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.
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.
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