Great tacos are a balance of flavorful fillings and a tortilla treated with respect. If a tortilla doesn't get a quick crisp on a hot griddle, preferably anointed with a little lard, something else must be done to bring out the best of the corn flavor to meld it with the chosen fillings, whether pork, beef, beans or rajas de poblano glued together with stringy cheese. Steaming is a far less common method in Mexican restaurants and taco trucks in Denver, but the result, called tacos al vapor, can be just as sublime. If you're looking for tacos al vapor in the metro area, head to the corner of East Colfax Avenue and Xanthia Street on the weekend and wait your turn at Los Dos Hermanos, a truck that parks in the lot next to Sheyla's nightclub from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.
Tacos al vapor show up in various styles throughout Mexico, but as they are served from Los Dos Hermanos, they're made like those in the state of Zacatecas. Slow-cooked meats are the filling of choice; the food truck uses finely chopped lengua or soft, shredded barbacoa. Each tortilla gets a mound of meat before being steamed over a perforated stove top, folded and layered onto a styrofoam plate. The lengua tacos come with a side of chunky salsa, but additional salsas are available at the serving counter on the side of the truck.
The tortillas themselves are large and coarse-grained and are lightly steamed to order, so the result is very different from versions of tacos al vapor that steam for long periods of time in large pots, creating an almost translucent tortilla slick with orange-tinted fat. These are firmer and slightly chewy, but they hold together well enough that they don't need double-layering.
When I stop in on the weekend, the parking lot on the east side of the nightclub has a scattering of customers ordering for themselves or for entire families, some of whom sit at a couple of tables under awnings set up by Los Dos Hermanos. Others eat in their cars or take their food to go, but the crowd is oddly silent; many of the diners are solo men grabbing a quick lunch, eating with their heads tilted to approach the taco at just the right angle so that the succulent meat doesn't shed its juice down forearms or chins.
A line never really forms in front of the truck. There are just two groups of customers, spaced apart like players on a soccer field. The group on the right hasn't ordered yet, but occasionally someone will step forward and make a request at the window. The group on the left has ordered and is waiting for their numbers to be called. Once they get their food, they step around those in the first group, loading up on limes, salsas and napkins. It's like a kind of dance of the shy and speechless, where the only goal is a plate of tacos al vapor, but just enough social interaction takes place to prevent everyone from colliding in the middle.
We perform the dance, too, first standing awkwardly to the right, unsure of who got there ahead of us, then making up our minds and making a move toward the window, while others grab sodas from the ice chests attached to the truck and children dart around our legs. Eventually, our number is called (in Spanish — "uno seis" rather than the expected "diez y seis") and we take our tacos to our parking spot on Xanthia Street and eat them standing up behind my fourteen-year-old Honda Civic. Four tacos each make a quick and tasty meal — and a cheap one, too: All eight tacos and two sodas come in at just $12.
Los Dos Hermanos offers a few other menu options: burgers, gorditas, quesadillas. But Zacatecas-style tacos al vapor aren't something you come across very often, even on a street with as much dining diversity as Colfax. That said, there's another tacos al vapor truck about two blocks away, but the crowd at Los Dos Hermanos is a telling sign. The wait may be a little longer, but the result is a street taco as good as it is rare.
In Ethniche, Mark Antonation explores the cuisine of a different culture, region or country every month, visiting four or five eateries for an overview of how that cuisine fits into the Denver dining scene. His explorations have ranged from a deep dive into Salvadorean pupusas to a cross-section of traditional Chinese New Year specialties to a look into the state of Southern barbecue along the Front Range. For the month of August, he's taking a closer look at hard-to-find regional Mexican dishes. Previous dishes this month include:
Mixiote at El Tromptio
Pastes at Los Pastes