June 15, 2012

Casa Alvarez of Boulder and its Excellent Gluten-Free Mexican Food

By Evan Sandsmark -  

Every so often, humans are struck with the urge to consume a particular type of food. As humans, we experience this desire too. Our most recent urge centered on Mexican food, which is fairly easy to come by in a place like Boulder, so we set off to find some gluten-free Mexican food. A little research led us to Boulder’s Casa Alvarez, a Mexican restaurant with a large selection of gluten-free food (and therefore, of course, gluten-free Mexican food). Their selection is so large, in fact, that they have an entirely separate menu detailing their gluten-free dishes. This menu and the excellent dishes on it make Casa Alvarez a perfect place to get gluten-free Mexican food in Boulder.

Casa Alvarez is a large restaurant with a unique, labyrinthine layout. After entering the restaurant, you’ll likely be taken to the right, to a table that is near the bar. (You could also be taken to the left, but this additional dining space doesn’t appear to be used unless the restaurant is busy.) This bar area is partitioned into three levels. On the main level, where we sat, is the bar itself, along with some high tables. Behind this area is a small stairway that leads to additional tables on an upper level, which is perhaps five feet above the main floor. Beneath this is a lower level, which is only about three feet below the main floor, with still more seating. These different seating areas are not in separate rooms, and so are all integrated together in the main room. It’s a little hard to explain, but we trust you grasp our basic point, which, again, is merely that Casa Alvarez has a unique layout.

In the grand tradition of Mexican restaurants, we were given a basket of chips and a dish of salsa a moment after we were shown to our table. After confirming that the chips were made with corn (and therefore gluten-free), we had a few and then flagged down our server to ask for the separate gluten-free menu, which we looked at online before visiting. The gluten-free menu isn’t quite as extensive as the main menu, but it still has a ton of different options on it.

If you like any sort of Mexican food, you’ll almost certainly find a dish on the gluten-free menu that suits your predilections. This is true not only because there are a couple of dozen or so dishes to choose from, but also because these various dishes range over all the staples of Mexican cuisine. Thanks largely to corn tortillas taking the place of flour tortillas (and few other ingredient tweaks here and there), there are gluten-free tacos, gluten-free fajitas, gluten-free enchiladas, and much more. There are also several vegetarian options available – the sauteed garlic spinach enchiladas topped with a vegetarian chili sounded especially appealing – and we couldn’t imagine it being a problem to ask for a small adjustment to render additional dishes vegetarian or possibly even vegan. (We have a link below to the full gluten-free menu, which has exactly the same information as the GF menu in the restaurant.)

With all these options to consider, it took us a little while to arrive at a choice. Everything sounded good – we were, after all, in the throes of a Mexican food craving that had been plaguing us since mid-morning. We decided to try the fish tacos, in part because they are made with Mahi Mahi, which is, one, good and, two, often breaded (and so not gluten-free). We were also swayed in this direction because there were several seafood dishes, suggesting that Casa Alvarez places something of an emphasis on this cuisine, and its always good to order within a restaurant’s emphases.

We waited for our food, taking in the abundant light green and off-pink that predominates the interior’s walls and floors, but not for long, as we were served within about ten minutes of ordering. We were given a large, hot plate with a side of rice, a side of beans, and two fish tacos. We sampled the sides first, using the chips we were given earlier. This is one of the chief benefits of getting a free starter like chips (or bread, which is used analogously for other types of foods) – it not only immediately addresses your hunger when you first sit down, but also serves a helpful role in the meal to come. A simple point, to be sure, but sometimes it is profitable to reacquaint ourselves with the obvious. The rice and beans were both good, if not particularly distinct from other sides we’ve had at Mexican restaurants, but it would be unreasonable to call this a problem. We like the rice and beans at these places, and we liked it at Casa Alvarez too.

About halfway through the sides, we switched over to the fish tacos. We tried picking one up with our hands, but quickly learned the folly of our ways as it started to fall apart, so we ate it with a fork. Corn tortillas are often dry and brittle – this is their hazard – but the ones used for our tacos were soft, hot, and fresh. The Mahi Mahi was the highlight of the dish. It was moist with a light coating of butter and perfectly salted, and it went excellently with the crisp cabbage and pico de gallo that rounded out the rest of the taco. It was a delicious and fully satisfying meal.

We definitely recommend Casa Alvarez. It is, as we said before, a great place to get gluten-free Mexican food in Boulder and that is really all we’re trying to convey. If you are struck with the urge to eat Mexican food and it has to be gluten-free, Casa Alvarez should be on your shortlist of possible restaurants.

And it’s easy to get to – the restaurant is located near the corner of 30th and Walnut, in the general vicinity of the 29th Street Mall area. It’s tucked in the corner of a strip mall, the same mall that houses the Walnut Cafe. Here is Casa Alvarez’s actual address:

3161 Walnut Street
Boulder, CO 80301

And you can check out their gluten-free menu here:

The Gluten-Free Menu of Casa Alvarez

Note: Many of the places we visit merely offer gluten-free options, and hence are not necessarily 100% gluten-free facilities, so if proximal cross-contamination is an issue, call ahead. If you would like us to review a particular restaurant with gluten-free options, send an email to info@glutenfreeinboulder.com. We’ll try our best to check it out!

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