Taco the Town

Estillo Mexicano—those were the magic words at Tacos D.F. Mexican style: just spice and meat—rough-chopped grilled steak, marinated in God knows what, with caramelized onions in the case of the asada, and naked chopped pork, redolent of char for the carnitas. If you had to gussy up the tacos, there was always hot sauce, along with salsas and picos on ice. Tacos D.F. also served a good torta and often switched up the menu, offering sopes, lamb soup, barbacoa—all manner of delicious items you could order if you knew to ask or could read enough Spanish to translate the especiales written out long-hand on neon-colored construction paper.

It amazes me that, for a long time, critics didn't review places like Tacos D.F. In some cases, they weren't allowed to review little ethnic joints. (Most famously, perhaps, was Ruth Reichl's discovery that the New York Times hadn't ever reviewed a Chinese restaurant before she took on the job of critic -- in 1993.) In others, the critics themselves seemed to think that any cuisine that wasn't American, French, French-inspired, Italian, Italian-inspired or some kind of fucked-up fusion of the above was simply below their notice.

This, thankfully, is no longer the case. For the most part. Though I do still know a few of my brethren who are dissuaded (with varying levels of success) from spending their papers' dollars in some place with paper-towel rolls at the table rather than linen napkins, this willfull blindness to ethnic cuisine now seems to be an almost quaint remnant of those days when Mexican, Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Peruvian, Argentine, Spanish, Swiss, British, Irish, Costa Rican, Morroccan, Ethiopian, Turkish, Lebanese, Ghanaian and German foods were looked on as mutt constructs, unworthy of mention or discussion among twee foodie circles.

Personally, I can't fathom how anyone could think they know anything about the world, food or the food world without tasting it all. Granted, I am perhaps more prone to throwing myself teeth-first into a foreign culture and getting a feel for its rhythms by eating its pork products than most, but I know I am not alone. This food -- these tacos and tortas, whether taken wrapped in paper across the shelf at a lonchera or eaten at a table out of plastic baskets as at Tacos D.F. -- defines where food has come from, describes where we are today as a people. Though the food world has not yet seen its Mexican Crick and Watson -- some book or article or scholarly paper dedicated exclusively to the genesis and genetics of Mexican cuisine -- I figure it has to happen eventually, right? Someday soon, some bright kid is going to come along and say, "Hey, I've just spent the last five years wandering around Mexico and you'd be amazed at what's going on down there right now."

But until that kid shows up, we've got this week's review of Tacos D.F. -- the little taco truck that could. Not only that, but some news about the closing of Mel's in Cherry Creek and about the opening of the first restaurant (that I know of) inspired by Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. All that, and I still manage to find space to talk about yet another runner-up in this year's Best of Denver awards: Rosie's Diner. -- Jason Sheehan

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun