Eating Adventures

The answers to life's important questions can be found at Tacos y Salsas

In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on this week's stop...

My last visit to a Mexican restaurant for this series, Carnitas Michoacan, didn't go so well, but that was almost three months ago. I've hit eleven restaurants since then -- in a scant three-tenths of a mile -- covering a wide range of Asian noodle dishes, stir-fries, dumplings, exotic greens, pungent sauces, and meats of every flavor and texture.

See also:
- Carnitas Michoacan: take the chilaquiles and run
- Tacos Junior deserves senior status on Federal
- The molcajete rocks at Playa Azul

But the lure of the simple corn tortilla, some lard-imbued refried beans, and a wallop of heat from an intense chile de arbol or jalapeño salsa will make me hit the brakes and perform some pretty questionable traffic maneuvers just to get a look at an unfamiliar sign or banner offering the promise of a fledgling Mexican restaurant. So it's a good thing I know my way to Tacos y Salsas; in fact, I could probably drive there with my eyes closed, guided only by the feel of every rut and pothole (and the faint aroma of carnitas crisping on the flat top) between my house and that welcoming neon sign.

I consider this branch of Tacos y Salsas the premier location, even if it's not the first or busiest. There are others, including at least two more on Federal, several in the Eastern bloc suburbs of Aurora and Commerce City, and others in the northern outposts of Westminster and Brighton.

If you haven't been to a Tacos y Salsas, at least skip the downtown location and take a cruise down Federal to get the full experience. Sure, the juicy shreds of deshebrada and crisp nubs of pastor taste pretty good wolfed from a Styrofoam clamshell in a few delirious moments while hunched over the kitchen sink or smuggled into a corporate cubicle for a furtive lunch, but they're even better when your ears are filled with the thump of Mexican hiphop or the staccato accordion rhythms of Norteño.

The earthy masa of the house-made tacos, tostadas, and gorditas is enhanced by the constant traffic of DVD peddlers, lucha libre ticket vendors, and families taking daughters for quinceañera dress fittings.

Maybe that's why a simple meal built from a torta, a gordita, and the plainest avocado tostada can be so satisfying and emotionally resonant. The antojitos are the foundation: a torta Cubana built on a tender telera roll that seems about to succumb to the weight of the shredded chicken, beans, guacamole and ham but somehow absorbs it all - plus the flame-bright salsa I pour on with abandon - without losing integrity; a delicately crisped gordita stuffed with a succulent, savory plug of deshebrada that's juicy almost beyond the limits of physics; a tostada that's nothing more than fresh veggies on deep-fried golden disk plus a few drizzles of pea-soup green salsa that tempers its heat with cilantro and avocado.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation

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