Finding the right mix of flavors and prices to fit the neighborhood can be a tricky business for a new restaurant — and it can be even tougher when a chef is trying to introduce something unique. Residents of the Platt Park neighborhood surrounding Old South Pearl Street were slow to respond to the regional Mexican cuisine of Que Bueno Suerte when it opened in late 2016 at 151 South Pearl, but executive chef Vicente Sosa has been tailoring the menu in response to customer feedback while still remaining true to his Yucatecan roots with new dishes uncommon on Denver menus.
Sosa says that a few dishes in particular weren't selling well, like the pheasant in pibil sauce and the duck with Oaxacan mole, so he switched out proteins while keeping the traditional sauces; the pibil (a tangy blend of achiote and citrus juices) is now served with pork (Sosa notes that pheasant and pork are both common in the Yucutan, even if pork sells better in Colorado) and the almost-black mole comes with chicken instead of duck. Prices have also been slightly tweaked to meet customer expectations; the bean-stuffed panuchos, for example dropped from $9 to $8.
Still, Sosa hopes that guests will continue to learn and appreciate the hands-on nature of traditional Mexican cuisine; he's not taking any shortcuts in the kitchen, where corn tortillas are made fresh and hard-to-source ingredients like epazote, pork blood (for the morcilla sausage) and huitlacoche are still used. While Denver loves its fat burritos smothered in green chile, Sosa wants to expand the range of flavors and ingredients — something that has already happened in other cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, where a diverse range of Mexican immigrants have helped shaped the food scenes.
Happy hour is one of the ways Que Bueno Suerte is shining the light on lesser-known dishes while keeping prices low. Those panuchos, which are really just corn tortillas with a little black-bean puree pressed into the center, here served tostada-style with a topping of chicken tinga, are becoming familiar, so the kitchen has also added molotes, cigar-shaped snacks split open and filled with a little cheese and spicy pickled onion. Sosa adds sweet potato to the corn masa before rolling out the molotes, giving a sweet, earthy note to these antojitos. And still in the testing phase is a smoked and aged sausage called longaniza, which Sosa hopes to add to the menu soon. He says the sausage must hang for at least eight weeks before it's ready to serve.
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And while the chef's early years in the heart of one of Mexico's lesser-known regions (outside of coastal resorts like Cancun and Tulum) gave him plenty of inspiration, he'd rather present a concise menu of carefully planned dishes than expand with pages of items found at every other Mexican restaurant in town. That way, ingredients stay fresh, customers can get to know the cuisine one plate at a time and his crew can master each dish.
Sosa points across the street to Sushi Den and notes that even though the Japanese restaurant is a big success in the neighborhood after more than thirty years in business, the first ten of those weren't easy; the Kizaki brothers had introduced something almost entirely new to Denver in the 1980s. He's hoping that the learning curve for those visiting Que Bueno Suerte will be considerably shorter.