Central Bistro closed its doors June 11 this year to reopen last weekend as Candela — a Latin inspired kitchen bringing affordable and creative Mexican/Caribbean cuisine to LoHi. Owner Isiah Salazar and executive chef Jesse Vega — the same team behind Central Bistro — looked to Latin America to inspire the tropical cocktail list at the Rum Room, a unique mix of South American-inspired dishes in the kitchen and the revamped, vibrant atmosphere that is now Candela Latin Kitchen.
The Candela concept has brightened up the old Central Bistro atmosphere with a vibrant new paint scheme. They have added some fun food-inspired graphics that really give off an authentic Latin American feel. The bar top has been refinished and re-brandished the “Rum Room” — the redesigned watering hole comes equipped with an open-air patio and bistro area to make sipping its fruit-centric cocktails during the summer irresistible.
A few things survived the remodel though, including the bright red HOT sign that hangs over the kitchen window and the branded metal “C” dividers from the Central Bistro concept have remained in the entryway. Overall, the restaurant fronts a fresh cantina-style atmosphere topped with a new, hip-hop oriented soundtrack which keeps the mood light and the appetite roaring.
The food can be described as Latin America-inspired Caribbean/Mexican fusion, including Puerto Rican classics like mofongo ($10) and pastelon ($9) along with traditional Mexican dishes like Mushroom Empanadas ($10) — which come served with sweet fig and caramelized onion. Candela offers a spread of tacos as well. Our favorites include the freestyle taco of the day and the sweet plantain taco ($4) which comes topped with fiery roasted poblano, queso fresco and crispy shallot — it is a must have. There is also a raw bar that offers a shrimp ceviche ($12) and oysters on the half shell ($24 a dozen).
The highlight from the Antojitos (little cravings) side of the menu is definitely the Pescaditos ($10). A generous pile of whole, bone-in freshwater fish comes marinated in a chimichurri, battered, fried and served with a side of creamy aji amarillo mayo. Eating an entire fish whole has never been so easy. These little swimmers really bring something to the menu that isn’t being done anywhere else in Denver. This is nothing like eating a sardine out of a can — think of it as a fish stick with a backbone.
The beef anticuchos ($10) are served in five bright red piece that are perfect for turning up the heat and sharing with the table. The heat on the marinade comes as the result of Aji Panca — a Peruvian red pepper that is bright in color, moderate in spice and full of flavor. The dish is topped with scallion and crispy shallot which gives the skewered beef a delightful crunch at first bite.
The Rum Room offers tropical inspired classic cocktails that are perfect for sipping on the patio or at the brightly lit bar — with a taco or a bowl of pork mofongo. The boozy offerings include fantastic classics like a margarita ($8) and a paloma ($8) that are both made with freshly squeezed citrus that is, of course, juiced in-house daily.
Our two must haves from The Rum Room are the Candela Colada ($9) and the caipirinha ($8) which are both simple, traditional and beachy to the bone. The Candela Colada is served with a house blend of rum, Vega Colada and freshly squeezed lime juice. This drink is a dangerous combo of sweet and acidic, so be ready to pucker up and salivate simultaneously. The Caipirinha is a simplistic Brazilian cocktail — also known as a pinga or a caninha — composed of three part: Cachaca 61 rum, freshly squeezed lime juice and raw sugar. The bar team describes it as a taste of waves crashing on the beach, and we couldn’t think of a better way to describe it ourselves.
Candela Latin Kitchen is located at 1691 Central Street, Denver. It is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to midnight.
All photography by Danielle Webster.