Bring back Caliente

Photo by Young Kim.
Photo by Young Kim.

These days, it seems like UAA is in no shortage of controversy. The School of Education crisis continues to unfold. Gov. Dunleavy’s budget is causing a panic among students and faculty. The university has still refused to take down their disgraceful sky bridges.

And yet, the true injustice that haunts UAA resides in the Student Union building on the west side of campus. It is the theft of one of our campus’ most esteemed institutions: Caliente.

In the fall of 2018, UAA announced that the Mexican-inspired restaurant would be replaced with Union Burger, an artisan burger-building stop next to the SU’s Subway. Since then, student life simply hasn’t been the same.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against restaurants on campus coming and going. Let us not forget that Caliente replaced Mein Bowl just a year or so prior. However, Mein Bowl was unpopular and unsatisfying, and thus in need of replacement.

No such thing can be said for Caliente. By any marker, it was far superior to any of the last three campus dining options to be introduced to UAA.

First and foremost, Union Burger’s variety pales in comparison to Caliente. While everyone loves a good burger, that’s kind of the only thing Union Burger knows how to do. Sure, I can pick between a fresh ground angus or a  chipotle black bean patty, but is that all Union Burger can offer us?

Contrast that to Caliente’s former selection. The temptation for a tiny Mexican restaurant to do just tacos and keep its customers happy was probably intense. And yet, Caliente rose above the challenge. Not only did they offer us $2 Taco Tuesdays, but they gave us their wide variety of burritos, quesadillas and tostadas.

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Beyond variety, Caliente was known for its quality. If the only thing they served was tacos, I would have happily eaten there every day thanks to their fresh-cut vegetables and delicious sauces. Union Burger, on the other hand, really isn’t anything special. The best part of the whole establishment is their well-seasoned fries. Don’t just take my word for it: TNL’s own Malia Barto gave the Union Burger a meager three out of five.

Now, let’s pretend as if all of this was untrue. Say Union Burger tasted a bit better than Caliente. Say it offered some jalepeño poppers on the side. The question is, did we really need another place on campus to get burgers?

For residential students, you can eat all the tasty burgers you want with your meal plan for lunch, dinner and late night. If you’re on the west side of campus, you can go to Cuddy Hall and grab burgers from the cafeteria.

Now that Union Burger has taken over Caliente, there are very few places to get any type of non-American ethnic food around campus. Your options are some mediocre sushi boxes at Cuddy and Kaladis, and your occasional noodles served for dinner at the Gorsuch Commons.

Granted, Caliente certainly wasn’t authentic Mexican food, as is the case for most “Mexican” restaurants around town. But it’s the closest we had to some degree of culinary diversity, and we loved it.

In the words of President Trump, closing Caliente for Union Burger was the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals, maybe ever. UAA should act immediately to restore Caliente to the Union Station by renewing its contract. A restaurant with such superior variety, quality and significance should never have to suffer at the hands of yet another sandwich shop on campus.