In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll skip the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's my second stop...
After dodging a bullet (metaphorically) at Bubba Chinos, I headed a couple of blocks north to 4G's Mexican Restaurant at 2788 South Federal. (Don't worry; there's another Bubba Chinos farther north, so we'll definitely get our fill.)
4G's is a cavernous, institutional space with a full bar and a large menu of mostly interchangeable dishes. Even early on a weekday evening, the bar was lively and most of the customers seemed like regulars. As I flipped through the menu, an immaculately groomed older gentleman in a pressed gray suit and slicked-back hair, holding a guitar case, claimed a stool at the bar, giving me hope that a patron of such distinguished demeanor might indicate some level of quality.
The reality was that the distinguished gentleman was an anomaly. But while 4G's is not a place I would recommend, it does serve its purpose. In the time it took me to shovel in some slick green chile, chewy chicharrones and a mound of gray ground beef (known on the menu as the Mexican plate), the dining room went from empty to mostly filled with families, senior citizens in Elks Club caps, single men hunched over their plates, and students from Colorado Heights University across the street. My wife's carnitas burrito was virtually indistinguishable from my own dish in flavor and texture, but all around us customers were enjoying thier conversation, taking a few moments to tune out their children and washing down burned-tasting green chile with cheap beer.
This is not a restaurant where foodies go seeking Denver's next perfect taco or bowl of green. This is a place where neighbors come when the fridge is empty or the kids need a distraction. The menu contains nothing to distinguish 4G's from any number of other Mexican joints on Federal or throughout Denver, but it also makes no claims to be the best of anything or to offer that one dish that draws the crowds or the Guy Fieri film crews. It's just a quick meal in a familiar place where food is not the topic of conversation.
While cheaper and better meals can be found without too much effort, loyalty and familiarity often trump the desire for exploration. But not for me, and so I will move onward and northward to the next, and hopefully better, meal. I may love the comfort of home-style food and the familiar smells of traditional Mexican dishes, but I also crave quality and variety, things I know I can find on Federal.
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