Top

dining

Stories

 

Taco Mex makes tacos al pastor the traditional way

Along the stretch of Colfax where Denver begins to give way to Aurora, a motley collection of strip malls, repurposed gas stations and shabby storefronts house an equally diverse collection of culinary experiences. Ethiopian and Japanese joints stand side by side; neighboring Peruvian and Salvadoran spots provide ample opportunity for pupusa comparison. And Mexican restaurants are everywhere, featuring everything from mariscos to menudo.

In the midst of all this sits Taco Mex, an immaculately painted red-and-white box that looks like it might once have been a fast-food outlet, though block lettering on the windows proclaims that it now sells tortas, tacos and gorditas. Taco Mex's patio along Colfax is almost always packed, and at nights and on weekends, patrons spill into the parking lot, gathering by a tent that occupies a couple of car slots right in front of the door. There they chat in Spanish with the aproned crew manning the patched-together outdoor kitchen: a flat-top grill, a steam table, a massive vat of orange grease swimming with brisket and sausage, a rotisserie and a miniature salsa bar, all crammed into the six-foot-by-six-foot space.

The spit is the star, a slowly turning metal rod that skewers a beehive-shaped mass of chile-rubbed pork, dripping with grease and topped with chunks of pineapple that leak juice all over the meat. As the rotisserie rotates over the flame, a cook will periodically reach over to carve off a slice of pork, then throw it on the grill with some of the pineapple. After a minute or two, he'll scoop the meat and fruit onto two stacked corn tortillas, top that with bits of cilantro and onion, then hand the plate of tacos to a salivating customer. These are tacos al pastor, slow-cooked the traditional, central-Mexican way — a rarity in this city because of the space and time required.

The al pastor tent outside of Taco Mex is just beginning to cook.
mark manger
The al pastor tent outside of Taco Mex is just beginning to cook.

Location Info

Map

Taco Mex

7840 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80220

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: East Denver

Details

Taco Mex
One taco $.99
Breakfast burrito $4
Menudo $6.50
Gordita $2
Smothered burrito $5.50
7840 East Colfax Avenue
303-394-7555
Hours: 8 a.m.-midnight daily

Related Stories

More About

Craving these tacos, I stopped by Taco Mex a few weeks ago, dodging packs of children to reach the counter just inside the door, which fronts a tiled room outfitted with plastic tables and chairs that are bolted to the floor. More kids were darting between the furnishings, coming dangerously close to dipping grubby hands in the more substantial salsa bar on one side of the room or knocking over the Our Lady of Guadalupe candles surrounding shrines on the opposite wall. A menu board mounted above the register featured pictures of dozens of Mexican and Mexican-American dishes (but no prices); next to the cashier were two-foot-tall jars of freshly made cantaloupe, watermelon and pineapple juice, as well as a dispenser for horchata.

After taking in the chaos, I found what I was looking for: The taco choices were outlined, in English and Spanish, on a small-print, black-and-white flier in a plastic stand next to the register. Once I'd made my choices and paid up, the ponytailed cashier sent half my taco order — for tongue and birria, a spicy Jaliscan stew traditionally made with goat but here made with beef — back to the kitchen, then handed me a ticket and told me to present it to the cooks outside.

Clutching a couple of inches of printer tape — it listed pastor, cheek and longaniza, the piquant, finely ground pork sausage made with vast quantities of paprika, which gives it an angry red color — I stepped back outside and fought my way up to the tent. A cook took the receipt, nodded and started working on my order, metal spatula flashing as he flipped piles of meat on the flat-top. While I waited, I munched on a plate of radishes I'd snagged from the inside salsa bar and sucked down a cantaloupe juice that was liquefied melon on ice, sweet and refreshing and (almost) a worthy substitute for beer (Taco Mex doesn't have a liquor license). A few minutes later, just as the smoke from the chiles in the pastor marinade was starting to sting my eyes, the cook handed over a paper plate loaded with tacos. I gave each a liberal ladle of either racy red or green salsa from the outdoor bar, found a seat at a picnic table, and dug in.

I started with the cheek, so velvety with fat it practically dripped down my throat. The sausage was as fiery as it looked, juice drooling onto the warm corn tortillas, the meat carrying just a hint of char from the grill. And then the tacos al pastor: smoky, peppery nuggets of tender pork, crisped lightly on the outside, contrasting with sweet flecks of brûléed pineapple — all highlighted by the onions, cilantro and salsa piled on top, their liquid dripping down my hand. The combination created an earthy burn enlivened by a fresh bite.

Each taco was gone within three gulps. Fortunately, just as I'd tracked down every scrap, the cashier arrived with the rest of my order. I've had better birria; the Taco Mex version was uncharacteristically tough and dry, though it simmered with hot red chile. But the grilled tongue — sliced so thin that the tastebuds were barely visible — was beefy, tender and flavorful.

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
51 comments
Tacofat
Tacofat

Yo soy un esoecialista en tacos, y quiero suguerirles que la carne no la sirvan mas alla de dos dias, pq pierde Su sabor, y agarra un insipido sabor, segunda por favor hacer Lo mismo con el suadero pues Lo tienen ahi en el comal por no se cuantos dias. ( ovio no en el comal sino , Lo congelan y descongelan) pueden usar in dresing para recalentar la carne Asda u que no pierda Su sabor.. Suerte

Denver On a Spit
Denver On a Spit

Just to set the record straight, "traditional" pastor does not include grilling canned pineapples with the meat. Pineapple should be fresh and if not placed on top of the spit (as they do at Acapulco) at least laid on top of the taco meat after the meat is cooked. I agree that the experience is relatively "authentic" at Taco Mex but the pastor itself is average. Maybe you hit Acapulco on a bad day, or me on many good days, but overall the pastor their -- albeit made under a Salvadorenan ownership-- is superior to Taco Mex.

Lynnettesouthwood
Lynnettesouthwood

I have had questionable objects in my food twice at Taco Mex; hair and plastic wrapping. I will never eat there again...

GeoffLebowski
GeoffLebowski

@ aherna : the reviewer is an idiot. Her copy is always full of cultural mistakes even though she likes to pass herself off as traveled she does the exact opposite.

aherna
aherna

the reviewer refers to a pupusa competition between neighboring salvadoran and peruvian restaurants at the extreme end of east colfax. however, i don't believe pupusas are common in peru. the reviewer must be thinking of the arepa, which is similar to el salvador's pupusa, but has different variations in both venezuela and colombia. the east end of east colfax in denver does have interesting spots to eat. there are good joints for mexican and salvadoran dishes and there have been decent spots to eat honduran, colombian and dominican food in the past.

Greendaisy
Greendaisy

Taco Mex is awesome, so is Pisco Sour (Peruvian) down the street...East Colfax has a lot of great & underrated restaurants...

Kenny Lay
Kenny Lay

Alex I'll take "it seemed like a good sentence at the time" for $1000

"so velvety with fat it practically dripped down my throat"

Mark Cohen
Mark Cohen

A rarity? Tons of places offer al pastor in Denver (La Abeja on Colfax, various South Federal and East Colfax taco trucks, etc.)

Tacofat
Tacofat

Tambien los de pastor les falta sabor y pina. , los de chorizo estaban muy secos, parecian de soya. Cambien por uno mas jugoso y con mas chile colorado.

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Thanks, you're absolutely right -- I accidentally cut the arepa reference and didn't notice until I saw your comment.

Nick Lucchesi
Nick Lucchesi

Mark, the erroneous headline -- it since has been changed and will be reflected momentarily on the live site -- is my fault.

Nick LucchesiWeb Editor303-293-3564

 
Loading...