I wasn't thrilled with Paxia, the upscale Mexican joint brothers Cesar, Roberto and Ignacio Leon opened in the Sunnyside neighborhood last year, especially because their original restaurant, the vibrant Los Carboncitos, is located just six blocks away. And after I'd eaten my review meals at Paxia, I went diving into the arms of its sibling for consolation.
I had a friend from the East Coast in town recently, and as I did when I returned from New York, he wanted to eat as much Mexican food as Denver could offer. For my own tradition's sake, our first stop was Los Carboncitos.
The building that houses the taqueria is hard to miss; it doesn't have the best paint job in the world and it's hued a fiery orange. Inside the screen door entrance, it's just as eclectic, with mismatched tables scattered through an awkwardly laid out dining room. My friend and I grabbed seats near a woman reprimanding a middle schooler for his classroom transgressions over a glass bottle Coke, and we tried hard not to listen to her ask him why he'd crawled out the window in the middle of homeroom while we perused the menu.
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That took some time -- Los Carboncitos says it serves up authentic Mexican food, and it does, but those traditional dishes are sprinkled into a colorful, picture-filled tome that spans huaraches, quesadillas, burritos, tacos, tortas, enchiladas and much, much more. While we pondered our options, we munched on the free chips and quartet of salsas. Really, I could lunch on that and that alone. Each is distinctly different, showcasing smoke or cilantro or chile de arbol, but they share one commonality: they're all spicy, and the best way to consume them is to take alternating bites.
As for lunch, we eventually did what I always do -- ignored most of the menu and went with a platter full of tacos. And as always, I didn't regret that choice: we sunk our teeth into corn envelopes of soft cheek meat, spicy chorizo dripping grease, quivering bits of beef tongue, succulent carnitas and the awesome sweet-savory combination of pineapple and pork that is al pastor. Dressed simply with onions, cilantro and lime, those soul-feeding tacos are all I need to keep coming back to Los Carboncitos on a regular basis.