Cafe Society

Diego Zhang's will blow your mind. As for the food ...

On Saturday, I trekked out to Greenwood Village to watch playoff football at a friend's, and on the way, I swooped into the strip mall on the corner of Arapahoe and Peoria, looking for lunch. I expected to have to stomach something from the strip's foursome of ubiquitous dining options -- Noodles & Co., Subway, Einstein's and Chipotle, each of which are sadly all too familiar with the friendly confines of my digestive track.

On Saturday, though, I was greeted by a new edition to this shiny corner of commercialism: Diego Zhang's Burger Cafe.

I was a little nervous: Sure, it had "burger" in the title, always a good sign. But a "burger cafe"? That's weird. That signaled to me that they did something untoward to their burgers, like shrink them and turn them into salmon. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what they do.

I walked in -- it's a clean, classy place for a suburban-strip-mall burger joint, decorated heavily with bamboo (part of their "green story") -- and studied the giant menu by the door. I must have looked confused, because a woman quickly emerged from behind the counter to explain the menu of $2.50-$3.25 burgers. They're all sliders, she said -- two-ounce sandwiches anchored by beef, pork, fish or chicken and cooked with a pantry full of sauces and spices. The Kansas City, for example, is "mesquite rubbed pork with caramelized barbecue sauce." The Broussard is a "slightly spicy mix of chicken shrimp, and andouille sausage." And so on.

The budding fat-ass that I am, I scanned the menu for French fries but found only soups and salads, which made me briefly sad, since I knew, no matter how good these little burgers were, I probably wouldn't be back. A burger without fries is like a movie without popcorn or Broadway Avenue without the faint smell of piss: it just ain't right.

Still, I forged on. The woman explained that most guys get two or three sliders. Since I'm two-thirds of most guys, I got two: the Kansas City and the Bear Creek, "wild Alaskan salmon topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato." A W.A.S.B.L.T., if you will. I paired them with a house salad and a delicious, frosty fountain Coca-Cola, the presence of which helped redeem the place from its fries-lessness.

And you know what? It all tasted pretty damn good. The salmon tasted very wild and very Alaskan, and the pork tasted like I imagine everything in the city of Kansas City tasting: tender and smothered in barbecue sauce. The salad tasted nothing like French fries, so it pretty much sucked. And the Coke tasted like it was burning a hole in my esophagus: perfect.

However. Here's my concern: As I inhaled my little "burgers," I couldn't stop thinking that if have explain your menu at a burger joint, you might be in trouble. And five hours later, my challenge was upheld by the best kind of referees: hungry, lazy men.

As my friends and I considered ordering some takeout -- damn I love playoff football -- I suggested we go back to Zhang's. There were more puny burgers I wanted to try. So we pulled up the menu, and a friend started reading off the options. At which point another friend said: "That sounds really complicated."

At which point we ordered Noodles & Company, which I was sort of excited about and immediately kind of regretted. But it was simple. And sometimes simple wins the day. So for Diego Zhang's sake, I hope most people in Greenwood Village are smarter than me (they probably are).

I also hope they add fries to the menu. It's clearly the right thing to do. -- Joe Tone

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone