Like The Post in Lafayette, Longmont's Comida changed restaurant culture in its city for good. Its success was based on the revolutionary idea that the thousands who moved to midsized cities to raise families and toil in the high-tech sector might like somewhere nice to eat. It was far from the first hip eatery to open there, but as a former Longmontian, I saw how Comida's flattery of our sensibilities led to large crowds and new perspectives on dinner. Astonishingly, the concept was also a hit with Denverites inside the Hipster Command Center of the Source, and the afternoon happy hour here might be part of the equation.
Compared to its much-lauded neighbor Acorn, Comida has a brighter and more inviting open space, with community tables and an upstairs dining area that provides a view of the bustle below and the building's gritty skeleton above. Although their homes are quite different, both Comidas serve a near-identical menu of tacos, gorditas, tortas and straight-up street food (after all, Comida began life as a food truck), though the Denver location offers different daily specials and — crucially — brunch. The happy hour menu, available from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, is virtually identical as well, though it's the disparate atmospheres that make the difference. Seated above or below at the Source, you'll be met with a happy-hour menu of cheap drinks and snacks as well as the expected tick list of tacos. Like sword and shield or Slurpee flavors, they are best used in concert.
Shoring up its cantina cred, Comida's happy-hour beverages are simply made and quite affordable at $5. Four margaritas anchor the lineup, from classic to agua de jamaica, watermelon jalapeño and pineapple habanero, plus Comida's own Cabana cocktail, made with tequila, guava and tomatillo. Easier still to swallow are $2 drafts of Modelo and cans of Tecate, with a tequila shot for $3. And Comida is still one of the most reassuring bars for teetotalers, with fantastic horchata, agua de jamaica and aguas frescas worth turning down tequila for.
Mostly exclusive to happy hour, the $4 "street snacks" don't pretend to be more than what they are: antojitos to kick off a taco-and-quesadilla frenzy. There are the mandatory dishes of chips and salsa or guacamole, and the guac is passable, but the thick tostada scraps that serve as chips are nearly perfect. Now things get a little weird. Comida serves broiled Tender Belly hot dogs (!) cut up over a bowl of cabbage (!!) with a monkey dish of spicy queso alongside for dippin' (!!!) I would love to know the origin of this dish — a jumbled food-service shipment, or perhaps a resurrected childhood favorite — but it's exactly what it sounds like: salty and funny, but not all that exciting. The queso alongside was smart and spiced enough to immediately hook me, an avowed hater of non-Newtonian cheese.
Stuffed jalapeños get back to the building blocks of what Comida has always done best. The blistered shells barely contain a mound of black beans, cotija and cheddar, bacon, and the ecstatic garlic potato mash that livens up a number of Comida's dishes. After the first course, you're likely to sample from the regular menu, an experience akin to hitting the video poker machines while rolling on molly: engrossing and surprisingly expensive. Anything with a chorizo and onion escabeche combo or Stella Artois-cooked carnitas gets my endorsement, and the soft-seared griddled tacos ($3) and crispy masa-enveloped gorditas ($4) are a must. In a town like Denver, where taquerias and good happy hours are just life, it's nice to take a step back and appreciate unpretentious places like Comida, and the simple pleasures of hot dogs and hot cheese.
Don't Miss: There's one facet of the Comida happy-hour experience that I neglected to mention. It's the bacon maker ($15), five bacon-jalapeño griddled tacos served with a shot of Maker's Mark. It's breathlessly dumb (why would you want to eat five of the same taco?), cheeky and sort of brilliant. If you're planning on sharing tacos and snacks with a group and saving a shot for yourself, it's a pretty good deal. And if not, you have a story to tell your grandkids.