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What makes a great taco, exactly? The best ones tend to be simple, with clean, vibrant, and varied flavors, each component good enough to stand on its own. The filling should be made with an eye for balance in taste and moisture level. The toppings, be they traditional onions and cilantro or new-wave chipotle harissa, should brighten, heighten, and tie the whole taco together into a cohesive, delicious dish.
We recently published our third attempt at ranking the country’s best tacos, and this time we looked to our readers to help us identify more of the best. We put out a call to action, asking them to comment on our site or our social media pages, or to email us with their nominations for the best tacos in the country. Additionally, we asked our knowledgeable Daily Meal staff and city editors to weigh in with their picks. We gathered these nominees together and added them to all the tacos that were considered last year. In the end, we had a list of about 330 tacos, which we then compiled into a survey and sent to our distinguished panel of taco experts — food and restaurant personalities who know a superior taco when they taste one. They voted, we tallied the results, and then put together America’s 75 Best Tacos. There are some amazing tacos served around the country and, as it turns out, one can be found in Denver.
Pinche Taquería was originally a taco truck, and the name of the shop still harkens a bit of street attitude: “Pinche” isn’t fit to translate on a family website (it’s something you’d say when you’re moved by extreme emotion). Given how good Pinche Taquería’s pork belly “Agridulce” is, you too may be emotionally moved. Chef Kevin Morrison has put a modern twist on Mexican street food, serving a sweet-and-sour-braised pork belly with candied garlic, cabbage, cilantro slaw, and a nuanced braising jus to add extra flavor and moisture. It was voted to the #33 spot on our national list, and since it’s the only taco from the city to make our ranking, it’s also the very best one in Denver.
The 10 Best Tacos in America
W hat&aposs the best taco you&aposve ever sunk your teeth into? Was it in Mexico? Los Angeles? San Diego? Your hometown? Or in your own kitchen? Or perhaps you are one of the many pilgrims still in search of your perfect taco.
A truly euphoric taco experience is defined differently depending on whom you ask. Some people prefer corn tortillas over flour. Some prefer their tacos stuffed with pork others, pulled chicken or fish. Some like their tacos to be sauce-free, and some enjoy a little guacamole and sour cream. We asked 10 food critics from 10 American cities to tell us how they found their favorite pick and what makes it so special. Read on to see if your top taco made the list.
Austin, Texas: Tacodeli
According to Rachel Feit of The Austin Chronicle, "tacos are like flavor bombs." For Feit, a memorable taco starts with great fillings, meaning slow-cooked meats stewed with plenty of chiles and spices. But she also believes in the allure of the complexity that comes from adding extra ingredients such as Queso Fresco, cilantro, and, of course, salsa. Narrowing down her favorite taco to just one was a challenge, Feit admits, because "Austin is a taco town, and there are tacos for every occasion, every mood, and every wallet." Ultimately, though, Tacodeli and its three locations rule her heart and her stomach. The Deli Belly (available on Wednesdays and Saturdays only) is a $4 marvel of slow-braised pork belly, sliced then crisped, topped with cilantro and onions on a flour tortilla. Feit recommends crowning the tacos with the mini-chain&aposs emulsified green Do༚ sauce (a secret recipe she hopes to snag someday). "I always add salsa to my tacos—it&aposs a key to perfect tacos," she says. (4200 N. Lamar 512-419-1900)
Chicago: Tio Luis Tacos
For Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune, finding his favorite taco entailed driving all over town and sampling everything the Second City has to offer until he made the acquaintance of a simple $1.95 taco filled with steak, onions, cilantro, and lime at Tio Luis Tacos. "When I saw the slight char on the skirt steak, I knew I was on to something," Vettel tells us. "The fresh veggies, soft tortilla, and Key lime all came together in wonderful harmony." (3856 S. Archer Ave. 773-468-2267)
Denver: Pinche Tacos
"The taco found me," Tucker Shaw of the Denver Post says of his quest for the city&aposs top taco. After months of searching, one day the Pinche Tacos truck pulled up right in front of Shaw&aposs office, and that was the beginning of his taco love affair. His must-have is the $3.50 "agridulce" taco, an inspired combination of sweet-and-sour braised pork belly, candied garlic, and cabbage and cilantro slaw in a corn tortilla. Shaw admits, "You&aposd think I&aposd have waited to bite into it before deciding whether it was my favorite taco in Denver, but the truth is I decided just by the aroma of it—meaty, fatty, sweet, sharp, and soulful—not to mention the look of it on the plate, so plump and glistening." (1514 York St. 720-475-1337)
Los Angeles: Los Cinco Puntos
As restaurant critic Patric Kuh of Los Angeles Magazine tells us, he first laid eyes on his "soul-taco" while driving around the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A. Suddenly he saw the word masa displayed before him on the side of the building. He stopped the car to investigate what exactly was happening at Los Cinco Puntos, and found a group of women clapping out fresh tortillas and putting them on a griddle. His personal go-to taco from Los Cinco Puntos is sheep&aposs-head meat in a warm corn tortilla. It wasn&apost just the filler that won him over, Kuh explains. He finds that a good tortilla, made from freshly ground nixtamal, or dried corn, imparts a slightly acidic tang to a taco. "It sharpens all the other flavors, and I&aposve come to think of it as the tang of perfection." He doesn&apost even add hot sauce: "God forbid I make any changes to it." (3300 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. 323-261-4084)
Miami: Lucky Taco
When Daniel Treiman of the Miami New Times and Edible South Florida ate what he calls the best taco in Miami, he was actually looking for the best paleta in the Homestead region instead. An investigation in the Redland Market Village area with a friend who originally hails from Mexico revealed Lucky Taco, and the $1.50 al pastor goodness that would change their lives forever. Lean pork marinated with guajillo chiles and pineapple in a fresh chewy maize tortilla creates a uniquely sweet and spicy taco that is perfect on its own or equally delicious adorned with plenty of fresh cilantro. Treiman reports that his friend, an "al pastor aficionado," actually squealed with delight as she ate. High praise indeed. (291 W. Mowry Dr.)
New York: Tacos Morelos
Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice came face-to-face with his favorite taco around midnight while walking on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens one night. At a food truck turned gastro-pub named Tacos Morelos, he saw tacos being filled with yellow rice𠅊nd as if the double starch wasn&apost intriguing enough, Sietsema became even more compelled to try this taco when he saw that it also had a chile relleno inside, oozing over with cheese. Tacos Morelos sells these meal-size portions for $5 and serves them with a side of grilled peppers. Sietsema recommends adding chipotle hot sauce to this taco masterpiece. (94-13 37th Ave. 347-832-0193)
Phoenix: Tacos Atoyac
Gwen Ashley Walters, the Phoenix Magazine restaurant critic and food writer, admits that she drives 45 minutes from her house whenever a craving strikes for her favorite taco from Tacos Atoyac. Even though this bare-bones restaurant is known mostly for its Oaxacan street food, Walters is a devoted acolyte of the $1.50 Indonesian catfish-stuffed Baja Taco. What&aposs in it besides beer-battered fish? Red onions lightly pickled with jalapeño vinegar, shredded green cabbage, and Mexican crema spiked with hot sauce, all served inside a griddled flour tortilla. As Walters, who also happens to be a trained chef, puts it, "It&aposs a juxtaposition of cool and hot, crunchy and soft. In a word? Delicioso." (1830 W. Glendale Ave. 602-864-2746)
Providence, Rhode Island: La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos
"I want the real deal, the same kind of genuine article I would find on the streets of Mexico." That&aposs what Gail Ciampa of The Providence Journal said when we asked her what she&aposs looking for in the best taco in town. What&aposs more, she tells us, "I want to be surprised by the freshness of the ingredients, the range of flavors that come from a few expertly blended spices and meats that have been marinated or roasted slowly." She found exactly that at a taqueria in Olneyville called La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos. This half-grocery-store, half-restaurant neighborhood institution sells an array of taco fillers such as pulled pork, marinated pork, tripe, beef tongue, chorizo, ground beef, and steak, and they also do a veggie taco. But for Ciampa, it&aposs all about the Crispy Taco, which is rolled up and stuffed with pulled chicken, onions, and cilantro and then deep-fried. Though guacamole, cheese, and sour cream come standard, Ciampa prefers hers without, and instead dips it in two spicy salsas. Crispy Tacos are $1.62 each or three for $4.20. (1950 Westminster St. 401-331-2444)
San Antonio: Guajillo&aposs
"Balance, depth of flavor, and the ineffable taste of home—that&aposs what I want in my taco," proclaims Edmund Tijerina of the San Antonio Express-News. The first time he tried tacos al pastor was in Mexico City more than a decade ago. In San Antonio, however, he depends on Guajillo&aposs for his fix𠅎ven though, as he admits, it looks like a chain restaurant, it&aposs a pain to get to, and it&aposs at the intersection of a major thoroughfare and a freeway. According to Tijerina, it&aposs almost impossible to find a disappointment on this menu, but his taco craving is the pork, which is rubbed with a mixture of spices including achiote, slowly roasted on a vertical spit, then shaved onto an oil-moistened corn tortilla. One $6.25 order includes six small corn tortillas (about 4 inches in diameter) that slightly overlap and cover an oval plate topped with a generous mound of meat. A separate plate holds slices of pineapple, minced fresh cilantro, and finely diced onions, and there&aposs a small cup of sliced limes and another small bowl of a tangy guajillo-based salsa. Tijerina assembles the tacos by taking a single tortilla and topping it with a heaping tablespoon of meat, a couple of pineapple slices, a sprinkle of cilantro, and some onion, finished with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of salsa. "I don&apost add anything that&aposs not supposed to be there. It&aposs Mexican cooking as it should be." (1001 Northwest Loop 410 210-344-4119)
San Diego: Marisco&aposs German
Troy Johnson, food critic for San Diego Magazine and host of Food Network&aposs Crave, has a good street-taco-junkie friend to thank for introducing him to his ultimate taco. "I was born and raised in San Diego. We learn the Scoville scale (a form of measurement that relates to level of heat in a chile pepper) before basic math. Anyone can overload a tortilla to satiate the more-more-more ethos of American eaters, but very few people can keep it balanced—the veggies cut through the cheese, acid lances the fat, light permeates the heavy," explains Johnson. And according to him, that mythical balance is exactly what "The Gobernador" from Marisco&aposs German truck manages to achieve. This corn-tortilla wonder, which comes with a side of the truck&aposs famous xaldo de siete mares, packs in a massive heap of what Johnson describes as "bulging, steroidal-looking" grilled shrimp, saut onions, celery, bell pepper, and spices. The final touch is what some taco purists would consider blasphemy—melted cheese. Lots of it. "One taco (plus free soup) for four bucks? It&aposs a steal!" The taco truck parks in a dirt lot outside a liquor store. And Johnson is fairly certain that all of the tires are flat. He tells us that there is an awning, some plastic tables, and chairs. Anyone who can look past the absence of Dodd Mitchell design is greatly rewarded. (3505 University Ave)
Around the World in 10 Dishes: Salad Edition at Eater Denver
Bonus pics! Read my story on salads around the world here, feast your eyes on a few examples below.
Glass noodle salad at Suvipa Thai
Goi sua thom thit at Saigon Bowl
Gado gado at Jaya Asian Grill
OK, it isn’t gorgeous, but the dine-in version isn’t much prettier.
This, however, is much prettier when you dine in. But if you live around the corner from Ace like I do, you end up getting takeout a lot. Because a) crowds and b) laziness.
Around the World in 10 Dishes: Flatbread Edition at Eater Denver
After nearly a year(!), I’ll be returning to this space from time to time to show off a thing or two.
For starters, I’m working on an occasional series over at Eater, Around the World in 10 Dishes, where I’ll be exploring the glorious riches of Denver’s international kitchens in thematic, systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic fashion. First up: flatbreads.
Behold the companion photo gallery to the article, which you should read the crap out of right here!
Manaeesh with za’atar at Amira Bakery
Taftoon at Babajoon’s Kabobs
Scallion pancake at Dae Gee
Injera with molokhia at Elsa’s Ethiopian Restaurant
Focaccia al formaggio di Recco at Lo Stella
Huarache con bistec y nopal at Los Carboncitos
Roti canai at Makan Malaysian Cafe
Tlacoyo with grilled chicken at Paxia
Frybread stuffed with shredded bison at Tocabe
Comida Cantina at The Source: Ready to Rock Your Whole Face Off
You’ve long worshipped at the wheels of Tina, Rayme Rossello’s big pink taco truck perhaps you’ve hit up the Longmont brick & mortar upon occasion, only to wish it was just a smidge closer to the downtown action. Amigos—insert wild guitar lick here—THAT DAY HAS COME. Denver’s own Comida Cantina—the first outlet to arrive at The Source, that ultra-cool one-stop shop of boutique purveyors you’ve been hearing about, which over the next month will see the launch of Peak Spirits’ CapRock Farm Bar and a liquor shop, The Proper Pour cult brewer Crooked Stave Acorn, the new restaurant from the geniuses behind Oak at Fourteenth a cheese retailer called Mondo Market Babette’s Artisan Breads, whose killer loaves you’ve encountered at Cured & much more, including a butcher counter, florist & produce vendor—opens TODAY.
A few weeks hence, the chefs will begin to throw some specials into the mix, but otherwise the menu & the bar program are exactly the same as those of the flagship. So you can count on the same attention to detail that has always distinguished every morsel & drop Rossello’s crew turns out—corporate hacks have shredded the integrity of the word artisanal, but remember when it meant something?—be it the use of Tender Belly bacon in the griddled tacos that also contain jalapeños & a cheese blend of cotija, smoked gouda & asadero
the sourcing of fresh bolillo rolls from the aformentioned Babette’s for the tortas—in this case citrus-&-chile-marinated fish, served alongside veggie escabeche
the fact that the refritos on the nachos—presented almost more like a casserole—are cooked in housemade chicken broth & a touch of lard
or the perfection that is the flan, which shows not an ounce of the gelatinousness of lesser versions, just creamy caramel richness:
It all adds up to the truth about Mexican cookery, whose essence is complex & even subtle—not despite but precisely because spice is so key to its balancing act. Comida brings the color & the freshness as well as the fire every step of the way—as with the watermelon-jalapeño margarita that will kick you where it counts (behind it are the hot fried tortillas—not chips, whole rounds—with guacamole).
As with the housemade crema studded with more jalapeños & cucumber, along with all the other salsas offered here, including an eye-popping carrot habañero & sprightly pineapple pico de gallo.
And these tostadas stuffed with roasted chicken & poblanos.
And the savory, tequila-based, tomatillo-&-guava-laced Cabana.
Even these chocolate-chip cookies, alongside Mexican wedding cookies, are spiked with rum.
Gorditas, quesadillas, sides that show Rossello’s Southern roots—jalapeño grits. smoked gouda-sweet potato mash—& virgin beverages like housemade horchata & aguas frescas round out the menu, while the cocktail program is supplemented by beers, wines & sipping tequilas & mezcals.
This place is gonna earn every kudo it elicits.
Dish of the Week: Michocoán Pico de Gallo at Adelitas Cocina y Cantina (& much more)
After the apparent disaster that was 3 Monkeys Cantina, amid the ongoing disaster (i.e. “construction”) zone that is the Platt Park stretch of S. Broadway, I didn’t have high hopes for its successor, Adelitas Cocina y Cantina. But a look-see last week raised the stakes considerably. Not only was the crowd fairly lively for a late Sunday afternoon, but both bar & kitchen comported themselves with enough integrity & flair to indicate this Michocoán-themed joint might actually have a fighting chance of survival. (Even the handsome scroll of a menu points to attention to detail—& that “mezcalrita” behind it was exquisitely balanced: smoky but not too, sweet but not too.)
Take the pico de gallo made with not vegetables but chile powder-spiked “seasonal fruit” marinated in orange & lime juices & served alongside warm (yay!) chips. Served in a gigantic goblet, it was a simple affair, composed only of fresh pineapple & mango—but nonetheless impressive, a) because I sure as hell wouldn’t have the patience to dice what must be huge amounts of 2 of the world’s most annoying fruits to prepare & b) because the result was ultra-refreshing, all tart-sweetness highlighted by hints of salt & smoky spice.
I genuinely liked everything else I shoved in my hole, too. Guacamole rarely sucks, but that’s not always to the credit of the chef, some of whom are prone to adding way too much stuff that isn’t avocado—which should entirely dominate, as it does here.
Likewise, my vegetarian enchiladas were all about the intensity of fresh flavor—stuffed with savory, mushroom-studded sauteed spinach & smothered in an appealingly sour, citrusy salsa verde alongside refried beans & nice, fluffy rice. Behind it are pal A’s tamales,
which I didn’t try, nor did I try @Mantonat’s tacos de lengua, but he praised the properly cooked tongue, & his AOK is good enough for me. I did, however, sample the tomatillo salsa on the side, which had a more sweetish-tomatoey cast than I expected from its color—which called to my mind my beloved, Worcestershire-esque Costa Rican Salsa Lizano—
as well as the Director’s enchiladas suizas con mole: though not the most brilliantly complex version of the sauce I’ve ever encountered (Tarasco’s is better for sure), it was certainly acceptable, with plenty of that dark ancho savor.
Based on 1 meal, I’d be willing to wager Adelitas could break whatever curse the brujas negras of Denver real estate have placed on this joint.
Noshes for the New Year: Camarones agua chile at Torres Mexican Restaurant
I’ll add my digits to Mark Antonation‘s 2-thumbs-up in Cafe Society this week for the camarones agua chile we shared during a recent meal with Denver on a Spit & c. at Torres Mexican Restaurant. Though akin to ceviche, it was different in a few key aspects: the shrimp—not chopped but rather butterflied whole—were, like the sliced cucumber & onion, still basically raw in their marinade of not merely citrus but a red-pepper flake-dusted purée of lime juice & serranos. The electric effect was one of savory melted sorbet—a fascinating discovery I won’t soon forget. (And did I mention healthful? A worthy inclusion in the diet-friendly New Year’s series for sure.)
I’d never heard of vuelve a la vida either until I ordered it essentially cóctel de mariscos stuffed with scallops, shrimp, squid, oysters, & avocado, it was notable for being much less ketchupy-sweet, more tomato-brothy, than the standard—& thus more refreshing.
Both the tostadas generously topped with diced shrimp, octopus, whitefish, tomatoes, chiles & onions
& the caldo de pescado con camaron (which came with rice & warm tortillas) were simple, honest, generous & fine
& the enchiladas suizas, I took only a small bite of the creamy (but not drippy), well-spiced beans, but I’d take Mark’s word for it that neither dish was worth returning for.
The margaritas on the other hand, might be, at least when quantity takes a front seat to craft—& sometimes it sure does,
especially on a cold winter’s night among friends in a cozy joint filled with regulars who set a festive mood.
Granted, that was broken by my accidental dash-&-dine, as said friends fended off a rather menacing floor manager while waiting for me to answer their increasingly worried calls. It’s all fun & games until someone stiffs the house.
Pinche Taqueria: All that & a bag of chips—mostly
After all the slavish mania surrounding the Pinche taco truck & its brick-&-mortar extension, I finally headed in the other day, salivating at the thought not of what so many have been calling the best meal in town—but rather of the way that I’d relentlessly expose what would surely prove to be an emperor in ludicrously opulent new clothes. After all, the Director—who knows his local taquerias y loncherias inside & out—can barely muster a shrug for the jammed little Colfax joint, despite its shoulda-been-dream location on the ground floor of his office building. A taco purist, he bristles at all the bells & whistles sounding over what he feels should speak straightforwardly for itself in the language of slow-cooked meats atop simply garnished palm-sized tortillas—never mind at the extra charge they entail (chump change indeed).
But here’s the thing: as I’ve opined ad nauseam, authenticity’s a bugaboo. On that score, I’ll only reiterate my belief that so long as you know by heart the rules of the cuisine in question and opt to break them in good faith, you’re golden. The fact that Guy Fieri apparently botched the living hell out of General Tso’s doesn’t mean the Chinese-American neo-classic can’t be a pleasure, however guilty. To put it another way: Olive Garden’s chicken Alfredo pizza, bad lovingly crafted New York-style pies, though far from the Neapolitan original, good.
And damn it all (the Director’s opinion included), Pinche’s output is mostly very good. In fact, the only item I actively disliked over the course of 2 visits—once joined by Denver on a Spit (DOAS his take on our meal here) & his missus, once by Mantonat & Amy—was the fish taco (top of picture): the battered pescado bland, cold, bordering on limp. Bummer—but hey, nothing wrong with the creamy slaw, pineapple guacamole & pickled onions surrounding it.
Meanwhile, the tacos de lengua (pictured bottom) ruled. Diced & cooked to a light crisp with a tender chew, the tongue lolls in its own umami richness neither a dollop of tomatillo salsa nor a sprinkle of raw chopped onion nor an intense squiggle of chile-&-honey-spiked mayo can obscure it, only highlight it. I didn’t try the “green eggs & ham” (top right)—a brunchtime combo of pork belly & scrambled eggs doused in tomatillo green chile—but the pork-belly taco I have tasted,
the sweet-&-sour-tinged “agridulce” with cilantro slaw, a fat clove of candied garlic & a side of jus, is just swoony. That there’s the cotton candy of bacon.
Also a kick in the knickers is the brunch taco called “Pinche hash” (at 12 o’clock on the below-pictured plate). Undergirding those luscious scrambled eggs in green-chile hollandaise is a disk of shredded, browned potato & caramelized onion whose thinness belies its fluffy texture—not to mention its filling of literally mouthwatering, like gland-activating, carnitas. And finally, the chicken taco (at 10 o’clock) is a homey, earthy delight with spinach, salty-sharp cotija & chipotle & sour creams.
No, it’s not inherently, intuitively tacoesque those toppings would be just as good slopped into a bowl over cilantro rice. But so what? If the big flavor picture’s honest & true—& it is—I don’t care how it’s framed.
That said, ya gotta heart the presentation of the queso fundido—light, hot, fresh chips spilling from the paper bag they’re scooped into.
As for the stuff itself—not a dip so much as a fork-twirl & pull—I vote for the tequila-spiked, tomato-brightened, strangely more flavorful & velvety vegetarian version DOAS & I couldn’t help but notice, upon ordering the carnivore’s alternative, that the chorizo was lacking compared to that in our neighbor’s order. As a result, it seemed drier & duller. Then again, it was still bubbling, melted cheese, so olé etc..
And the much-ballyhooed churros con chocolate? The slightest hint of grease burn notwithstanding, the airy, buttery interior couldn’t be more winning—frothy, pleasantly bittersweet sauce not even required.
Just as a side note, the salsa trio doesn’t top the samplers at Los Carboncitos, Chili Verde or even Lola Coastal Mexican for zest. But they’re ultra fresh, which counts.
So I’ll be back, happily, with or without the Director.
Dish of the Week: El Paraiso’s machaca con huevos
Sure, it’s a mess, not least for being to-go in this case, but that’s what’s so great about this breakfast dish from El Paraiso. Machaca generally refers to dried, shredded beef that’s cooked so it’s no longer dry but still pleasantly chewy. Combining with scrambled eggs—as is, according to Wikipedia, popular with Chihuahuan miners—it’s served with refried beans, Spanish rice & handmade tortillas the last time I had this much fun mixing everything up all together was when I was 8 & I’d let the ice cream melt so I could mash up the birthday cake into it & make soup.
Right On! Hatch Green Chili Festival & Cookoff at Centro Latin Kitchen, 9/11
Tacos Jalisco Keeps It Verdadero
When I moved here 4 years ago almost to the day, one of the 1st things I did was log on to Chowhound in search of the city’s main Mexican squeezes. The thread I found was rife with what I now know to be among the usual suspects: El Taco de Mexico. Chubby’s. Santiago’s. Jack-n-Grill. Tacos y Salsas. Los Carboncitos. Patzcuaro’s. And Tacos Jalisco, which I finally crossed off the list this week—with a flourish.
The moment I set foot in the main dining room, in all its lively if well-worn warmth, I had a good feeling—starting with the fact that I hadn’t yet slid into the booth where pals M & A were already holding court when the kid manning the host stand asked me (from behind, even), “Can I get you something to drink?” Like there wasn’t a moment to lose. Young man, you’re going places.
In that spirit, while perusing the entrées (M recommended the Camaron Diaz, which A & I actually used up a few precious seconds of our lives looking for), we ourselves wasted no time ordering snacks on top of the chips & salsa trio that come out pronto—starting with queso fundido.
Having been traumatized in my youth by “kwaysoh” as served in the Meximerican joints of the Midwest, I hadn’t ordered anything of the kind in years. Turns out it’s not, in fact, glue de Velveeta. It’s real Mexican melting cheese like Chihuahua or asadero, in this case mixed with crumbled chorizo. That’s it & that’s all—pure, simple, salty & luscious.
Same goes for the chicharrónes (technically a side dish). If a bowl full of seasoned, deep-fried pork rinds with chunks of meat still attached here & there doesn’t speak for itself, I don’t know what does.
Being unsure how the poblano plate differed from the chiles rellenos, I ordered it. The answer: not significantly. The poblanos are topped rather than stuffed, & they’re not breaded—but then, that’s true of some versions of chiles rellenos I’ve encountered. What I remain unsure of is whether they actually yielded the advertised mushroom cream sauce. If so, I didn’t see or taste it amid the cheese & chicken—which was itself a slight disappointment I’d assumed it would be shredded, which is neither here nor there, but the chunks were tough & a little dry. Still, all mixed up with guacamole & sour cream, diced tomatoes & shredded iceberg alongside perfectly good beans & rice, it went down nice & easy.
If I understand the definition of alambre correctly, it specifies the technique of cooking on skewers (the word literally means “wire”) I believe that’s how Los Carboncitos uses the term on its menu. But it’s applied more loosely to a particular type of taco that contains bacon as well as ground beef or steak (&, in this case, ham), as well as peppers & onions & all the usual trimmings. Chop & char, that’s all right by me meatwise, especially when contrasted with fresh, crisp, cooling veggies & squirts of lime—though the peppers were a little too crisp, not quite softened/blackened by the grill.
Speaking of telltale markings, M pointed out the pale lines on the surface of the warm corn tortillas that indicate their pass down a conveyor belt—housemade versions are, after all, an unfortunate if understandable rarity around here (I hear Araujo’s might offer them true? Any other tips?).
No qualified praise, meanwhile, for A’s camarones adobados—it was simply great: fresh, firm, sweet shrimp slicked with a sauce that boasted the consistency of marinade, not too thick, & a well-seasoned balance between smoky & sour elements.
Since the Director couldn’t join us, he asked me to bring him some tacos de carnitas & al carbon—as good as M’s not least for offering up a whole blistered jalapeño that we split with wide, watering eyes.
Amid the furious fleet of mobile loncheras, it’s good to remember there are some brick-&-mortar longtimers out there that aren’t budging.
The Ultimate List of Denver’s Top Tacos
We’ve got what you want: 47 of the city's best tacos.
Perhaps because they’re infinitely customizable, tacos have captured our culinary hearts. We love that they’re just as good prepared by a street vendor and filled with cabeza or carne asada as they are gussied up in a restaurant with duck confit or octopus. We’ve tried them all—some 300-plus tacos between us—to find Denver’s best tacos.
Editor’s Note: This is a living list of Denver’s best tacos, last updated on October 1, 2019. Our original list had 52 restaurants we removed La Potranca Taqueria, Soccoro’s Street Tacos, BarroCho Taco, Birrieria El Viejon, and the Rosedale, all of which closed after the original article published in April 2016 . Did we miss your favorite? Email us at [email protected]
Table of Contents
This corner taqueria might not look like much, but its shredded beef tacos are worth driving to Lakewood for. Generously stuffed with the most tender, succulent beef we’ve sampled and garnished with onion, cilantro, and fried jalapeño and potato, this hauntingly good taco will quickly secure your devotion.
5209 Mississippi Ave., Lakewood | 303-940-1344
Carniceria y Taqueria La Flor de Michoacan
Head to the back right corner of this tucked-away Thornton market and find a taqueria counter peddling palm-size street tacos. Choose from the list of nine meaty options, but don’t miss the asada for tender steak with just the right amount of char. Douse with the spicy tomatillo salsa.
2001 N. Coronado Pkwy., Thornton
The ultimate order (and the one we get more often than we should admit) at D’Corazon is a crispy, hard-shell taco piled high with marinated beef and topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, and a cheddar blend. The flavors are so right-on that there’s no need for salsa or hot sauce.
1530 Blake St., Unit C | 720-904-8226 | dcorazonrestaurant.com
El Amigo Mexican Restaurant
Tacos El Amigo
El Amigo’s eponymous tacos are served four to a plate, each stuffed with shredded beef, perfectly fried, then loaded with fresh cabbage, tomatoes, jalapeños, cucumbers, and sliced avocado. The result is a crunchy yet chewy taco that’s the perfect mix of marinated meat and crisp veggies. Add green tomatillo salsa or the sweet-and-spicy chile de árbol.
16399 S. Golden Rd., Golden | 303-279-2633 | elamigoco.com
El Chingon Mexican Bistro
Most versions of carne asada employ ultralean cuts like flap or flank that are cooked well done. Not so at this Berkeley outpost, where the asada taco features a thick nugget of flat iron steak, sliced and cooked to order (we recommend medium-rare). The simple topping of salsa verde, onion, cilantro, and Oaxaca cheese lets the steak shine.
4326 Tennyson St. | 303-248-3641
El Taco De Mexico
Each time we go to “El Taco” we’re reminded why it’s such an institution: Service is nothing if not efficient, the prices are almost embarrassingly low, and the small but mighty cabeza tacos (listed in English as beef cheek) deliver with long-cooked flavor on chewy corn tortillas.
714 Santa Fe Dr. | 303-623-3926 | eltacodemexicodenver.com
La Loma Mexican Restaurant
This Denver staple serves the best tacos al carbon in the city. While the tender sirloin tips and the tomato- and-jalapeño-laced gravy are superb, it’s the pastry-like, house-made flour tortillas that take this dish over the top. Add a side order of guacamole and dig in.
1801 Broadway | 303-433-8300 | lalomamexican.com
Los Molcajetes Taqueria
“Meat and potatoes” may be shorthand for boring, but when the combo finds its way inside a corn tortilla—like it has at Los Molcajetes—it’s anything but. These distinct tacos feature cubes of aggressively seasoned steak and fluffy potatoes in a flavor combo that manages to both comfort and excite. Spoon on some of the accompanying earthy red salsa for a bit of kick.
100 Knox Ct. | 303-934-0354
Mexico City Restaurant & Lounge
This downtown restaurant has been slinging its famous fried tacos for 40-plus years. Taste one and you’ll know why it’s a favorite: deep-fried corn tortillas are coated with American cheese, a generous portion of meat (we suggest the steak, which comes with avocado), and topped with lettuce and tomato. Your cardiologist would not approve. Bonus: El Toro (4957 Colorado Blvd.) is owned by the same family—and features the same perfect taco in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood.
2115 Larimer St. | 303-296-0563 | mexicocitydenver.com
It was a great day in 2006 when Tacos DF went from being a taco trailer to opening a brick-and-mortar on Parker Road. What’s never changed are the real-deal tacos served plainly and proudly. Order the cabeza for meat that is rich in flavor and melty-tender in texture.
2020 S. Parker Rd. | 303-671-2986
Tacos La Morenita
Since the very best tongue tacos are those where the meat has been crisped, we wonder why more taquerias skip this step. At Tacos La Morenita in Aurora, the caramelized edges offset any mushiness and highlight the meat’s rich, fatty flavors.
15493 E. Hampden Ave., Aurora | 720-379-3058
El Trompito Taqueria
Among the 20-plus options for taco fillings at this festive spot, the tripe stands out. Order it crispy or soft (we opt for crispy) and hit up the well-stocked salsa bar in the middle of the room for pickled jalapeños, cactus salad, fresh radish, and an array of blazingly hot salsas.
1540 W. 70th Ave. | 720-540-3483
Carnitas Estilo Michoacan
At this tucked-away joint, the distinctive tacos al pastor include saucy shredded pork, strips of tender red pepper, and chunks of fresh pineapple. Be sure to top yours with the roasted peanut salsa from the generous bar.
Our favorite location: 3001 W. Evans Ave. | 303-922-2508
Taste Dos Santos’ take on cochinita pibil (Yucatán slow-cooked pork), and you’ll be in taco heaven. For this messy treat, the kitchen braises pork belly in a heady broth of achiote and other spices until meltingly tender. Fried cilantro and house-pickled jalapeño and slivers of red onion add textural contrast and zing.
1475 E. 17th Ave. | 303-386-3509 | dossantosdenver.com
El Camino Community Tavern
Tacos might be rustic, functional, and delicious—but rarely would you call them beautiful. That is until you see El Camino’s al pastor crowned with pickled radish and grilled pineapple. The tang and crunch of the radish combined with the sweetness of the pineapple and the saltiness of the pork creates a bold flavor profile.
3628 W. 32nd Ave. | 720-889-7946 | elcaminotavern.com
The carnitas taco at this Colfax gem is a house favorite. It’s both juicy and crispy, topped generously with cilantro and onion, and served on two freshly warmed corn tortillas with a side of medium green salsa.
508 E. Colfax Ave. | 303-832-1911
La Calle Taqueria Y Carnitas
For a study in delicious simplicity, order the cochinita pibil at this charming taqueria. A double stack of corn tortillas supports a mound of shredded pork and a sprinkle of onion and cilantro. Jazz it up with the good-enough-to-drink green avocado salsa from the bar and sip on the refreshing tepache, a fermented pineapple drink.
1565 W. Alameda Ave. | 720-583-6586
La Mexicana Taqueria
This bustling Highland spot has struck gold with their choriqueso taco, a rich little number starring crumbles of spicy chorizo sausage and melted cheese. Balance out the saltiness with a squeeze of lime, a bit of the smoky chipotle salsa, and an ice-cold michelada.
2538 W. 32nd Ave. | 303-433-3008
If you’re a purist, look no further than Patzcuaro’s carnitas taco. The slow-braised, Yucatán-style pork at this old-school Denver staple is fatty in just the right way, with lightly crunchy, caramelized bits throughout. A bit of the fresh pico de gallo provides a nice contrast to the richness.
2616 W. 32nd Ave. | 303-455-4389 | patzcuaros.com
While the spit-carved al pastor at this mini-chain deserves a mention, order the adovada (red-chile marinated pork), and you may never look back. The earthy spices imbue the sumptuous pork with deep flavor and color, and a bit of the chunky green salsa keeps it bright. Wash it down with a pineapple agua fresca.
Our favorite location: 9277 Federal Blvd. | 303-427-0121
The beauty of well made al pastor is the play between the spices, the pork, and the pineapple. That’s just what you’ll find at this Aurora shop, where the sprawling space is filled with diners enjoying tacos al pastor and several other varieties. Bonus: the best—and freshest—guacamole we tasted during our research.
15343 E. Sixth Ave., Aurora | 303-343-7879
Tortas Y Tacos El Chino
This tiny spot is easy to miss, but find it and you’ll be rewarded with highly seasoned chorizo tacos that have a hint of citrus. Snack on those plus the extra-crispy chips, and you’ll be quickly vow to become a regular. Pay at the window when you’re finished.
796 Peoria St., Aurora | 303-360-8765
Don’t miss happy hour at this Federal Boulevard sit-down spot, where à la carte tacos can be had for just $3 a pop. The star offering is the vegetarian, which is filled with red and green peppers, mushrooms, onions, and jalapeños sautéed with garlic, soy sauce, and chipotles. Add a small spoon-full of the garlic chile oil (there’s a jar at every table) on top for an extra layer of flavor.
2311 Federal Blvd. | 720-287-2296 | chiliverdedenver.com
El Taco Veloz
Nopales, otherwise known as cactus, can be slimy and unpleasant. Not so at El Taco Veloz, where you can order the delicious green strips as a hearty vegetarian taco filling. The slices are juicy, not slimy—and the accompanying pico de gallo is so fresh, you’ll want to pile on even more of it at the salsa bar.
Our favorite location: 400 Federal Blvd. | 303-825-2882
Las Margs Tavern
Finding a vegetarian taco that doesn’t taste like a rework of a veggie fajita (barely cooked peppers and onions) can be a challenge. Enter Las Margs’ rajas, where deeply roasted poblanos and onions mingle with corn, crema, and crumbles of Cotija.
1521 Marion St. | 720-361-2137 | lasmargsdenver.com
At North County, charcoal-grilled poblano peppers and broiled-until-golden Chihuahua cheese combine to form a taco that deliciously bridges the gap between taco and quesadilla.
94 Rampart Way | 720-532-0106 | northcountydenver.com
Tacos Tequila Whiskey (Pinche Tacos)
Queso A La Plancha
If you haven’t had Pinche’s griddled Cotija taco, you haven’t lived. Avocado adds smooth decadence, roasted tomatillo salsa adds addictive depth, and a squeeze of lime cuts the cheese’s saltiness. Sip on a paloma for good measure.
Our favorite location: 1514 York St. | 720-475-1337 | tacostequilawhiskey.com
This vegetarian delight features a crisp, flash-fried baton of tofu, thinly sliced rings of Fresno chile, and shredded romaine lettuce wrapped in a house-made cilantro-corn tortilla. It’s the savory, sesame oil-tinged shiitake vinaigrette (which is more like a chunky mushroom relish), however, that sets this taco apart.
1400 Larimer St. | 720-946-1433 | richardsandoval.com/tamayo
At this vegan-friendly haven in Baker, a plate of no-meat tacos includes three corn tortillas dressed with spice-marinated (chili powder, cumin, garlic, Mexican oregano, paprika) jackfruit, salsa verde, shredded cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime.
3 S. Broadway | 720-570-4503 | sputnikdenver.com
Imagine a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich except vegetarian-friendly and in taco form and you get the idea behind this stellar, multi-textural treat. This Berkeley cafe packs two corn tortillas with house-made edamame pâté, lemongrass-flavored tofu, bright pickled seasonal vegetables, shaved cucumber, coins of fresh jalapeño, and a drizzle of Sriracha aïoli.
3915 Tennyson St. | 303-474-4131 | vitalrootdenver.com
Agave Taco Bar
Camarón a la Parrilla
The grilled shrimp taco at this Wash Park joint is filled with fresh, citrusy flavors—and an extra dose of heat. Use caution when enjoying this fiery street-style, lime-soaked getup, which is topped with habanero pico, avocado crema, cabbage, and served on a single house-made squid ink corn tortilla.
2217 E. Mississippi Ave. | 303-425-6225 | agavetacobar.com
Although this upscale Latin eatery only offers two taco varieties, the pescado is well worth a visit. The chile-spice seared sea bass brings the heat but the cabbage and chayote escabeche, pineapple, and chipotle crema cool things off. Add a side of the toasted coconut rice because it’s too good to pass up.
24 N. Broadway | 720-550-7267 | lenadenver.com
This trendy cantina is a favorite of the happy hour crowd, but you’ll have to turn to the regular menu to spot the octopus. Order it for a bold take on the taco that combines the slowly braised (and perfectly cooked) seafood with celery and a kicky Sriracha-red pepper coulis.
Our favorite location: 2461 Larimer St. | 303-295-0686 | loschingonesmexican.com
Tarasco’s New Latino Cuisine
There’s a lot to love at Tarasco’s, from the full vegetarian menu to the smoothies and vibrant juices. But we find ourselves craving the simple, fresh shrimp tacos again and again. The breezy dish highlights the juicy, sautéed crustaceans with the straightforward garnishes of onion, cilantro, green salsa, and a lime wedge. It’ll transport you to a beach-y state of mind in no time.
470 S. Federal Blvd. | 303-922-2387
Uno Mas Taqueria y Cantina
Sea of Cortez
While you can’t go wrong with any of the gourmet street tacos from this Pearl Street staple, the Sea of Cortez—with sea scallops and shrimp sprinkled with chili powder and topped with a large slice of avocado, cilantro, ranchera salsa, and Cotija cheese crumbles—is a knockout.
1585 S. Pearl St. | 303-777-2866 | unomastaqueria.com
Los Gallitos Taqueria
Inside this canary-colored taqueria in Athmar Park, you’ll find authentic pulled chicken tacos served on warm, double-stacked corn tortillas with cilantro and onion on top, and a whole roasted poblano on the side. Don’t overlook the salsa bar.
2630 W. Alameda Ave. | 303-955-0175
When a craving for chicken tacos hits, this Berkeley stalwart serves up exactly what we crave: A no-frills plate of four double-stacked warm corn tortillas topped with diced chicken, cilantro, and chopped onion. The real fun starts with the four house-made salsas—a tomatillo-avocado cream, traditional red, pico de gallo, and a seriously intense habanero—which are served with every meal.
4309 W. 38th Ave. | 303-458-1437 | original-tacosjalisco.com
Tacos Y Salsas
Send anyone who says chicken tacos are boring to Tacos y Salsas’ Colfax Avenue location. Here, pulled pollo is crisped on the flattop before landing inside a single (excellent) tortilla. Visit the salsa bar for blistered jalapeños and red or green salsa.
Our favorite location: 9103 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora | 303-367-1046 | tacos303.com
Although they’re all good, you’ll want to make a pilgrimage for the chicken taco. It’s juicy, perfectly flavored, and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and cheese. Add a squeeze of lime and layer on the salsa served with chips for table service (beware: the Serrano chile purée has a kick), or order to-go from the counter.
1411 S. Sheridan Blvd. | 303-936-4407
These out-of-this-world tacos (there are three to an order) have layers: House-made flour tortillas form the base for a birds nest of crispy hash browns topped with organic eggs, chopped Tender Belly bacon, and strips of griddled mozzarella. What are you waiting for?
1420 E 18th Ave. | 303-954-0877 | onefolddenver.com
Sam’s No. 3
The menu at this diner spans 12 pages, but tucked above the extensive burrito options on page five sit the chorizo tacos. Three corn tortillas arrive piled with potato home fries, a chorizo-egg scramble, and melted Jack and cheddar cheeses. The result is hearty (one taco might fill you up). Add the side of tomatillo salsa at will.
1500 Curtis St. | 303-534-1927 | samsno3.com
Leave it to the Texans to roll out an entire menu of breakfast tacos. The best offering is the migas, which incorporates crispy tortilla strips for a slight crunch. Pro tip: Only order this when there’s no line and the kitchen isn’t slammed this is the best way to ensure your eggs won’t be overcooked.
1085 Broadway | 303-436-1704 | torchystacos.com
Griddled Bacon and Jalapeño
It might not qualify as authentic, but the griddled bacon-jalapeño taco at Comida certainly is addicting. Thanks to the melty blend of Cotija, smoked Gouda, and asadero cheeses blanketing the bacon and jalapeño bits, this taco eats more like mini folded quesadilla. A drizzle of salsa verde and crema puts it over the top. Don’t make the mistake of ordering just one.
Our favorite location: Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St. Suite 140 | 303-484-1632 | eatcomida.com
Sirloin and Smoked Bacon
Among Edge’s modern steakhouse fare rests a gem: the sirloin and smoked bacon tacos. The meatiest of combinations, the wedges of beef and bacon have a smokiness that’s reminiscent of a summer barbecue. They’re served street-style with onion and cilantro. Fair warning: These dudes are only served after 2 p.m. in the bar.
1111 14th St. | 303-389-3050 | edgerestaurantdenver.com
Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet
Visit the buffet tables (yes tables!) and survey the scene. If you see something you like—mole, posole, pulled chicken, garlic shrimp, sopa de mariscos—grab it while you can the selection turns over constantly. For tacos, it’s make your own—but that’s kinda awesome because no one’s saying you can’t add posole to that bundle of pig snout. The $12.99 price tag ($7 per kid) might seem pricey, but with this all-you-can-eat buffet, it’ll feel like a steal.
11385 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora | 303-344-3862
Que Bueno Suerte
Barbacoa de Borrego
This mouthwatering taco stars lamb neck and cheek stewed in a rich, guajillo-chile spiked broth for hours until fall-apart tender. The accompanying radish-onion-cilantro salad is a crunchy, fresh counterpoint to the rich meat filling.
1518 S. Pearl St. | 720-462-7322 | qbsuerte.com
Bison Indian Taco
You’ll need a knife and fork to devour this Native American-inspired taco. Pick your own fillings Chipotle-style, and then savor the warm, fluffy, and slightly sweet house-made Indian fry bread that stands in for the tortilla.
Our favorite location: 3536 W. 44th Ave. | 720-524-8282 | tocabe.com
Taco Pricing Key:
$$: $4 and up
Freelance writer Amanda M. Faison spent 20 years at 5280 Magazine, 12 of those as Food Editor.
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.
Erin is a Denver-based writer and the former digital editor for 5280.
Jerilyn Forsythe is a freelance writer and editor, and 5280's former digital associate editor. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @jlforsyt.
#58 Lengua, La Ranchera (Abilene, Texas)
Graciela Chavez and her crew make their own Mexican pastries and flour and corn tortillas, offer all the Mexican standards at low prices and serve classic menudo and caldo de res (beef soup) on weekends. No wonder La Ranchera has been called Abilene’s best Mexican restaurant. Enhance some of those (corn) tortillas with nothing more than a generous portion of tender, perfectly seasoned beef tongue and some onions and cilantro — simplicity itself — with rice and beans on the side, and you’re all set.