Sometimes the best hole-in-the-wall eateries are discovered by accident, which was exactly how I stumbled upon Tacos El Paisa. You can thank the tire angels at Les Schwab across the street (seriously, who fixes cars for free?) for leading me to the taco fairies at this non-descript little Mexican haven that is a true contender for some of the most authentic south-of-the-border cuisine in Denver (Guadalajara to be exact). Whether you want breakfast all day or a pint before the game, the year-old El Paisa is a safe bet.
Blending into the shabbiness of Federal Boulevard just steps from Mile High, Tacos El Paisa is intriguing in its lack of online presence (other the nearly perfect five-star Yelp reviews), so there's not much to go on without just walking in the door. Inside feels like you’ve been transported straight to Mexico. Bright aqua and red walls greet you and the combination of ice-cold AC blasting and plants everywhere give it a bit of a greenhouse effect (fortunately or unfortunately, not the Colorado kind). You’ll hear mostly Spanish spoken, a child screaming from the kitchen, and some rather aggressive chopping. Yes, this is definitely a family run operation. So much so that the waitress was the sister of Tony the owner (delightful little fellow) and desserts come from his brother’s bakery, El Paisa Panaderia in Aurora. They’re exactly the kind of transplants you’re rooting for: humble, gracious and extremely hardworking.
Tacos El Paisa has a full bar in the back in case you want to get your tequila or Corona on. A Bloody Mary with house-made mix is offered, but the mimosa recipes are still being perfected. Don’t miss the Broncos special: a bucket of any five beers and 12 wings for $25 during football games.
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Despite the lengthy and tempting burrito menu, I wanted to try one of the breakfast specials, which unfortunately didn’t have much description beyond a few photos and cartoony starbursts. The server’s English didn’t help much either, but I gathered that menudo was a soup (preferred mostly by non-gringas). Her explanation of huevos rancheros versus huevos Mexican was a bit off in how Tony later explained it to me; I ended up with the opposite of what I wanted — but at least it was a tasty mistake. As it turns out, the rancheros allow a choice of eggs prepared however you like, whereas the Mexican is a house special that comes scrambled with finely chopped peppers, tomatoes, and onions. I mixed the Spanish rice and eggs to make a sloppy plate I pretty much devoured. The refried beans were barely visible and were the same thickness as the hearty portion of green chile, which I blendend into everything else on the plate. A tortilla was provided to sop up the remains, cool the slow burn on my tongue, and dip in the salsa, which upon first glance looked thin, but digging deeper, a delightful chunkiness appeared. It was in fact the really addictive kind — bolstered extra-salty chips — that I could’t stop eating until the server took the bowl away,
I needed something sweet to top off breakfast; churros and fried ice cream were recommended, which both came looking like a fiesta on a plate. Drizzled with sweet red cherry syrup, caramel, chocolate, and gobs of whipped cream, the churro was light, not too crispy, and served warm, stuffed with a creamy caramel filling that was hands-down one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. You can also pick up these gems from the bakery in Aurora, a great sweet treat that’ll set you back all of $1.
The fried ice cream came in a massive chalice, and while I love tempura ice cream, this was a bit chewy due to the coconut in the shell casing. By then I was so full it was more of a palate cleanser, but the whole meal cost just over $10 so I didn’t mind splurging. Almost everything is made in house, from the complimentary chips and salsa down to the chorizo. “We’re just trying to do our best,” says the owner. And that they are.