Based on a month of exploring Denver's Salvadoran scene, small is good when it comes to pupusas -- at least as far as the eatery itself is concerned. Tacos Acapulco on East Colfax is bigger than the Pupusas trailer in Louisville, but not by much. With only four or five stools inside, this diminutive Salvadoran and Mexican joint turns out some excellent street food from both countries. Don't expect a vast menu of specialties from the Central American country, though; it's mostly just pupusas. See also: The Little Red Trailer Called Pupusas Lives Up to Its Name
The list of pupusa fillings on the modern, digital menu is generous, ranging from the traditional loroco, zucchini and chicharron to Mexican-Salvadoran fusion pupusas: chorizo, carne asada and pastor. There are also fried plaintain chips; an open view of the kitchen from the order counter reveals bunches of fresh plantain waiting to be fried.
The tidy brick hut and its gleaming kitchen stand in contrast to some of the divier taquerias along Colfax. While in those cases, not being able to see into the kitchen is a distinct selling point, at Tacos Acapulco, watching the food being made is an appetite stimulant. A beautifully symmetrical cone of carne al pastor rotates slowly, revealing its outer patina of caramelized juices. The top of the cone sports a thick slice of pork fat rather than the standard pineapple -- as it sizzles and spits, the fat drips down the sides of the pork to keep it moist and flavorful. A cook at the grill slaps a fresh pupusa back and forth in her hands, forming it into the shape of a flattened disk over what sounds like a smattering of applause. If the line is long and the view is blocked, the menu also displays video of tacos being assembled from sizzling slices of pastor.
The finished pupusas are big, soft and misshappen, with protrusions of crisp and browned cheese. Just off the grill, they're too hot to handle, leaving melted spots on the styrofoam plate. A pool of mild salsa roja and a pile of slaw-like curtido side the pupusa; a sadly inadequate plastic fork comes stabbed into the center, perhaps to help vent the steam from the molten center.
Once the pupusas are cool enough to bite into without risking serious burns, the tender masa shells reveal fillings in which cheese rules over small amounts of other ingredients. The pupusa with rajas -- strips of grilled poblano pepper -- contains just enough of the deep green chile to add mild heat and roasty flavor. The bright and fresh curtido offers a hint of oregano but not much heat of its own.
The pupusa revuelta con todo -- mixed with everything -- offers a little more balance of ingredients. Plentiful refried beans and cooked-down pork (almost a paste) add flavor and texture to the gooey white cheese. With a pinch of curtido and a dunk in the tomatoey salsa, a torn-off bite of pupusa offers the perfect mix of salty, tangy, creamy and just plain satisfying. Tacos Acapulco doesn't have a liquor license, but a sweet Senorial sangria soda makes for the Latin American equivalent of a slice of pizza and a cold Coca Cola.
A warm and sunny day on the patio at Tacos Acapulco with a view of the constant flow of cars and pedestrians on Colfax provides a relaxing and tantalizing taste of spring in the middle of winter. The patio invites lingering despite a belly full of pupusas -- and that spit of pastor proves tempting, too. If you're like me, you'll mix up the culinary experience a little and sneak in a couple of tacos al pastor before you hit the road. It's not common for a kitchen to excel at more than one regional style, but Tacos Acapulco get both just right.
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