Pica’s Mexican Taqueria is the latest local entry in the mid-priced, fast-casual taco and burrito arena. Not a large chain or a strictly one-location operation, it nevertheless manages to dish out satisfying and surprisingly tasty-for-the-price Mexican specialties. Situated near the Flatirons Business Park, it also is a welcome addition to a part of Boulder that’s somewhat limited in its dining options.
While the atmosphere of this Arapahoe Avenue strip mall locale is just a notch above a cafeteria, the outside patio is quite pleasant and surprisingly tranquil on a warm evening. Additionally, the dining experience is enhanced by the pronounced “friendly snowboarders making burritos” vibe. Perhaps the fact that Pica’s first shop was in Jackson, Wyo., explains the Mexico-by-way-of-Corbet’s- Couloir ethos.
Pica’s menu is consistent with an Americanized taqueria. You won’t find the exotic bits of cow head and sundry digestive system components (I do like those), but a more user-friendly selection of burritos, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and salads. Soups include a classic tortilla number and chicken posole. At the lower end of the price scale, there’s a $5.25 meatless burrito of black beans, rice and queso. The most pricey items here are shrimp burritos and tacos, which carry a still reasonable tariff of $8.95.
Friend Lisa and I started with a $5.25 order of guacamole, which was more than enough for two and paired with substantial-yet-crispy flour tortilla chips. At this price, you can’t expect theatrical table side
preparation. However, it was clear that this dip had only recently been taken out of the fridge, as the cold internal temperature prevented the flavor from fully blooming. A shame, really, as this was an avocado purists’ delight, consisting mostly of unadulterated
fruit with little in the way of superfluous garnishes.
A properly prepared Baja-style seafood taco is a thing of beauty, and there is much here for the palate and eye to savor. Shrimp and mahi are the two available choices, and Lisa thoroughly enjoyed her $8.50 shellfish version, sided with rice and black beans. The beer batter was simply exemplary, with deep flavor and delicate, straight-from-the-fryer crispness.
No faults could be found with the clean and meaty shrimp, which was enhanced by an appropriately subtle and smoky chipotle salsa and citrusy slaw with a hint of cream.
I was equally pleased with a $7.50 adobado pork burrito stuffed with meat marinated in red chile. Aesthetically, this differs from similarly priced burritos in that it didn’t come wrapped up in aluminum foil like the post-mortem Walt Disney of urban legend. Instead, it was laid out with Pollockesque spritzes of red adobado sauce, sour cream and salsa.
The meat was falling-off-the-bone tender and full of porky richness. In the past, I’ve sampled adobado sauces that were nearly too hot to eat, but Pica’s version more closely resembled a milder, yet complex, mole sauce. The spicy presence of red chile was undeniable, but there were also pleasing yet subtle tones of smoke, sweet and chocolate. This fullness of flavor and ample portion should satisfy just about everyone. As a matter of fact, while I’ve been guilty of going to a big burrito chain for convenience’s sake, I’m likely to go the extra distance to enjoy Pica’s value-laden offerings.
Clay’s Obscurity Corner
Adobo, adobado and adovada The terms adobo, adobado and adovada are related, but mean slightly different things. Adobo translates to “sauce” in Spanish, although it also refers to Filipino dishes marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, such as chicken adobo. Adobado more specifically refers to meat that has been marinated, and in Mexico and the American Southwest, there’s an expectation that red chile is the primary ingredient. Carne Adovada is popular in New Mexico and takes full advantage of that state’s chile harvest. One of the finest and most potent versions of adovada can be found at Angelina’s in Espanola, N.M.[ Pica’s Mexican ] Taqueria 5360 Arapahoe Ave., Suite F, Boulder 303-444-2391