Global Cuisine

Pato's Brings Passion and Five-Star Tacos to East Colfax

Pato helping customers smile in lucha libre gear.
Pato helping customers smile in lucha libre gear. Patricio Penalosa
Patricio “Pato” Penalosa is known for his passion — and his tacos. That’s why, when he moved to Denver from Mexico City last year, he channeled that passion into creating an authentic Mexican-style taqueria. Pato’s Tacos, at 5038 East Colfax Avenue, opened on March 17 to rave reviews from those who have visited: All 71 Google reviews so far gave the place five stars.

Most people don’t associate Mexican food with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but Penalosa wanted to open his restaurant on his namesake day. After setbacks with permitting complicated by the pandemic, Penalosa and his business partner, chef Rene Gonzalez, celebrated the Irish holiday the only way they know how —with tacos.

The eatery has a relatively short menu centered on twelve types of tacos, including beef, pork and chicken as well as vegetarian and vegan options. “It can seem very simple, but it has a lot of creativity behind it that we adopted and adapted from the Mexican street food,” Penalosa explains, added that the recipes are modeled after the most authentic form of street food: people serving tacos from the trunks of their cars.A few sides, like nopales (cactus), frijoles charro (beans with bacon) and chiles en vinagre (pickled jalapeños) are also available.
click to enlarge Many meat options have vegetarian alternatives, like this soy chorizo. - PATRICIO PENALOSA
Many meat options have vegetarian alternatives, like this soy chorizo.
Patricio Penalosa
Penalosa and Gonzalez met in the fine-dining world of Mexico City, where Penalosa worked for thirty years, most recently at a sushi speakeasy. When it became clear that that reopening a large space would be difficult because of COVID restrictions, Penalosa decided to join his daughter in Denver to start anew. Because of this, he intentionally kept the concept simple: a smaller menu, a more basic space and a two-person team. “It’s completely different than what we’re used to,” he says. “We’re unlearning a lot of things and getting more and more simple than what we used to do for years.”

One thing that ties his previous endeavors with the new: feeding people, which he wants to do in the most authentic way possible. The most basic foundation of a taco? The tortilla, of course. “I focused on finding a good and authentic tortilla. It’s the most important ingredient — no tortilla, no taco,” Penalosa explains. The corn tortillas he's using are made from scratch and are bigger and sturdier than one might typically find.

The restaurant matches the menu in size; it can host just twelve people at a time. But even with a staff of two, Penalosa and Gonzalez make efficient use of the space. Customers can expect the table to be set with salsas when they sit down after ordering, and food to be served within three minutes. “It’s time to eat, it’s not time to wait,” Penalosa says.

He is as passionate about service as he is about tacos, and sees food as a means of connecting with the community. “We leave the check open,” he notes. “People have forgotten to pay, but I don’t chase after them, because I know they’re going to come back. Feeding people, you become an extension of their houses.”
Patricio Penalosa

The interior is brightly decorated with items inspired by lucha libre, the form of Mexican wrestling in which participants wear masks as a way to hide their identities. Penalosa chose the theme as a way to make mask mandates fun without making fun of them. “We thought: let’s make it something fun and in the Mexican tradition,” he explains. “Things on the walls are going to make you laugh, and that’s a good appetizer. Laughter opens your senses.”

In line with keeping things simple, all tacos and sides are the same price: $5. They’re big tacos, and because of that, Penalosa recommends that customers start with just two. The most popular offerings are Pato’s Especial: a tortilla topped with fresh guacamole and chicharron. “It’s very simple, because you can notice the quality of the tortilla and the ingredients we use to make the guacamole,” Penalosa notes. The other is filled with a Yucatán-style stew with cochinita (roast pork), which is pulled after four to six hours in the oven and flavored with achiote, garlic, onion and orange juice.

“At the end, you are doing what you want with what you have. It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of creativity, and that makes it very, very fun. And we are having a lot of fun. That’s important to me. When you get to have fun with what you do, the rest is just benefit," Penalosa concludes.

Pato’s Tacos is located at 5038 East Colfax Avenue and is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, visit its Instagram page, @patostacos2020.
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Danielle Krolewicz likes a good cup of coffee, a good book and a good deal — not necessarily in that order.