The restaurant’s reimagined, kiosk-dominated take on a fast-casual spot should feel like the wave of the future, but Westword critic Gretchen Kurtz says Birdcall forfeits personality in the name of efficiency. “When you take servers, hosts and cashiers out of the equation, you’re left with a restaurant that feels lonely, even eerie,” Kurtz writes in a recent review. “Even when the restaurant is full, it’s still impersonal, people head-down, consumed by their smartphones, killing time until they grab their bags and go.”
The food seems to lack personality as well. While fried chicken should be dominating headlines about the restaurant, it’s “not worthy of top billing,” according to Kurtz. Currently, there are two Birdcall restaurants operating in Five Points and at Whole Foods in Union Station (with a third near the University of Denver in the works). Though the restaurants share the same processes, each location’s execution — a staple factor for fast food chains — varies widely: “Such inconsistency points to execution problems that are anathema to fast food, where consistency is critical for long-term success.”
The restaurant’s namesake is the most compelling reason to visit Pupusas Paradise, according to new Denver Post The Know critic Lori Midson: “Like everything else in life, there is always someone, something or some place that owns the title of kingpin. In the pupusa arena, that salutation belongs to Pupusas Paradise, which more than lives up to its utopian name.” For around $3 each, the charred pupusas create “a delirium of melt-y ooze” on the inside that’s complemented by obligatory curtido, including a cabbage slaw and variety of salsas.
While the pupusas alone make for a worthwhile meal, the empanadas, corn and chicken tamales, and weekend specials like the carne guisada are equally satisfying, and Midson praises the all-female kitchen staff as “goddesses of Salvadorian food.”
The new Boulder restaurant is “poised—but not quite ready for—greatness,” according to 5280’s critic Scott Mowbray. Dinner led by chef Michael Gibney and especially desserts by chef Jeb Breakell seem to be the real stars of this all-day show where Chinese and Japanese flavors bring acid and umami to dishes based on traditional European techniques. Brussels sprouts with XO sauce and dry-aged steak with yuzu kosho stand out. The array of pasta dishes, such as toasted wheat fusilli with braised short ribs, Castelvetrano olives, and anchovy breadcrumbs are “brilliantly simple,” Mowbray says.
He applauds these “rustic plates [in] contrast with the Gibney/Breakell penchant for uptown cooking.” But he also appreciates the two chefs’ obvious New York restaurant pedigrees. The tastes of Japan traverse dessert and cocktail menus, as well, but the overall combination can breed mixed sentiments. After his experience, Mowbray sees Emmerson as an “amalgam of ambition and quirk. It often succeeds, but it feels like a bold work in progress that could fly to pieces.”