menu del peregrino

house wine in at the municipal albergue in Ages

as I wager many of you know, Spain is known for their late dining habits. restaurants routinely do not open for dinner until 9:00 p.m. or later, which proves monumentally inconvenient for peregrinos who start hiking by 7:00 a.m. each day and hope to be asleep, or at least in bed, by 9:00 p.m. to adjust for this, along the Camino many, if not all, restaurants offer a fixed menu del peregrino that gets served around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. for about 10 euro, you get a starter, an entree, dessert, bread, water, and wine.


our first experience with the menu del peregrino was in Roncesvalles; the upscale hotel next to the albergue advertised theirs well and had us walking through the door to reserve seats before we knew how big town might be. the advertised start of the meal was 7:00 p.m. but when we showed up at 7:02, or so, nearly all the  50 or so seats were filled — fellow peregrinos as hungry as we were anxious to get a jump on the meal. this particular meal was served family style on long tables, which fostered a communal feel that resulted in my receiving about six left-over dessert yogurts at the end of the meal. the main course was fish and when word made it down the table that I don’t eat fish, people passed the yogurt served as dessert that they either didn’t care for or didn’t have room to eat. I managed to eat about four before tapping out; it was the best yogurt I ate the entire time we were in Spain.


my favorite meal — at the Hotel Dona Mayor in Fromista

while occasionally we had family-style peregrino meals (usually at private hostels that also had menus or restaurants), usually we had a table to ourselves. the menu options were always fixed to three or four options per course and were never veg-friendly; even the uninspired iceberg lettuce salads came with hard boiled eggs and tuna. even thinking about it now exasperates me (and re-inspires me for the CSA salad I’m eating for tomorrow’s lunch). once I figured out how to manipulate the menu, I managed fine by ordering two veg-friendlier first courses — often soup and pasta with tomato sauce. after a while, the pork or beef stock they used to make the soup got frustrating, but it for a time it served as a welcome alternative to terrible salads. on one memorable occasion, I ordered pasta with tomato sauce without meat and, as often happened, it came out with ham and chicken in the sauce anyway; our server/owner of the establishment was aghast and swept the plate away before I could take another bite to make a plate without meat. I’m never one to make a fuss about meals not coming out as expected and would have eaten around the ham and chicken, but after two weeks it was nice to have someone look after my dietary preferences.

Casa Bonita

one of the other unique Denver experiences on our list: a trip to Casa Bonita. one of our party was rather adamant about the experience and I will say this: a trip to Casa Bonita truly is unlike anything else in the world. I’ve never seen the South Park episode that made it (in)famous, but having now seen the place myself, I have some idea what that episode might have looked like.

founded in Oklahoma City in 1968, the Casa Bonita chain spread through neighboring states in the early 1970s, known for it’s all-you-can-eat beef and chicken plates, as well as its sopapillas. only two locations remain — one in Lakewood and one in Tulsa. the restaurant in Lakewood opened in 1974 in a space formerly occupied by a large retail store (I heard someone say something along the lines of a Ross?).

what your food looks like
where you pick up your food

the food is horrifying and prices astronomically overblown. it may be all-you-can-eat, but who would want to? there was no vegetarian option that coincided with “cheapest item on the menu” and we all ended up picking up taco salad plates, some with beef, some with chicken. none of us were terribly interested in doing anything but carry the plates to a table near the diving pool where we might fill our bellies with sopapillas instead. I don’t quite understand how or why people make a family night of the place. surely there are much cheaper places to find entertainment and bad Mexican food in Denver? ah, but, enthusiasts counter, do any of those places have cliff divers? well, no. I guess you come for the cliff divers. and the sopapillas. the divers are swim/dive team members who want to practice during the off season, apparently. there are also strolling mariachis, an arcade, a haunted tunnel (which was rather creepily dark), and a puppet theater. there is really nothing else like it.

cliff diving pool

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Bonita
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