Cafe Society

GRILL CRAZY

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At La Salsa (4908 S. Yosemite), the Baja-style fish tacos ($2.45) were a real handful. The six-inch tortillas come bursting with charbroiled mahi-mahi spicy from a Sonora salsa marinade, shredded red and green cabbage, avocado chunks and a jalapeno-touched ranch-style dressing. The key to this top-notch combination was the fish, which had those browned edges that store all the flavor. The same treatment had been given to the chicken in a combination plate ($5.95) that featured rice, black beans and a tiny salad as well as a burrito stuffed with the juicy fowl, hand-mashed guacamole and salsa deliciosa, a mild sauce of tomatoes pureed with poblanos. Appropriately, all the salsas at La Salsa, a link in a chain out of west L.A., were wonderful, especially the salsa fuego, a fiery condiment made from Japanese chile pods that wasn't just hot for the hell of it--it also carried a strong undercurrent of tomatoes and cilantro. We tried the fuego with chips, a basket of which came gratis when the overwhelmed lunch staff realized our food was taking a while.

Slow service was a real problem at the snazzily decorated Wahoo's Fish Taco (1521 Blake St.), and most of the food wasn't worth waiting for. (This joint has the LoDo lunch crowds by the kahunas.) The place looks great, though, and a few items were superb. The blackened fish taco ($2.25) featured mahi-mahi coated in knockout Cajun spices, and the Wahoo sandwich with carnitas ($5.95) offered excellent braised pork layered on a toasted roll with cheddar, lettuce and tomatoes. I'd go back, too, for the Baja roll ($2.75), a flour tortilla smeared with cream cheese, then stuffed with fresh spinach, salsa and bits of chicken, all rolled up and sliced into great snacks for a desk lunch. But the carne asada burrito ($3.50) was like eating boiled flank steak, the salsa was so simple it didn't spice things up, and the black beans and rice were so austere it felt like punishment to eat them.

The worst wait, though, was at ZuZu (2700 E. Third Ave.), where we sat for more than half an hour before I caught the clerk's eye with a pleading look. The big basket of chips we'd been given when we first came in was hardly enough to keep us occupied; only one of the four accompanying salsas available had any appeal. That was the salsa poblana, with big bits of tomatoes and a smooth heat perked up by plenty of cilantro. The watery salsa verde was tasteless, with too few seasonings to counteract the tang of the tomatillos; the other two salsas were even blander. And that was too bad, because the flautas that came with both of the combination platters we ordered were in dire need of embellishments; these "flutes," although fried perfectly, were filled with a pasty substance that tasted like dried-out chicken salad.

The taco y mas combo ($6.55) included a steak taco that was also unbelievably skimpy on the nicely seasoned meat and a cheese quesadilla so short of cheese that we thought it was an extra plain tortilla folded into quarters. The stinginess continued with the burrito y mas platter ($6.55), which included a bean-and-cheese gordita (which means "fatty") that was three inches in diameter and contained about twelve black beans and a few shreds of cheese. That, plus the flauta, a pathetically small and lifeless burrito with about a quarter-ounce of chicken, and a curled taco shell half full of beans completed the plate.

Since we were still hungry--a rare condition after eating Mexican food--we ordered three desserts: two flans ($2.25 each) and a cajeta nacho sundae ($2.25). The flans were surprisingly huge, but we ate only a few bites from each, because the custards tasted like butterscotch tapioca pudding. The boring sundae consisted of one scoop of ice cream and two strings of caramel and chocolate sauce surrounded by four pieces of broken tortilla coated with cinnamon and sugar. The ZuZu chain out of Texas linked up with Cherry Creek a month ago, and it's obvious they don't know what they're up against in this state.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner