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|July 2- July 8, 2009
• Pasta, potato or green
Quick salad recipes to complement a 4th of July barbecue
by Susan M. Selasky
• The Dessert Diva
A local chef shares her sweet secrets
by Danette Randall
South of the Republic
La Panda serves anti-Boulder Mexican fare, and that’s a good thing
by Clay Fong
There was something very David Lynch about the scene. As Kurt and I rolled up to La Panda, a Mexican restaurant off Longmont’s main drag, we couldn’t help but notice the figure sitting quietly on the parking lot’s pavement. Wearing a straw cowboy hat and toting a guitar, he was oblivious to us as we entered the restaurant. Equally enigmatic was the painting of a panda bear on the front window, an ethnically confusing image, to put it delicately.
Early for dinner, we were the only customers in the restaurant. However, as the evening went on it became clear La Panda is a popular spot for families with young children. An instant after taking our seats, our understated but attentive server plunked down a serving of chips and salsa. The chips would have been better if they were warmer than room temperature, and Kurt found them thicker than he would have liked. The red salsa was fine, and would seem familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance of the more authentic local restaurants.
Munching on the chips, we paged through the menu, which had everything you would expect in a joint like this. Weekend menudo, the obligatory combination plates, the Tampiqueña platter of steak and enchilada were all present, as were more unexpected choices such as a ceviche tostada. Kurt followed my lead by ordering a quartet of à la carte tacos ranging in price from $1.55 to $2, depending on the choice of meats.
La Panda’s tacos closely adhere to my benchmark criteria. First, there is the matter of the proper tortilla. Crunchy Taco Bell versions need not apply here, as the true blue standard is two soft saucer-sized tortillas. We both ordered up the less expensive corn variant, which were larger than the classic taquita size and thicker than usual. Thickness isn’t a bad thing in this case, as it’s the main line of defense against having the taco collapse into a soggy mess under the weight of the fillings.
With respect to garnishes, minimalism is key. Shredded cheddar, sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes are simply superfluous when it comes to a hearty meaty filling, although many chains use them to punch up drab ground beef. With tacos of the sort dished out by La Panda, the only acceptable flourish is a sprinkling of diced onion and cilantro, and the staff here goes so far to ask if customers desire even that level of garnish.
The meaty fillings were more than satisfactory. Kurt happily remarked that his pollo was a long way from the lean chicken of Boulder. The asada beef also received a thumbs up, although the red chile-infused pork adovada was dry. His favorite though, was the carnitas, flavorful and moist pork. For my part, I found the chicharónnes pork rind was greasier than other versions, and my two favorites were the moist and tender shredded barbacoa beef and the chunky lengua, expertly seasoned beef tongue. Drops of Tapatio hot sauce helped highlight the flavor.
While some of the more surreal aspects of La Panda’s ambience remained puzzling, what wasn’t a mystery was our enjoyment of the fare. “That certainly wasn’t your typical Boulder healthy Mexican,” said Kurt. “That’s right,” I replied, “and that’s precisely the point,” as I wondered when I might return for a lengua burrito.
Clay’s obscurity corner
Growing up on tacos purchased from trucks in Oakland, I would enjoy the simple vegetable sides accompanying these treats. Each small paper sack of tacos might come with a stalk or two of green onion and a couple of radishes. These accoutrements provided a counterpoint to meatiness of the tacos by virtue of their crunch and lighter flavor, although they also provided a hint of spice. Another garnish that I haven’t seen much of in Colorado is a spicy pickle consisting of onion, carrot slices and jalapeño. More deluxe versions of this escabeche might also contain cauliflower, celery and garlic.
La Panda Mexican Restaurant
1118 N. Main St., Longmont,
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