Jamey Fader loves street tacos. As the chef/founder of Lola Coastal Mexican and culinary director of Big Red F, he spends lots of time planning intricate menus and meals. But he really loves street tacos, the oldest food on the face of the earth, he says. In fact, the basic dish — grilled meat wrapped in something — predates streets.
But despite their long lineage, street tacos continue to energize the modern restaurant scene.
"Street tacos are an adventure," Fader wrote a few years ago, when Westword introduced Tacolandia as a corner of our annual Denver restaurant event. "If a brick-and-mortar restaurant is like an all-inclusive resort vacation free of any obstacles, a visit to your local taquero is more akin to a life-or-death trek through the Amazon. You never know what to expect, and at every turn there is some potential peril that could consume you — or at least so inconvenience you that, in any other setting, you would be vowing 'never to return again' — but you do, because there is something primal and freeing about eating on the side of the road.
"It is that freedom and nonchalance with food," he continued, "that has many chefs, including myself, adopting this equation of unintentional culinary irreverence in our own kitchens: misshapen cuts, unapologetically bold flavors, ripping-hot heat, bare-minimum essentials and a total lack of focus on anything other than eating for hunger and fun."
Other Denver restaurateurs definitely share Fader's love of street tacos, whether they're actually made on a street at a cart, in a taqueria off Federal Boulevard, or at a new, hip spot in RiNo. Eaters love them, too, which is why Westword decided to spin off Tacolandia into its own annual event. And when Tacolandia returns on Sunday, August 20, in Civic Center Park, it should be quite an adventure of its own.
"Tacolandia provides us with something beyond just a contest," Fader says. "It's an opportunity to go above and beyond, to share skills, crafts and culture, with multigenerational riffs." Dance and music represent one cultural generation, while lowriders and street artists represent the newer generation. And then there's the food, of course.
More than forty restaurants and taquerias will be serving samples of their street tacos at Tacolandia, and Fader has blocked out his own special area: VIP. He has some ideas that should make this a very important party. "The idea is to create a bit of a restaurant-level experience at a festival," he explains. Here's the VIP food lineup:
Carne asada perrones: A taco on a flour tortilla that is crisped and topped with frijoles charros, queso Chihuahua and then the meat. "It's a spin on the original that came from a spot named El Yaquí in Rosarito," Fader says.
Grilled Acadian redfish taco with smoked serrano aioli and kimchito.
Esquites taco: a veg option featuring corn salad with roasted chiles, roasted garlic and aioli.
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Cochinita pibil taco: "Our suckling pig marinated in citrus, achiote and garlic, then slow-roasted in plantain leaves," Fader explains.
And that's not all. Fader is promising frijoles charros and a "bevy of accoutrements," including kimchito, habanero hot sauce, smoked serrano aioli, pico de gallo, limes, a melon agua fresca, and "other stuff I'm not sure of just yet." But like basic street tacos, it all promises to be just as delicious, just as unexpected, and just as fulfilling for those seeking "hunger and fun."
VIP tickets to Tacolandia are on sale now; for $75, you'll be part of a very important party that includes entry at 3 p.m., an hour before general admission entry (which runs from 4 to 7 p.m.), as well as a private bar and bathrooms, and Fader's special menu.
For more information on VIP and general admission tickets, go to westwordtacolandia.com. And watch for the announcement of Feast, our annual celebration of the Denver dining scene, next week; it's moving inside and uptown, to the McNichols Building on Sunday, October 15.