714 Santa Fe Drive 303-623-3926
The name of this tiny taco shack (little more than a lean-to, really) says everything it needs to: The taco of Mexico. A taco hunter seeking the best in town certainly couldn't go wrong here, but sometimes more than delectable and succulent little mounds of shredded or chopped meats is in order. Fortunately, El Taco's burritos are good enough that the place could change its name to El Burrito de Mexico with no risk of false advertising.
See also: 100 Favorite Dishes of 2014
Our favorite, the food-within-a-food wonder that is the chile relleno burrito, starts its life as a standard bean and cheese torpedo, but the insertion of a breaded and fried green chile -- itself stuffed with a little cheese -- adds textural contrast and extra heat and peppery flavor. And, of course, the whole enchilada -- sorry, burrito -- must be bathed in the house chile verde to truly elevate it to classic Den-Mex status.
Not that the green chile at El Taco is typical of the chunky, starch-thickened soup that has evolved from the New Mexico style over the past century of Denver cooking. It's more of a Mexican-style slurry of chiles, tomatillos and stock -- giving it a rich, brownish tint and a thinner but no less flavorful body -- that doesn't too closely resemble its northern cousins.
A perfect hangover cure or late breakfast, the relleno burrito's charm lies in its simplicity. It's just rich refried beans, enough cheese to add creaminess without becoming gloppy, the zing of the chile and the crunch of the relleno's breading. Grab a seat at the counter and watch the cooks prepare your order in silent efficiency broken only by the ring of the spatula on the metal grill top. The relleno gets a few whacks with that spatula to break it into bite-sized pieces before it's wrapped in a bean-smeared tortilla, and then the burrito itself gets a quick sear on the grill, too, crisping the bottom just enough. What some might consider simply a hot mess is more than that -- it's a glorious hot mess of bold flavors and textures, culminating in an empty plate before you realize you've inhaled the entire thing. And that's what makes it the burrito of Denver.
In advance of the Best of Denver 2015, we're already loading our plates with contenders for the best dishes in the city. And over the next nine months, we'll be sharing many of them with you, counting down (in no particular order) one hundred of our favorite dishes before the the Best of Denver 2015 hits the streets on March 26. In the meantime, if there's a dish you think we need to try, tell us about it in the comments section below, or shoot us an e-mail at email@example.com.
Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2014 countdown are linked below.
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No. 100: Chile Relleno at La Fiesta No. 99: Gurage Kitfo at Megenagna Ethiopian Restaurant No. 98: Cochinita Pibil at Work & Class No. 97: The Greggers Tongue Sandwich at Olive & Finch No 96: Baum Cakes at Glaze by Sasa No. 95: Goat hot pot from Viet's No 94: Head cheese from Beast + Bottle No. 93: Kettle Chips from Amerigo Delicatus No. 92: Pork Belly Confit at Solera Restaurant and Wine Bar No. 91: Tacos Campechanos from La Calle Taqueria No. 90: Biscuits from Denver Biscuit Co. No. 89: Clams and Chorizo at Gozo No. 88: Aburi Sushi at Sushi Den and Izakaya Den No. 87: Kimchi and Sausage Torta at City, O' City No. 86: Mar y Tierra Molcajete at Paxia No. 85: Crispy Pork Spare Ribs at Table Top No 84: Chips and Dip at Euclid Hall