10 Outstanding Tacos in Denver

By Ruth Tobias  |  April 29, 2014
Credit: Ruth Tobias

We all know Coloradans are a laid-back lot, with two key gustatory exceptions. We’re hopsheads when it comes to beer, and hotheads when it comes to Mexican food - especially tacos. But let the purists debate the two-tortilla rule or the legitimacy of garnishes other than onion and cilantro; we’re content to sit back and judge the gamut of styles on their own merits. Of course, in narrowing our list of current favorites down to just 10, we had to leave out a number of worthy contenders. Rest assured we’ll remedy that with future roundups - because this is one topic that warrants revisiting on the regular. Without further ado, here are 10 Outstanding Tacos that you should go out of your way to try in Denver. 

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Al Pastor at El Taco Veloz

    Why We Love It: This north Denver counter joint makes proper al pastor seem effortless, from the mellow radiance of the brick-red chile marinade to the charred edges on the juicy spit-cooked pork. Better still, the corn tortillas are handmade, the pineapple’s fresh and the condiment bar boasts a whole molcajete full of the signature salsa verde with avocado. 
    Insider Tip: Heads up, nighthawks: El Veloz is open until 3 AM.
    Price: $1.75

    5145 Federal Blvd.; 303-477-1881

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Bacon-Jalapeño Griddled Tacos at Comida

    Why We Love Them: Basically a cross between tacos and quesadillas, these babies are all about pure comfort. Crisp-fried Tender Belly bacon, pungent chiles and a blend of three distinct cheeses (Gouda, asadero and cotija) come tucked in toasty tortilla blankets crisscrossed with crema and salsa verde to yield crunch and ooze, smoke and salt, fat and tang in ideal measure.
    Insider Tip: Happy hour begins at 3 PM. Even then we can’t promise you’ll have either of Rayme Rossello’s eternally hopping taquerias to yourself - but a weekday afternoon is as good a bet as any for a little R&R fueled by $5 watermelon margaritas.
    Price: $2.50

    Longmont: 721 Confidence Dr. Unit 1, 720-204-6455; RiNo: 3350 Brighton Blvd., 303-296-2747

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Barbacoa at Siete Salsas

    Why We Love It: Think of this easygoing strip-mall find on the west side of town as the Mexican equivalent of a diner, complete with pancake breakfasts and Buffalo wings as well as cocina casera (homestyle cooking). Though its carnitas (pictured left) are a tad stringy, the pan-fried fish tacos (front) are delightful - and the barbacoa, made with meat from the cabeza (cow’s head), is downright opulent - so intensely rich each mouthful nearly makes your eyes roll back. 
    Insider Tip: Look for the neon-orange habañero salsa on the namesake self-serve condiment bar, at once cough-inducingly spicy and tropically fruity. (No wonder this place just garnered an award for Best Salsa from Westword.)
    Price: $1.75

    1350 S. Sheridan Blvd.; 303-934-9124

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Carne Asada at El Taco de Mexico

    Why We Love It: For the same reason we love everything here. From the expertly cooked meats to the pure simplicity of the side salsas to the heavily larded frijoles to the no-frills presentation, textbook Mexican eats are this decades-old institution’s stock in trade.
    Insider Tip: Let’s just say El Tac’s reputation wasn’t built on Office Space-style flair. If you’re looking for warm, welcoming counter service, go elsewhere; most regulars consider the merest glimmer of facial recognition by the cashiers a hard-won badge of honor.
    Price: $1.70 à la carte; $8.40 for a three-taco platter with rice and beans

    714 Santa Fe Dr.; 

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Cochinita Pibil at La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas

    Why We Love It: Housed in a comfy little two-room cottage along the Valverde stretch of Alameda, this absolute gem gives new meaning to the word "sumptuous." We wholeheartedly recommend every taco on the menu, but since you’ve got to start somewhere, try the cochinita pibil - pork slow-roasted in citrus-achiote marinade (pictured left below the also-amazing chivo, or goat). With one bite, the depth of its rich and tangy flavor seems almost boundless; slivers of pickled onion add sharp contrast should you want it, but the stew-thick mixture is perfect as is. (And don't fret about those lemon wedges - we're sure the lime shortage will be over soon.)
    Insider Tip: While the wall-mounted menus are entirely in Spanish, a printed menu at the order counter offers moderately helpful English translations.
    Price: $1.50 or $6.95 for five

    1565 W. Alameda Ave.; 720-583-6586

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Cueritos at La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas

    Why We Love It: Two tacos from the same place? You bet: La Calle’s that good. Pictured bottom left, the cueritos (braised pork skin) is utter meat candy, unctuous and sweet. We swear you'll warm to the somewhat-jellied texture. 
    Price: $1.50 or $6.95 for five

  • Lamb Neck at Los Chingones

    Why We Love It: If you spurn lamb for its earthiness, this taco won’t change your mind. If you dislike it because you think it’s too chewy, Troy Guard’s Ballpark taqueria will definitely convince you otherwise. The braised neck meat is as tender as could be, while its dark savor gains highlights from lightly sauteed zucchini, corn salsa and a sprinkling of cotija.
    Insider Tip: The daily special here is known as the Wild Card. That, friends, is an understatement. One day it might come topped with camel meat, the next with fried worms
    Price: $3.50

    2461 Larimer St.;

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Lengua at Adelita’s Cocina y Cantina

    Why We Love It: Truth be told, tacos aren’t our top pick at this Platt Park punto caliente - that honor goes to the enchiladas. But the kitchen handles tongue (pictured right) beautifully, showcasing just how buttery the meat can be. The thick, vegetal salsa on the side makes for an intriguing complement, with its steak-sauce-like qualities.
    Insider Tip: Taco Tuesday at Adelita’s is a madhouse, but worth the crush if you’re on the fence about this particular part of the cow - a buck a pop for a small portion is no commitment. (Note, though, that those shrimp tacos are an exception to the $1 rule at $4 each.)
    Price: $8.95 for three

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Longaniza at Taco Mex

    Why We Love It: This ever-bustling East Colfax fixture at the edge of Aurora resembles any fast-food joint anywhere - only with more festive, Mexican-flag-colored knickknacks and much, much better food. It’s also the rare taqueria to offer longaniza (pictured right), a type of sausage that’s as juicy even when crumbled as chorizo but noticeably spicier. Those carnitas (left) are nothing to sneeze at either, being properly chopped to ensure each little piece is at once meltingly fatty and browned to a crisp.
    Insider Tip: In warm weather, the owners set up a tent in the parking lot and station a cook to crank out tacos al pastor from the vertical spit.
    Price: $1.25

    7840 E Colfax Ave.; 303-394-7555

  • Credit: Ruth Tobias

    Mazunte at Machete Tequila + Tacos 

    Why We Love It: The Mazunte (pictured right) is not so much a taco as a whole entree on an edible plate. Thick as that Tecate beer batter may be, it acts as a thoroughly crunchy rather than doughy foil for firm, flaky mako shark, whose meaty, almost smoky flavor - comparable to swordfish - stands out against sharp jicama-carrot slaw and zingy aioli atop a hibiscus-tinged tortilla. (We’re no less fond of the Chicharrón de Queso on the left, by the way, contrasting as it does a lace doily of griddled Oaxaca and Gouda cheeses with an herbaceous blast of cilantro pesto on a poblano-flavored tortilla.)
    Insider Tip: In the shadow of Coors Field, Machete’s new LoDo outpost has got game-day partygoers covered with its 12-taco platter for $38.
    Price: $4.50

    1730 Wynkoop St.; 720-612-7698