Best of Denver

The Twelve Best Places for Tacos in Denver

The pastor spit at Acapulco is an impressive sight to behold for taco fans.
The pastor spit at Acapulco is an impressive sight to behold for taco fans. Danielle Lirette
What makes a perfect taco? It starts with excellent tortillas made fresh and treated with respect. And then slow-cooked or quick-grilled meats are loaded on in just the right amount. But not every taco needs meat, so we also love rajas, nopales and seasonal veggies. Seasonings and salsas are key; we don't want a dull and lifeless bite — the taco should come alive with the flavor of chiles. But don't get too fancy on us — those squiggles of creamy stuff don't generally impress. Here's our list of the twelve best eateries in Denver for great tacos — from street-side trailers to posh establishments — listed alphabetically.

Acapulco Tacos y Pupusas

8890 East Colfax Avenue
During busy hours at Tacos Acapulco, you practically need a shoehorn to get into the cramped front room that barely has space for four counter seats and an order window; even during slow hours, it's unusual to find an empty seat here. Tacos Acapulco hawks dishes from Mexico and El Salvador — tacos and burritos as well as authentic Salvadoran pupusas. The diminutive Colfax Avenue shack earns our respect for some of the best tacos al pastor in town, carved from a slowly spinning spit of dark-roasted pork basting itself in its own juices.

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Carne asada and pastor tacos at Beltran's Meat Market.
Danielle Lirette

Beltran's Meat Market & Grill

11920 Washingon Street, Northglenn

Great tacos start with the meat, and you know you're getting great meat at Beltran's because the butcher counter is right next to the grill. Whether quick-grilled specialties like carne asada, beef fajitas or alambres (beef with bacon and vegetables) or slow-roasted pastor and barbacoa, the tacos come out with the perfect flavor and texture. Several house salsas add a blast of chile heat, and corn tortillas come from a nearby tortilleria run by a family friend. Beltran's kitchen cooks up a wide range of Mexican specialties, so you can explore the menu of burritos, tortas and soups at breakfast, lunch and dinner; just make sure any meal includes an order of tacos.

Dos Santos Taqueria de Mexico

1475 East 17th Avenue

Dos Santos rings in on the more upscale side of the Denver's taco scene, but brothers Kris and Jason Wallenta stay true to the spirit of the Mexican snack; after all, Kris opened his first restaurant in Cozumel. A saintly theme pervades this Uptown cantina, from the name to the religious iconography decorating the bar. But if people are worshiping anything here, it’s the high-quality tacos: the tinga, with chicken braised in a smoky tomato-chipotle broth; the arrachera, with grilled, marinated steak and salsa verde; and the Porky Lechon, with slow-roasted pork fragrant with cumin and orange. Don’t miss weekend brunch, the only time that ganache-filled churros and standout chilaquiles make an appearance.

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The food is simple, inexpensive and delicious at El Taco de Mexico.
Danielle Lirette

El Taco de Mexico

714 Santa Fe Drive

Perhaps no Mexican spot in the Mile High is as beloved as El Taco de Mexico, a no-frills joint that offers little in the way of ambience and even less in the way of service. But that hasn’t deterred the crowds that have been coming here since 1985, especially for plates of tacos topped simply with beef cheek, tongue or crispy fried carnitas, augmented with nothing but a pungent smattering of diced onions and cilantro. Belly up to the counter to place an order and then find a stool — or, better yet, a table on the patio, a good perch for people-watching in the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe.

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Chorizo and skirt steak blue-corn tacos at Garibaldi Mexican Bistro.
Danielle Lirette

Garibaldi Mexican Bistro

3298 South Broadway

Garibaldi Mexican Bistro shares a building with a Conoco service station; the little eatery is wedged between the gas station's convenience store and automated car wash. Of course, we wouldn't send you to a taqueria if it wasn't top-notch, and the food is the main attraction. Daily specials — lamb barbacoa, quesadillas with huitlacoche and squash blossoms — are worth investigating, or dig into the unique queka, which comes in somewhere between an oversized taco and a corn-tortilla quesadilla. A special Menu Azteca holds pre-Colombian treasures like blue-corn tortilla tacos topped with nopales and onions, and papazules, tacos loaded with potatoes, chiles, onions and Oaxacan cheese.

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La Calle's selection ranges from carne asada to specialties like cochinita pibil, Campechana, cabeza and buche.
Danielle Lirette

La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas

1565 West Alameda Avenue

The Street — there’s no better name for this former bungalow that’s been transformed into an iglesia for the worship of tacos. Stand before the glossy, wall-mounted menu and behold more than a dozen preparations of beef, pork and goat in styles from all around Mexico. There’s cochinita pibil from the Yucatán, shredded pork mixed with pork rinds in the style of Campeche, carne al pastor to rival the D.F.’s, and plenty of offal — lengua, tripitas and buche — to please those looking for bold flavors. To top those off, there’s a salsa bar with myriad options: Each bowl of salsa and chopped or pickled veggies is meant to accompany a specific taco. You can go stand in la calle in the blazing sun or bitter cold waiting for some food-truck tacos, or you can head inside La Calle for something just as real and good.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation