Restaurant review: Papa Jose’s Union Cafe


papajose.jpgIn a community known for the quality of its Mexican food, Papa Jose’s Union Cafe stands out for all the right reasons. Located at 320 S. Union Ave. in the heart of Pueblo’s downtown district, Papa Jose’s is a warm, welcoming and recommendable place to grab a bite to eat.

Papa Jose’s is located just shy of the Union Avenue bridge, next to Zipper’s Bar and across the street from the Cock and Bull Tavern; despite the neighboring establishments, parking is usually not a problem. Once inside, getting a table isn’t usually a problem either, despite the narrow, lengthy nature of most of Pueblo’s downtown buildings.

Papa Jose’s walls are lined with appropriate, attractive Southwestern decor, and the place usually smells like — you guessed it — Mexican food. A vague scent of hot oil and deep fried goodness is present, but never oppressive.

Customers typically order at the main counter during the day time, but during dinner, dependable servers provide full table service, shuttling menus, beverages and plates to and from the kitchen.

As far as the menu is concerned, all the Mexican staples are present: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, taquitos, flautas, chimichangas, chile rellenos, huevos rancheros, green chile cups and taco salads are all freshly prepared. Tamales are usually an option but are sometimes subject to availability. A daily special also highlights one of the aforementioned selections.

Most food savvy customers know that they can expect to find slight variations in the same dishes in different establishments. Papa Jose’s version of Mexican cuisine is more than adequate, though. The tacos, which are available with corn, soft flour, or deep fried shells, and come with a choice of meat, are always reliable. Burritos can be filled with anything under the sun, and the enchiladas and tamales are filling.

The more specialized items, like chimichangas, are more hit or miss, and can occasionally suffer from over-frying. The restaurant also prepares a mean bowl of posolé — a cold weather favorite.

Combination meals are also available and offer a creative mix of the main menu items. Nearly everything on the menu is available either as a meal, which includes both refried beans and spanish rice, or as separate items. Some selections, like enchiladas, are smothered in mild, medium or hot green chile.

Food is also available for take out, but that option is more popular during the lunch hour, and most people choose to stay in for dinner.

After being seated, patrons are welcomed with a fresh plate of homemade chips and salsa, and refills are often necessary. Drinks usually come next, and Papa Jose’s offers a suitable range of soda, SoBe beverages, beer (both domestic and imported), wine and margaritas.

After enjoying any of the fine main course offerings, customers may then partake of some fried ice cream or homemade sopapillas. Take warning, though: the sopapillas come out steaming, so bite and tear cautiously.

The verdict

Although Papa Jose’s is something of a well-kept secret in terms of Mexican restaurants in Pueblo, the place does a fair bit of business. While other restaurants like Jorge’s and Nacho’s take up a large amount of the Mexican food limelight in Pueblo, Papa Jose’s more than holds its own, and attracts the usual Pueblo fare.

The restaurant benefits from a reputable location, and most customers are orderly and nicely dressed. Take heed of another warning, though: you will go home smelling like Mexican food. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to be aware of nonetheless.

Expect to spend about seven to eight dollars a head at Papa Jose’s. Ordering items separately (as in no refried beans and rice) can cut costs a bit, but even so, the prices aren’t outrageous. A family of four at dinner can expect to spend around $30, and with dessert, maybe $35. Alcoholic beverages, as always, can add up and raise your bill considerably.

The quality of food and atmosphere gives Papa Jose’s a great deal of credit in our Mexican food-swamped town. After years of dining at Papa Jose’s, and watching the owner wiping tables and carrying chips and salsa back and forth; this reviewer still fancies the restaurant to be a place of absolute quality. If you’ve got a hankering for Mexican food and haven’t been here yet, take care of that problem immediately.

Four out of five stars.

Phone number: (719) 545-7476
Address: 320 S. Union Ave., Pueblo, Colo. 81003
Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Specialty: Mexican food