I like Wapos. They serve excellent, sloppy-style Mexican food. They have an outdoor covered patio where a quick afternoon drink can quickly become a full-blown night out when the temperature plays nice. They have a dozen types of margaritas and a bunch of Mexican beers. And the two owners and chef are good friends to anyone who steps in the door.
But that’s not why I like Wapos. I like Wapos because it is the most laid-back restaurant in Boulder. It could be in its appearance. Wapos is the northernmost restaurant on Broadway in Boulder; it’s just about the last turn before the road meets U.S. 36. It sits in an industrial parking lot, and the neon red sign calls out from the ramshackle metal roof and soggy old wood exterior.
Stepping inside, the dining room is illuminated by warm strings of overhead lights. The booths are tall wooden slats, and the brown tile on the floor all feels familiar in the way that watching an old Western feels familiar. Out through the back door is the covered patio, with wire tables and chairs arranged neatly under a high wooden and metal overhang. There are abundant plants, and the walls rise perfectly to the horizon line — just high enough to cover the highway and the unsightly industrial park nearby, but low enough to open up to light, show off an expansive sky and let a cool summer wind in.
But the comfort at Wapos, I think, comes from the people. The owner, Juan, as everyone knows him, is genuinely excited to see new people come in. You become fast friends, and Juan is eager to help everyone drink and eat more. You can ask what’s good in the kitchen that day, or just sit outside for a couple hours and order when you feel like it.
That casual vibe trickles down to the customer. Large bicycle groups cheer each other with Tecate cans, families gather together and their laughs echo through the adobe style interior and couples sit down for an evening of gorging on Wapos’ food and drink. I was recently in that last category.
Wapos has a large variety of tequilas — as many as you’d need at a joint like this — and their margaritas thusly come in different varieties. Organic, skinny, fruit, coin-style, top shelf, frozen and house margaritas are all under 10 bucks. The house margarita is made simply with lime juice, Cointreau and Jimador tequila. The skinny margarita (choice of tequila, agave nectar, fresh limes and orange) is the most refreshing option on the list.
For food, we started with chips, salsa and chile con queso. The latter was a ceramic tray filled with melted pepper jack cheese and green chile. You felt it in the arteries and in the pleasure center of the brain.
The best thing on the menu, according to Juan, is the carnitas plate. Tender, large chunks of pork are smothered in green chile, alongside beans, rice and a pico de gallo that had some biting fresh jalapenos in there. The meal immediately reminded me of home, even though my mother neither makes nor likes Mexican food.
Also on the table were “D.F. tacos,” steak and bacon with mushrooms and tomatoes. They had crisp flavor, and the textural and temperature play — from crispy, hot bacon to soft, cool tomato — indicated care and freshness.
We also had a plate of an enchilada, chile relleno and tamale — when Juan picked the empty plate up afterwards from in front of my fiancée, he said, “I’m impressed. This is a large dish and usually ordered by men,” a comment that simultaneously makes me love Wapos and my fiancée even more. (Wapos, for the record, also has a large selection of healthy and vegetarian items.)
We ended the meal with flan, which Juan bills as “the best flan in town.” It probably is. It is spongy, covered in sweet caramel syrup and cinnamon. Sopapillas there, too, are delicious — light and airy and delightfully spiced.
In short, Wapos is worth the trek up north this summer. Whether it’s for a drink or an evening, it’s a nice escape.