Denver, CO

“Super Mega Bien”: The Name Explains it All

Mile High and Hungry

A “super” inviting environment, “mega” flavors bursting from each innovative dish, and a “bien” experience are all guaranteed at this restaurant. Super Mega Bien lives at the beginning of the RiNo Art District and does a great job of welcoming people into such a lively neighborhood.

Just a quick right turn off of Larimer street, this little side restaurant is no small endeavor. This space is illuminated by paintings that look like magazine clippings plastered against the walls. With Spanish words and a collage of pictures, the uniqueness of the space is palpable. A green, masked luchador can be mistaken for Jack Black in the movie “Nacho Libre.” The spirited walls pair perfectly with the sound of conversations engulfing the room.

It is supposed to be a fun atmosphere, and that is immediately known by the energy radiating from the bartenders shaking cocktails behind the bar. While a sparkling purple drink with buds of hibiscus is poured into one glass, a juicy slice of pineapple hangs from their piña colada. Friends can congregate at the extensive bar seating facing these performers. Another front row seat can be enjoyed featuring the chefs making creations that will soon make their way to the table.

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Their cocktails add even more color to the space.Photo by Haley Paez.

In a normal restaurant, patrons must rely on their imagination to think about how a dish will come together after reading the menu. Instead of having to look on to other tables and see which dishes are eye-catching, Super Mega Bien has decided to show instead of telling on their menu. A server will whisk by, pushing a red cart loaded with all the menu’s dishes. This cart doesn’t belong to one table; instead, the servers are ready to hand out whichever dish you decide is yours. After losing this integral part of their experience to covid, it has made its long-awaited comeback.

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The Latin influenced Dim Sum cart.Photo by Haley Paez.

Derived from the dim sum style of Chinese cuisine, this unique style gives patrons the ability to see which plates they want and immediately have them at the table without having to track down a server and wait for food. With food instantly appearing and served, it’s a fantastic way to cater to hungry eaters.

No dumplings are on the carts at Super Mega Bien; instead, they offer small versions of tasteful Latin dishes to make sure that the soul of chef Dana Rodriguez's culture can come alive on each table.

With a variety of colorful vegetable dishes and sauces, their ropa vieja might not be the first choice for newcomers. However, any devoted Super Mega Bien fan knows that this is one of their namesake dishes. This roasted Cuban beef is no easy composition, even though it looks simplistic upon initial glance.

The dish truly embodies low-and-slow cooking, because the meat has been in the oven for hours on end in order to shred apart like string cheese. That’s probably why it translates to “old clothing” in English – its tattered and ripped appearance is achieved by the bath created from the bursting tomatoes cooking with it.

It’s this time-intensive process that makes slow, smoked barbecue can't be achieved with any other cooking method. With all that time to cook, it soaks up all the spices massaged into it. The cumin and paprika give it the full Latin flare that is attributed to this cuisine. Even though the beef could easily be served alone, the Cuban aesthetic is maintained with tender plantains adding a sweet and salty accompaniment.

Their pupusas offer quesadilla aficionados to rejoice in a heightened cheesy option to dig into. The masa-based dough holds the fresh taste of corn that often gets lost in an everyday tortilla. The soft interior of the dish contrasts the toasted exterior that is achieved from being finished on the grill.

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Top left (clockwise)- Pork wings, arepas special, carne asada, shrimp ceviche, pupusa, and roasted beets.Photo by Haley Paez.

Inside a pupusa’s dough lies mozzarella cheese that will stretch apart like the deep-fried cheese sticks found at any good bar. The subtle flavor of the cheese bends with the mild heat of the poblano pepper creating a revolutionary jalepeño popper. Finally, the pupusa is finished with a smooth avocado sauce to cleanse the palate and pico de gallo to offer freshness.

In other restaurants, a beet salad is clouded by winter greens and balsamic dressing; at Super Mega Bien, the deep, earthy flavor and beautiful magenta tone of beets maintain their rightful place in the spotlight. The sharpness of the beets is complemented by the tartness of cherries that are pickled with ginger. The zesty lemon Mexican crema mellows out all the different ingredients and allows them to work harmoniously.

While it might appear like a last-minute addition, the dish would not be complete without pumpkin seeds. They are dusted with a spice blend that transforms them into candied nuts that are often paired with beets.

Chicken wings often flaunt buffalo sauce and blue cheese or have a tacky, sweet-and-spicy glaze from an Asian-style preparation. Where does that leave pork wings, then? Chef Dana Rodriguez decided to give chicken wings a break and is serving up pork shanks which could easily be mistaken for a meaty lollipop.

This dish might as well be called bacon on a stick because of its fatty richness. With a bright orange and red hue, the sweet chili sauce gives these wings a mix of a rich, southern barbecue taste and a spice similar to sriracha. Hearing they come in orders of three might leave a normal person feeling jipped, but once these enormous shanks get set on the table, three is definitely going to be an undertaking.

While the dim sum-style plates have a ton of appeal and make a cocktail party vibe emerge at the table, you can keep the good times going by adding some of their bigger, family-style plates to the table.

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Spanish Rice.Photo courtesy of Super Mega Bien.

Rice, the typical pantry staple in any Latin American kitchen, gets pampered when it is prepared at Super Mega Bien. Whenever something gets brought to the table in a cast-iron skillet, it has to be rustic and homey. This casserole-style plate has a mix of soft tender rice in the middle, a golden crisp crust on the bottom of the pan, and a layer of bubbling cheese to seal in all the flavor.

In addition, a refreshing spinach and radish salad uplift this hearty dish. The base is loaded with vegetables to give it a garden risotto feel, which is complemented by the addition of goat cheese to add creaminess. The dish represents soulful Latin cooking in just one pan.

Their offerings also include a whole pan-seared, striped bass that approaches the table as if it were swimming to hungry patrons. The entire fish is presented, and the flash fry from the pan has crisped the skin to transform it into a briny chip. Beneath it all, the delicate, white fish flakes fall apart effortlessly. The simple preparation of the fish showcases its natural flavor without a sauce to overpower it.

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Seasonal fish–striped bass.Photo courtesy of Super Mega Bien.

Alongside the fish are pickled red peppers that add acidity to the dish, similar to how lemon is typically paired with seafood. Then, the ebony rice is unique in that it has a pronounced nuttiness – it almost tastes toasted, which is a nice surprise. This dish is definitely the catch of the day.

Since lamb is such a Colorado classic, Rodiguez utilizes it in an original way by pairing it with the deep, savory-sweet mole sauce that combines dried chilis, fresh ground spices and even a hint of chocolate to make for a mouth-watering sauce. Lamb can be tough when prepared incorrectly, so Rodriguez wraps it in banana leaves to make sure it has enough moisture to braise in its own juices by locking in the steam.

The dark sauce looks almost like a beef gravy, but it is far more than that. It has bitterness, tang, sweetness, and savoriness to give it its one-of-a-kind flavor profile. A cactus salad is also charred to add a smokiness to the dish. Once all these pieces are wrapped together in their house-made tortillas, they make for an unforgettable taco.

This potentially chaotic concept of reinventing dim sum to fit into Rodriquez’s Latin perspective has allowed her food and dining experience to outshine others. Super Mega Bien received significant acclaim after being named best new restaurant by Westword Magazine in 2019. There is so much to cheer about after enjoying a meal here; it’s only a matter of time that new faces become familiar friends at Super Mega Bien.

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Haley Paez is the face behind Mile High and Hungry. It began as a food Instagram with the intent of showcasing all that the Denver food industry had to offer with the snap of a camera and the post of a picture. It has since grown into a blog, TikTok, Facebook, podcast, and other multimedia outlets for understanding and trying the food coming from Denverites and beyond. This writing seeks to be an outlet for discovering restaurant and food businesses in a new light and highlighting all the fun, crazy, delicious offerings from one of the countries newest food hubs. It's an easy way to learn about the people and their stories that have been able to bring so many joyous moments to the city of Denver. Come along and make sure you're hungry cause we have a lot of eating to do!

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