I don’t care what your politics are; if you’re a chowhound, the benefits of immigration are not to be sniffed at—just blissfully inhaled. From pho to falafel & curry to cannoli, diversity begets deliciousness, the broader the better. Case in point: the little piece of South America in the Highlands that is Sabor Latino.
Opened in its original location by a mom-&-pop team from Mexico and Chile, respectively, some 20 years ago, this sunny, colorful café has long brightened the corner of 35th and Tennyson under the ownership of Robert Luevano & his sister Marie Jimenez, along with her husband Dan Jimenez. The Colorado-born siblings grew up in the restaurant business; their own pop, who hailed from Guadalajara, ran North Denver’s now-defunct La Nueva Poblana for decades. Meanwhile, current chef Gabriel Tapia is Sonoran. Needless to say, the menu doesn’t lack for Mexican staples. But what sets Sabor Latino apart is an array of South Cone specialties whose likes you don’t often encounter stateside. Compared to that of Brazil and Argentina, Colombian and Peruvian cuisine isn’t widely available even in the biggest US cities—while Chilean food is almost unheard of. Hence my excitement at the sight of pastel de choclo among the platos especiales, not weeks after returning from the first of what I hope will be many trips to the land of Carménère & superb seafood (both of which are also offered here—the latter in the form of fine ceviche, the cold citrus-marinated seafood snack beloved throughout Latin America).
As Luevano describes it, pastel de choclo is “basically a pot pie layered with pino & shredded chicken, topped with a creamed corn mixture & then baked.” As I describe it, pastel de choclo is awesome. It’s the pino that distinguishes this cornbread casserole from the stuff of heartland potlucks; the mixture of ground beef, onions, raisins, and olives (and sometimes, though not in this case, chopped egg) is ubiquitous in Chile. Also used as a filling for the empanadas on the appetizer sampler, it’s rich, savory-sweet, & a bit smoky, kicked up with garlic, chili powder & other spices Luevano wouldn’t name out of respect for the proprietary recipes of Doña Maria, as he affectionately calls the baker who has been with them since day one. She also makes the tamales Colombianos, wrapped in banana leaves rather than the corn husks typically found further north. Admittely, I favor bandeja paisa, mainly because the Colombian dish of shredded beef, black beans & rice topped with a fried egg includes luscious fried plantains & arepas, flat cornmeal cakes stuffed with queso fresco à la gorditas & pupusas—pictured here on the appetizer sampler with more plantains but inadequate empañadas, simply not the height of freshness.
That said, you really can’t go too wrong here. Unless, that is, you fail to start with a round of pisco sours made the traditional way, with egg whites—talk about sabor latino.