each other and blink.
"Don't look at me," she says. "You're the one who speaks Spanish."
Which is true, sort of. I can confidently order beers in Spanish. I can ask where the bathroom is. I can curse with surprising and vicious facility, and talk about Pepe and Julio's trip to la biblioteca -- a combination of what little proper Spanish I remember from high school and the pure gutter vocabulary I've picked up while cooking. But understanding conversational Spanish (which is to say, anything that doesn't involve garlic, grill temperatures, what kind of books Pepe wants to read or calling somebody's mother a whore) is somewhat beyond me.
"No espanish?" the waitress asks, looking concerned.
"Poquito," I say and laugh, holding up two fingers very close together. Pepe quiere los libros de la historia.
But poquito is enough for her, apparently. She reaches over and picks a menu off our table, opening it up and pointing, speaking slowly, the way you would to a dog or a slightly dim child.
"Burritos," she says. "Tortas. Enchiladas." She smiles. "Que quiere usted?"
Ah, ordering. This I can handle. "I would like the shrimp of soup, please," I say proudly. "And tacos of the chicken."
She looks at Laura.
"Burrito," says my lovely wife. "Desebrado. Gracias."
Tacos are another small pleasure I'm trying hard to properly appreciate, because Denver is a taco wonderland, and sometimes I think the people born and raised here (or anywhere around here) have no idea how good they have it. When Laura and I quit the coast and came west six years ago, the availability of tacos was one of our motivating factors. Tacos and posole and restaurants where they bring you salted chips and salsa before the menu, as at El Coyotito. Living in Rochester, we had two choices. There was a place right on the edge of the blighted downtown with a bullfighting theme and awful watery margaritas where you could get "quesadillas" (pronounced with a hard L), which were actually flat enchiladas dosed with Old El Paso taco sauce or enchiladas that were actually something else entirely because they were rolled and baked and filled with ground beef. If that didn't refry your frijoles, you could get in the car and drive almost an hour into farm country, where there was a combination restaurant/employment agency that serviced the migrant peach-pickers in the area, most of whom were Mexican. That joint was authentic to a fault, with real menudo and fat burritos and fantastic huevos rancheros, but it was also openly hostile to the gringo trade. Every dish was made brutally hot in what sometimes seemed to be a direct converse relationship to the lightness of one's skin, and getting the kitchen to lay off the cilantro required threats of terrible violence and a pistol.