While my mom raised me not to judge a book by its cover, I still fight the urge to judge a restaurant’s food by the presence of a drive-thru — especially when it’s an all-night, 24-hour drive through like the one at Taco Star, at 1760 South Havana Street in Aurora. Other than adding a stop to your Uber route on the way home from the bars, what purpose would an establishment like this serve? Is a satisfying mid-day meal at Taco Star possible when sober? It seemed far-fetched. But my mind was immediately changed by a clean and well-maintained restaurant, friendly staff and the wide array of tasty Mexican specialties offered on the eatery’s vast menu — and I hadn’t had a drop to drink before meals on two separate visits.
On my initial stop, I tested out the drive-thru. The massive menu made me thankful that there were no cars behind me, as I took my time deciding what I wanted and wondered if this increased the wait time during typical busy hours. Combination plates, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, tortas and tostadas: all were choices on the menu, and even breakfast is served up alongside lunch and dinner throughout the day and night. I was greeted by a friendly-sounding employee who didn’t seem to mind that I was taking forever to put my order in. I finally chose five of the eight taco selections ($2.50 per taco), plus a bean-and-cheese burrito ($4.74). The wait for the food at that window didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, but it was reassuringly longer than your typical fast-food drive-thru, indicating that some cooking and assembly was going on behind the scenes.
When I arrived home, I found a generous helping of red and green salsa cups included with my meal. I urge even the most spice-tolerant folks to taste a dab of each before dousing your tacos, because while they certainly are flavorful, both the red and green pack a fiery punch. Speaking of dousing tacos, Taco Star doesn’t skimp on the taco toppings, which can soggy up your taco if you wait too long to eat. Since coming home to soggy tacos can really ruin a person’s day, I appreciated the fact that each taco was wrapped in two corn tortillas instead of one.
Each of the five tacos had its own distinct flavor component, assuring that no two tasted alike. The chicken taco was peppery and juicy, with plenty of iceberg lettuce, sour cream, tomatoes and cheese on top. The carne asada contained chopped cilantro and green and white onion on a bed of chunky, lime-spiked steak. The carnitas taco was dressed similarly and was filled with large, flavorful bites of shredded pork, which momentarily made me wish I’d ordered less food — a thought that quickly passed. The lengua (beef tongue) was a little dry and lacked flavor, but the guacamole and pico de gallo on top gave it some pep. The (taco) star of my meal was the adobada, which contained crispy red bits of smoky, oregano-imbued pork.
The colossal burritos are stuffed to bursting with your choice of fillings and come handheld and sauceless (unless you order them smothered for an extra 75 cents). The refried-bean and cheese innards of the burrito on my first trip were smooth and fatty-tasting in the best way. While the burrito definitely satisfied a craving for a simple classic, it was also excessively salty (and I’m usually a pretty salty gal). But at least the extreme spice of the red and green sauces tamed the heavy salt (or maybe just singed my tastebuds into submission) enough so that I could appreciate the creamy, rich texture of the bean and cheddar(ish) contents.
On my second visit, I timidly ventured inside, worried that I’d walk into an unkempt establishment or have to place my order with disgruntled, overworked employees (since the eatery is open 24hours). Instead, I walked into a bright and tidy establishment with art carefully hung on the walls, utensils and napkins meticulously organized, and friendly, smiling employees who sent me out a quality chorizo-and-egg burrito ($5.95) and a medium horchata ($1.85) within just a few minutes of taking my order. To the right of the counter, there is a small silver cooler with a lid that, once opened, reveals your choice of several fresh salsas, sauces and toppings for your food. Unlike many places that provide a salsa bar, this one was kept clean, and the salsas were all perfectly chilled — not bad for a 24-hour drive-thru joint.
I marveled at the generous amount of egg and chorizo packed inside the burrito, especially for the price. Since I was familiar with the spice levels of the salsas from my first visit, I saturated this one just as I had done with my bean-and-cheese burrito. But when I took my first bite, I nearly burned my face off. The chorizo combined with the red and green sauces was so intensely spicy that I was thankful to have my horchata nearby to put out the flames. The horchata, sweet and cinnamon-packed, and with background notes of almond and rice, tasted like a cinnamon roll in a cup. With the help of the cooling beverage (and some serious forehead dabbing), I managed to finish the burrito and was delighted not to have bitten into any grisly bits that sometimes ruin ground meats at fast-food places.
When Taco Star’s construction was nearly done and it was getting ready to open last fall, it was reported that it would open as a Tacos Rapidos outpost. Although the two Colorado chains have remarkably similar menus, they are not owned by the same company, but are two separate restaurants with similar concepts. I was unable to get in touch with the owner of the Havana Street Taco Star, but his manager did confirm that the owners of the two businesses are very good friends (a possible reason that the two eateries are so similar).
A fresh salsa bar, quick food that tastes great and surprisingly professional service make Taco Star a welcome addition to Havana Street's busy restaurant scene, whether you’re craving late-night Mexican staples after a night out or stopping by for a sober mid-day meal.
Taco Star serves breakfast, lunch and dinner 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the drive-thru; the dining room is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The company does not maintain a website, but you can call Taco Star at 303-750-1030 for other details.
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