Veggie Girl: Tocabe

My roots go deep in New Mexico, so I'm fairly well-versed when it comes to Native American cuisine, and Indian fry bread and Navajo tacos are a few of my very favorite treats. So I was thrilled to hear that a new, fast-casual Native American place was opening at 3536 West 44th Avenue.

Tocabe is modeled after Chipotle, but instead of tacos and burritos you can order American Indian Tacos (what we always called Navajo Tacos), Stuffed Indian Tacos, Medicine Wheel Nachos, Iko's Soup of the Day, Little Osage Pizza and Dessert Tacos.

In New Mexico, it's really easy to find vegetarian Native American and New Mexico food. When I was home for Christmas last week, I stopped by the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to try its superb new restaurant -- and sampled blue corn cheese enchiladas and a veggie burger wrapped in fry bread, both smothered in vegetarian red and green chile. While Tocabe doesn't offer any chile sauce, it does have both hot and mild chopped green chile and hot and mild salsa.

On my first visit to Tocabe, I decided to try the Little Osage Pizza. The vegetarian version is a piece of fry bread covered with refried beans and any toppings you want. I opted for the works: cheddar cheese, tomatoes, red onion and hot green chile. The pizza was heated in the back kitchen, and when it came out I had the staffer at the counter add some of the hot salsa, along with a drizzle of sour cream and ancho chile sauce. It was love at first bite. The toppings hit all the right notes: the refried beans were great, and the hot green chile actually had a little bite, which is really hard to find in Denver's vegetarian chiles.

Since I'd gone to Tocabe with a group of vegetarian friends, I got to sample several items. The American Indian Tacos were fine (although not as good as the pizza), and come with your choice of vegetarian kidney, pinto, black or refried beans. The nachos were excellent, with red, blue, yellow and white corn chips smothered in a nacho cheese sauce. We skipped the Stuffed Indian Tacos, since we were warned that the vegetarian version often explodes due to all the juices in the beans. But they looked so good coming out of the oven -- like fried Southwestern calzones -- that next time I'll throw caution to the wind and order one, anyway.

We also wanted to try a dessert taco (fry bread topped with hot apples or cherries and sprinked with powdered sugar or cinnamon) or the fry bread nuggets, but we were simply too stuffed this time around.

While nothing on the menu is super-healthy, the kitchen does make a point to flash fry rather than deep fry its bread. The prices are reasonable ($5.95 for most vegetarian entrees), and Tocabe is also a very green restaurant. All of the cups, straws, plates and plasticware are 100 percent compostable, and so instead of tossing out its garbage, Tocabe has it hauled away to be composted.

All in all, Tocabe is a very commendable concept: unique (and good!) food served in an environmentally friendly way. The owners plan to open more restaurants; it would begreat to have one by the Westword office!

Tocabe is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 720-524-8282.

-- Aubrey Shoe

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