December 31, 2010

For Gluten-Free Vegetarian and Vegan Food, Try Zudaka Latin American in North Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

If you drive north on Broadway, almost to the fairly new North Boulder development that houses restaurants like Proto’s Pizzeria, you might notice a small, yellow storefront on the west side of the street, and if you do notice it, you should go in and grab a table. This is the location of Zudaka, a petite restaurant that serves vegetarian Latin American food, mostly staples of Venezuelan and Colombian cuisine, and almost all of it is gluten-free.

In truth, it’s a little misleading to say that Zudaka merely serves Latin American food, as the entire restaurant strikes us as thoroughly Latin: upon walking in the door, it’s almost as if you’re transported to one of the countless small, family-owned restaurants that can be found throughout all of South America (although in most of these places there won’t be nearly a foot of snow outside, as there was today outside of Zudaka). The inside has less than ten tables, and the atmosphere is undeniably warm and intimate – the owner and a single server diligently watch over the dinning area, ready to help with any need.

After a few moments of looking at the menu and our standard gluten-free speech (“We can’t have anything with gluten…”), we ordered the bollitos, which is simply boiled white corn flour. When cooked, ours took the form of dense and doughy (that is, chewy, not undercooked) sticks. By themselves, bollitos have virtually no flavor save a faint wisp of sweetness, so the trick is to pair them with something. At Zudaka, the bollitos are served with delicious guasa (the Venezuelan version of guacamole, but it tasted a lot like the guacamole you would get at a good Mexican restaurant) and fresh salsa, the latter of which was essentially a moderately-spiced pico de gallo. The dish also comes with two slices of lightly-grilled white cheese – the standard white cheese that any traveler of Latin America would recognize because of how frequently it is incorporated into meals in this part of the world. Not surprisingly, we felt that the dish was at its tastiest when all the ingredients were combined, so dip a bite-size piece of bollito and cheese in the guacamole and salsa for maximum effect.

After finishing the appetizer, we were brought our arepa, which is a type of corn cake that is extremely popular in Venezuela and Colombia. Much like a bollito (because they are made out of the same ingredients), arepas don’t possess much flavor in themselves, but they do have an exceptional texture. They are exactly as the menu describes them: “lightly crunchy on the outside, with a warm and fluffy inside.” No wonder the menu goes on to call them, with rather stirring rhetoric, “a beckoning to gather and feast.” At first you might think an indistinct flavor is a problem, but this actually isn’t the case because the arepas’ lack of a particular flavor means that they can be incorporated into basically any dish, as they are in Venezuela and Colombia. This renders this part of the world very hospitable to those with a gluten intolerance: arepa (which are gluten-free because corn flour is used) is analogous to bread in the U.S., although it is even more popular and widely consumed.

Given that arepas can be paired with any number of foods, our server straightforwardly encouraged us to modify any of the preexisting arepas on the menu by adding or subtracting ingredients. (By way of clarification, “arepa” not only refers to South American corn cake, but also to the sandwiches you can make with the corn cake; thus, an egg and cheese sandwich made with corn cake is called an “arepa,” but so is just the corn cake by itself.) We heeded this advice, adding black beans to the En Forma, which generally comes only with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and cheese. The only ingredients at the restaurant that are not gluten-free are the meatless “meats,” which, to be sure, are incorporated into a lot of different dishes since Zudaka is exclusively vegetarian (and largely vegan, too). However, as we mentioned, modifications are more or less expected, so any dish on the menu can easily be made gluten-free by removing the meat.

As concerns our specific selection, the En Forma with black beans, it was delicious and satisfying, despite its simplicity. For those looking for complicated culinary inventions, don’t order a standard arepa like we did, but for those of us who appreciate a solid and reliably satisfying meal, an arepa like the En Forma is perfect. Sometimes a Bud Light hits the spot better than the latest concoction from a hot new microbrewery. The vegetables and guacamole were fresh, the white cheese was melted onto the warm corn cake, and the black beans added a little heft to the dish. This last point is important, as a single arepa is not a very substantial meal, especially if you don’t have something solid like beans or a similar protein on it. Although it’s more filling than you might guess, it’s the type of item you’ll probably want to order with a starter or some other supplementation, unless you’re interested in a light meal.

Zudaka is a great place to get a delicious and simple Latin American meal in an environment that reflects the culture of the cuisine being served. And, to make Zudaka even more enticing, the service was extremely good. The owner came over and personally spoke to us about our meals after we had finished them, and she even brought us a sample of an appetizer we didn’t get to try which she highly recommended. (It’s called yuca, and it’s a fried or baked root that is very similar to a potato, although it is less dense, like a potato slightly inflated with air.) All of this attention and she didn’t have any idea we were there to write a review of her restaurant!

Zudaka’s menu (PDF):

http://www.zudakarestaurant.com/upload/zudaka-menu.pdf

Zudaka’s location:

4457 North Broadway
Boulder, CO 80304

Note: This is the ninth article in a new series presented by GlutenFreeInBoulder.com. On a (roughly) weekly basis, we will visit a restaurant, try a thing or two, and write about our experience. We will, of course, be sampling exclusively gluten-free food so we can report back to our readers about the items worth having. 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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  1. Michael says:

    Thank you for posting this review, our first experience (last night) was amazing and we have an instant favorite restaurant. Being vegan and gluten free is a challenge, even in Boulder. The menu was all vegetarian with over 50% vegan options and almost 50% gluten-free options to boot. The food was delicious, the staff fantastic, and it had surprisingly great ambiance for such a hidden find. The food was especially affordable (I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll become a regular haunt for lunch); we just can’t say enough great things about this restaurant…and yeah, great tasting food for the gluten free crowd (this is NOT easy to come by!). Last, loved the deserts, they flaunt their Flan is as good as it gets, but I had the vegan, GF rice pudding and LOVED it. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this restaurant, my wife and I can’t say enough great things about it.

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