Over the years, we've given El Taco de Mexico many Best of Denver awards, from Best Green Chile to Best Menudo. Over the years, the restaurant that Maria Luisa Zanabria opened in a trailer in 1985 soon after she moved here from Mexico City has grown into a lively taqueria, a bright-yellow landmark in the heart of the city at 714 Santa Fe Drive.
And now it's made the national map. The James Beard Foundation just announced the six recipients of the 2020 America's Classics Award, and El Taco de Mexico made the cut. The awards go to restaurants that are beloved for quality food that reflects the community; over a hundred eateries have received the honor since it was introduced in 1998. This year's winners will be celebrated at the annual James Beard Awards Gala on Monday, May 4, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
El Taco de Mexico is a classic for many reasons — not just for the cooks (all cleaver-wielding women who've made the cut themselves), but for the crowds who keep coming from morning to night, looking for tacos, enchiladas and burritos (especially the relleno-stuffed version), smothered with that amazing green chile.
Today, El Taco is run by the founder's daughter, Sasha Zanabria. "My mother worked very hard to open the restaurant and to make it what it is today," she says. "I have been carrying on for two years and hope to keep her work going."
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With the James Beard recognition, El Taco de Mexico is in a good position to keep going for a very long time.
This is the first time that a Colorado restaurant has been given an America's Classics Award (see the full list here).
Other James Beard award winners in Colorado include Jennifer Jasinski, Alex Seidel and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, all for Best Chef Southwest, for their work at Rioja (2013), Mercantile Dining & Provision (2018) and Frasca Food & Wine (2008), respectively. Frasca also won an Outstanding Wine Program award in 2013, and Colorado food historian and author Adrian Miller earned a 2014 James Beard Award for his book Soul Food.
By the way, Westword, too, has a Beard award: Critic Jason Sheehen won first place for Newspaper Restaurant Review or Critique in 2003.