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Mexican sushi rolls into Southern Colorado at Maria Bonita

New Pueblo Bessemer eatery offers old Mexican favorites and surprising new culinary take

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In the ongoing culture wars, no subject seems to loom larger and divide more than food. Well, at least in my family. So when the time came to take my dad out for a birthday lunch, I was needless to say a bit worried; would our dietary preferences match up? Could we both be happy at a restaurant?

To find out, we walk into Maria Bonita Mexican Restaurant & Mariscos early one afternoon. As we step in, we are almost immediately struck by the decorum. Maria Bonita is aptly named; it is gorgeous inside; bright and festive, adorned nearly everywhere with colorful paper decorations and a wall full of traditional Mexican folk-inspired sugar skull artwork. It’s a warm and celebratory feel, with a sign posted announcing a once weekly live mariachi band performance on Thursday evenings.

Right upon entry, we are seated and told that “chips and salsa are on the way” — the quickest way to this heart of mine. And once it arrives, it doesn’t disappoint either, with warm, homemade corn chips that have been fried perfectly, lightly salted, and presented with not one, but two types of salsa. First, a bright red traditional salsa flavored with plenty of garlic and oregano, and a zesty avocado crema sauce, neither of which is very high on the Scoville scale but full of great flavor.

With a menu of items listed in Spanish, it was a touch difficult for me to decide. But while looking, I spot something a bit odd; this Mexican restaurant serves sushi. SUSHI. A list of over a dozen rolls, with a roll named the Bambazo that I decide I have to try. I also opt for a shrimp ceviche tostada, while my pops goes for a classic smothered beef and bean combination burrito. As the waitress grabs the menus, she tells me that the roll will take around 15 minutes, so I tell her that I’m sure the chips and salsa will hold me over until then.

The shrimp ceviche tostada at Maria Bonita is a unique and refreshing dish.

A scant 10 minutes later, the food arrives. I go directly for the shrimp ceviche tostada, frankly not expecting much. There’s a saying that goes you shouldn’t eat seafood anywhere except on the coast, which this dish makes ring false. This shrimp has the fresh taste and consistency of its coastal peers and then some, immersing these crustaceans in a marinade of red chili, lime juice, avocado, cucumber and red onion so fresh and flavorful that it blows away most coastal seafood places where I’ve eaten.

The smothered bean and beef burrito at Maria Bonita is Guy Fieri’s very definition of money!

At this point, pops shows some interest in what’s on my plate, trying it out and adding that it’s “very refreshing” and “probably really good for the summertime” to eat.

Turnabout is fair play I always say, which is why I start picking at his burrito. A classic, the smothered beef and bean burrito isn’t new to this region, so I’ll just answer what you’re all thinking; the green chili is great; savory and spicy right in the pocket, great consistency, and plenty of it. And there’d better be, because this burrito is of monstrous stature, taking up nearly a whole 14 inch round plate, leaving just enough room for a side of rice and small salad, both of which play their background parts perfectly  to a T.

A Mexican sushi roll. I know, I was surprised too. But the Bambazo Roll (Spanish for explosion or bombshell) is a lot like a number of Japanese rolls, with slight tweaks that make all the difference. Marrying crab, cream cheese and avocado inside of nori and deep frying to a golden brown isn’t anything new, but the emphasis on Mexican spice and accompaniment is what makes this dish so uniquely delicious. The sides of crab salad and pickled carrot for the bambazo roll are exceptionally great for just this reason, utilizing the sweet and heat elements of coastal Mexican fare to create something wonderful and distinctive.

As we take our leave of Maria Bonita, both my father and I leave happy and with more than enough left over for to-go boxes. He tells me that he’d like to bring my mom back for the ceviche at some point. I’m glad we got to have this time together. We got to share more than just a meal together, and hopefully one we will both remember fondly for a while. Or until we go there again.


Maria Bonita is open from 10AM-9PM, 7 days a week. Stop in at 1234 S Prairie Ave in Pueblo, CO or learn more online at facebook.com/mariabonitapueblo

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Sweet and bold, Pueblo’s Fruit Bar is a fresh oasis

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As the dog days of summer hazily make their way into southern Colorado, most of us (myself included) are counting down the days until cooler weather appears. But if I’ve learned anything in all my years as a Coloradan, it’s that summer never goes down without a fight, and often sticks around as long as she can.

As the dog days of summer hazily make their way into southern Colorado, most of us (myself included) are counting down the days until cooler weather appears. But if I’ve learned anything in all my years as a Coloradan, it’s that summer never goes down without a fight, and often sticks around as long as she can.

With this in mind, I step into Pueblo’s Fruit Bar, newly opened mere steps from the Riverwalk downtown. You see, in hot weather such as the current wave we are in, the body and indeed the soul craves cold, refreshing and most importantly nutritious eats and treats. But why a fruit place, you ask? What could possibly be interesting about a place that only does fruit?

The short answer is everything, but the long one will take a bit more explanation.

For starters, Pueblo’s Fruit Bar looks great inside, a tidy corner shop with window seating and pleasant personnel. It has a bit of a Mexican soda shop feel, which is spot on when their menu is considered. Because this fruit bar is hiding some seriously fun snacks, from classic concession fares like nachos and hot dogs, not to mention Mexican elotes (a Mexican street corn on the cob engulfed in copious amounts of chili, lime, mayo and Parmesan cheese, served either on the cob or in a cup). On the sweeter side, summertime classics like milkshakes and soft serve ice cream are also available for those in want of.

The Crown Jewels of this fruit bar are their fruit dishes, all of which are assigned numbers upon the wall. After a few moments are spent deciding, my partner in crime and I decide on the #6 Mango and the #10 Piña Preparada. Upon ordering, we are asked if we want them both set up with lime salt and chile, to which we enthusiastically agree to. It’s not every day you get to have your fruit snack set up like a Bloody Mary!

After just a few minutes, we are handed two elaborate fruit concoctions and bid a pleasant farewell. After a short stroll (and impromptu photo shoot with such gorgeously served dishes), we dive right in.

The #6 is an entire mango, scored in a pattern resembling a flower, drizzled with chamoy (a pickled fruit-chili sauce) and plenty of lime salt. Simple, fresh and spoiler alert; it’s downright amazing, with the natural peppery undertones of the mango coming through with help from the chile and lime pairing, so that you taste sweet and heat in varying waves on the tongue. Perfect for a hot day.

Speaking of treats perfect for a hot day, have you met my new best friend the #10 Piña Preparada? Served inside a hollowed out pineapple, the Piña Prepada is ostensibly an edible arrangement; fresh cut pieces of jicama, cucumber, mango and cantaloupe mingling with pineapple rings and strawberry garnish, again with a liberal drizzling of chamoy and flavorful chile, lime and salt combo. Every bite was fresh and satisfying; the savory, sweet and heat coupling leaving my nosh date and me with a want for more while also feeling sublimely satiated.

Whether it’s savory or sweet, if you’re on the lookout for a healthier way to snack here in the 719, the Pueblo Fruit Bar and More has what you’re looking for.


Pueblo’s Fruit Bar is open at 112 N Union Ave 12-8 PM Tuesday-Thursday, 12-9 Friday, and Saturday, and 1-6 PM Sunday.

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Say hello to the new trend in wine: pop-top cans

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It’s five o’clock somewhere, and you decide now’s the perfect time to pop the top on an adult beverage and chill in your favorite hangout spot: the backyard, the couch, a boat. You fill in the blank. The only thing wrong with this picture? You don’t like beer. But wait! What’s in your can isn’t beer at all, but wine.

Wine in can? It’s not as bizarre as it sounds. Wine has been available in cans for a long time, but no one drank it because it was gross. Recently, however, new canning technology has made canning wine easier. As a result, a mix of big conglomerate wine companies (Flip Flop, Barefoot, etc.) and small, family-run wineries have made the leap to canned wines with the goal of elevating this neglected segment of the market.

And it’s working: according to Nielsen, canned wine sales rose by 125.2 percent in 2016, prompting publications from Bloomberg to Wine Enthusiast to declare canned wine one of the top trends of 2017.

Why would anyone drink canned wine? For the same reason people drink canned beer: convenience. Cans are smaller and more portable than a bottle of wine, and they can go to places like beaches and parks where glass isn’t allowed.

Let’s imagine a scenario where you want to go for a hike, say to the top of Long’s Peak. And when you get to the summit of Long’s Peak you want to celebrate with a toast of wine, because why wouldn’t you. In ye olden tymes, to make your dream a reality you’d have to buy a big ol’ bottle of wine, lug that fat sucker up 14,259 feet, remember to pack a corkscrew, take the cork out, find somewhere to put the cork so you’re not a litter bug, and then face the option of either drinking the whole bottle (not the best idea, because elevation) or recorking it and carrying it back down the mountain, praying that it won’t leak or break on the way.

Now, thanks to the wonder of modern technology, you just grab a can of wine, toss it into your backpack, drink it and be done.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Canned wines can go anywhere someone 21 years or older can: movies, picnics, lunch breaks. The sky’s the limit.

Before you go all in, it’s worth noting that canned wine does have its drawbacks. First of all is price. While Trader Joe’s sells canned wine for $1 a can (not in Colorado, though, don’t get too excited), most go for $20-$30 for a set of four. That’s more than the average person spends on a bottle of everyday wine. It seems like an intimidating price point even though most cans contain about 2.5 servings of wine, so you’d get several bottles out of a pack.

Another issue is aroma. The closed top on cans completely mutes any aromas from the wine, which are a huge part of any wine’s flavor profile. Of course, you could solve this issue by pouring your canned wine into a glass, but let’s be real here. If you were going to pour wine into a glass anyway, why not just buy a bottle?

In order to counteract the lack of aroma, most canned wines have added residual sugar, which gives canned wines brighter, more fruit-forward flavors. Many are also fizzy on the tongue, even if they’re meant to be flat wines and not bubbly, a result of elevated levels of acidity to balance out the sugary sweetness.

Add to that the chill factor (you should always chill canned wine, even if it’s a red), and there’s only one thing this recipe of low alcohol content and fizzy sweetness spells: SUMMER.

If you’re looking for a decent canned wine, there are several solid options. Sofia Mini Blanc de Blanc, a sparkling wine produced by the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, was the first high-quality canned wine on the market, and remains the most popular. The design of the cans, which includes a tiny pink straw, was inspired by Japanese soda cans and has the same cute-but-cool vibe. The wine is crisp and tasty, with a ton of tropical fruit and pear notes. These cans are truly ideal for super-classy picnics. Recreating scenes from Marie Antoinette not required, but encouraged.

Another canned wine earning accolades is Underwood from Oregon’s Union Wine Company. Their cans are the exact same size as a can of soda, with an understated and subtle design, so they’re perfect for those times when you don’t want to be caught adult drinking in public. The best part? Underwood wines are complex, fruit-forward, and well-balanced, regularly scoring between 85 and 88 points on Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Try their carbonated sparkling, the closest thing you’ll find to alcoholic soda, or the Pinot noir, which is surprisingly complex.

Central California is a region carving out a name for itself in canned wine, with many small wineries turning their traditional bottles into successful canned wines. Definitely try Ruza, a dry rosé with a tingly finish that’s simply delightful on a hot day. Or search out Field Recording Wine, which makes not one but two lines of canned wine: Fiction and Alloy Wine Works. Both are seriously fruity and seriously crushable, with long finishes propelled by minerality and acidity.

Canned wines may not be for every occasion, but when it comes to getting outside in the summer they’re hard to beat for convenience. And with so many solid wineries and different styles of wine getting into the game, there’s no reason to say no to canned wine. Enjoy a can of wine? Yes you can!

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All bottled up: The sriracha company taking over an old Pueblo middle school kitchen

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When Pueblo County started marketing the Pueblo Chile in 2015 there was a hope — an expectation — that it would pay off in terms of making farming profitable.

Part of that success could be measured in how much more chile is sold by farmers and how much more of the commodity ends up in stores. But it could also be measured in how many secondary jobs the spicy crop creates, such as the small-batch organic, preservative-free sriracha maker that moved to Pueblo from Denver in June just to be closer to Pueblo chile.

Grahpic by Riki Takaoka

Jolene Collins started making Jojo’s Sriracha in Brooklyn in 2010. And in the last seven years her business has grown as she moved to Denver where she created her own industrial kitchen with her partner Rachel. The business has grown so much it doesn’t make sense to keep operating in Denver any longer. Now, Collins will operate Jojo’s Sriracha out of an old middle school kitchen-turned incubator kitchen by a group of organic farmers in Eastern Pueblo County.

The Excelsior Farmer’s Exchange kitchen has 25,000 square-feet of space. Collins will take up 5,000 of that to make the condiment that’s now sold in 80 stores around the U.S.

The move has proven to be good because of the chile, but also presents an opportunity with the co-op-style space.

The following is an interview with Collins, edited for clarity and space.

You’re working out of Excelsior Farmer’s Exchange Incubator Kitchen. What was appealing about that to your business?

Quite a few things. I had worked intermittently in and out of shared kitchens in Brooklyn and Denver and it was always kind of a bleh experience. People are messy, it’s expensive. There are just always issues that come up, and you only have so much power as one person. When I moved back to Denver from Brooklyn, we created an industrial kitchen out of a place in the Highlands. We had almost 2,000 peppers fermenting in the space.

It was really cool that we had our own space, but it didn’t have the longevity to grow with us. So earlier this year, Rachel and I were like what do we want to do — with our business, with our lifestyle, with our lives.

Rachel’s parents live in Colorado Springs, and they kept telling us to check out Pueblo. We called the county and they showed us some spaces and then we went out to Excelsior. It was pretty clear there was a lot of synergy in that place. We were like what is this? It was awesome.

They have this huge vegetable washer — and we’ve been doing that by hand.

Because these guys involved in Excelsior are all chile guys, they have stuff that’s great for processing chile peppers. Everything we needed and then some. The logistics were perfect, and then there’s the fact that the farmers are two miles down the road. They talked about what they grew and we gave them a snapshot of what we needed. The ease of being able to do an in-season process has been the vision since the beginning, but it takes time to grow and for a farmer to take you seriously enough to grow something for you.

We’ve got 10,000 jars and 5,000 mini jars sitting at the school and we’re hoping that will be our year’s supply. We don’t have investors, that’s been part of the growth. It’s a big leap forward, but we’re in a good position to do it.

We’re making a year’s supply in 20 to 30 kitchen days and we’re only paying for that — not 365 like we would in a shared kitchen. We’re going to be cutting our production cost in half. The efficiencies and extra places to store things, that’s going to cut production time. It was just like a yes, yes, yes.

Jolene Collins and her partner Rachel mix up a batch or their OG sriracha in the Excelsior incubator kitchen in Eastern Pueblo County. Photo via Pueblo County

Did you ever imagine you would grow out of Denver and into a small place, like Pueblo?

We knew a couple of people who moved out of Denver to places like Santa Fe or Salida and it was a very romantic idea, and we had an open mind about where we would go next. But the Pueblo thing just happened so quickly. It was just right and it was where we supposed to be. We certainly could have made our space in Denver work.

The other part is even if Denver was affordable, this isn’t where the chiles are being grown. In Pueblo there’s a relationship between the product and the farmer.

The farmers behind the kitchen and exchange have started what they describe as a ‘food hub.’ As a manufacturer, do you see a future in that?

They have an interesting story, going from rivalry farmers to a co-op.

It’s important that we’re not just a producer — that we have that synergy and relationship. Just this morning we were looking up getting a booth at the Chile Festival. We want to have a presence and show what we’re doing.

We hear a lot about collaboration spaces — coworking spaces — and different industries coming together — usually in tech or art. But not so much in food. Do you think projects having a spaces like this changes that for small-batch food products like yourself?

For a while we were working out of Kitchen Network in Denver, and it was cool. We got to collaborate. It was a space where makers could meet. I think there are those moments where you realize I make this and you make this and maybe we should put my sriracha in your hemp burgers. There is that opportunity for collaboration.

It’s cool to be first here, and we’d like to think we’re pioneers and help them create a really successful space. The space is huge. It’ll be interesting to see who comes through. And because it’s not completely built out, it will be maker-driven. Whoever comes through and says what they need, it will become that. That’s a really unique opportunity that they’re all open ears.

You said a lot of your Denver friends are jealous of the space you’re using in Eastern Pueblo County. Do you think the set-up here will attract more businesses like yours?

The major thing that they’re jealous about is that it’s cheaper. You feel that clutter of that cramped space in an urban area.

We’ll totally be supporters of getting people down there if it’s a good fit. If makers have their head on straight and realize it’s a fit, then they’ll come.

So you’re using the Pueblo Chile — which has been marketed as a product that has some variability. Is that a challenge or is it helpful?

It is a challenge. We started with the OG — our red chile sriracha — we typically use red jalapenos or red fresnos for that. We’ve been using Pueblo chile’s for our green — and that’s our baby.

It does make me nervous with the in-season processing, so we work with the farmers on this. We’re filling up 10,000 jars, so it’ll take some risk and nerding out. It’s all in sourcing the peppers. In the green, we use three-to four green chiles and work around the chile.

We want a nice medium to medium-high heat. We’re not looking to blow people’s heads off. But these farmers know these chiles and they’re giving us feedback. The chile can change and the rest of the recipe stays the same.

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