A new restaurant opened back in late May, bringing an interesting concept that is wholly new to the city. Super Mega Bien, from the same owners of Work & Class, is serving ‘Pan-Latin Dim Sum’ — intriguing, eh? Pan-Latin meaning countries of Latin descent and for Super Mega Bien that include Brazil, Cuba, Spain, Mexico Peru, Chile and more.
Traditional dim sum is a Chinese cuisine of small bite-size portions, usually dumplings in steamer baskets. Waiters come around with a cart of small plates and you just point to what you want and they put it on the table. In other words, no waiting for your food to come out. It’s a combination of fine dining and fast food. Super Mega Bien has merely taken this concept and applied it to a different cuisine.
If you’ve ever been to Work & Class, you’ll know that it’s a relaxing place of refuge to come after work and get an affordable drink and a plate of delicious empanadas or a rotisserie chicken if you’re extra hungry. Anytime you walk by, the patio is always full. Owner and executive chef, Dana Rodriguez and co-owner, Tony Maciag along with the rest of the crew wanted to keep the same comfortable, fun environment at Work & Class but be more experimental with the design and the cuisine. It’s located in the same building as the Ramble Hotel across from Cart Driver and diagonal from Work & Class — making for a truly delicious corner.
The immediate attraction is the patio where you’ll see people sipping refreshing colorful cocktails while soaking in the last bits of warm weather. But the inside is like an art gallery — there are so many things to look at. It has to be one of the best places to go on a blind date because the place is full of conversation starters. Perhaps, the 1,800 Ash Wood dowels on the ceiling held up by 6,000 pounds of steel definitely will catch your eye. The dowels that unevenly shoot from the ceiling make the restaurant feel more intimate, in addition to feeling like it’s all going to topple down on you. If you even find the time to look down, the tables are all made of old wooden basketball floors from a school in Boulder. In the middle of the dining area is a column with a big Luchadore face signaling the culture you’re immersed in. Essentially, the design is a mix of local and Latin elements.
To give a nod to the origins of dim sum, a cut out of Bruce Lee is on a column, overlapping a Cuban newspaper. Matter Design studio helped with all of the fun wall art and most of the design aspects. For instance, there are individually made posters of well-known Latin Americans and cool facts about the region. One poster is of the Spanish-American actress and flamenco guitarist, Charo. Another is a bio about Sandra Ávila Beltran, a Mexican drug cartel dubbed ‘the Queen of the Pacific.’ It’s definitely worth it to walk around and check out all of the artwork.
But out of all of the visually and intellectually pleasing aspects, the baby blue colored dim sum carts delivering insanely good dishes may be the best part.
“We traveled to Peru, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Cuba,” said Rodriguez. “It was interesting to go and find these ingredients. We don’t exactly do the traditional way — we do the flavors our own way.” On the menu, you’ll find everything from Ahi peppers from Peru and dry peppers from Oaxaca to make mole and achiote.
A lot of the food is local as well. “The chicken is Red Bird from Colorado, the lamb is Colorado lamb,” said Rodriguez. “And the vegetables are whatever we can find here, then we move to California and Mexico.”
Half of the menu is dim sum and all of the items are labeled as GF or DF for gluten or dairy-free as well. The waiter will ask if you have any preferences to make it easier to pick from the cart. Dim sum plates range from $5 to $9. Many items are popular mainstays, while some change based on what’s seasonal or whether customers like it or not. And in addition to the gluten and dairy-free options, there are several vegetarian dishes. But honestly, you may want to break your vegetarian vows for a night.
The ropa vieja (GF, DF) ($5) — Cuban shredded beef with plantain is ‘melt-in-your-mouth,’ amazing. The beef is topped with olive tapenade giving a nice saltiness, and the plantains add a bit of sweetness. Homemade pork chorizo sausage (GF, DF) ($7) with pickled vegetables and a spicy mustard sauce is rather divine as well.
Vegetarian? The manchego + corn stuffed Piquillo peppers (GF) ($7) — small, red, meat-like textured peppers overflowing with fresh corn and cheese are a good option. Another is the parmesan fried eggplant + avocado mousse ($5), which is like a healthier version of fried mozzarella — but just as good.
And you can’t do Pan-Latin without seafood, of course. The Yucatan-style shrimp ceviche (GF, DF) ($9) is the perfect cool, refreshing dish on a hot day — or any day really. Not to mention, all of the seafood comes from Denver’s Seattle Fish Co.
The other half of the menu consists of big family-style plates that people can share. The dishes vary in size, feeding anywhere from two to five people.
We tried the Lamb Mixiote ($29) — a Mexican dish of braised Colorado lamb wrapped in a banana leaf, served with a grilled cactus salad and homemade tortillas to make tacos. It comes steaming wrapped in foil and full of flavor — it’s not your average taco. Rodriguez’s favorite is the roasted duck ($19 half, $38 full). “It’s Peking style but with Latin flavors like chipotle peppers, orange and honey.”
Or if you just want something light, go for the Excellent Salad ($10 half, $18 full) with quinoa, watercress, avocado, apples, queso fresco and a chipotle-orange vinaigrette.
We are here to tell you that this is fresh, homemade food, from a team of chefs that are doing Latin American cuisine in the traditional way, but with their own touch. Even the hot sauce is a homemade mix of toasted chile de Arbol and habanero, white vinegar and spices.
When we spoke with Rodriguez, she was leaving for Mexico to make her own house tequila for the restaurant. So not only did she travel for ingredients and recipes for the food but now for the drinks. But until we can taste this delicacy, we can revel in their innovative cocktails and house-made tonics.
Some of the cocktails come individually, others are large formats for three to four people to share. The house-made tonics ($9) are different flavor blends mixed with gin, one being La Rosa which is a floral variety. The pina colada ($12) comes individually — but it’s not in the normal frozen slushie form, rather it’s light and refreshing. A delicious large format is the Terremoto ($25) (750ml) a Chilean wine float with fruit sorbet. The big scoop of sorbet melts into the wine and gives it a bubbly texture. This wine is so good that they serve it alone as well, chilled with lime. The drink menu is as well-thought-out as the food.
Between the awe-inspiring interior design, the cart service and the food and drink — Super Mega Bien lives up to its name.
Super Mega Bien is located at 1260 25th St., Denver. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 11 p.m.
All photography by Rebecca Grant.