Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pinche Tacos in Pinche Denver, Hijo e pu!

The Cherry Creek farmer's market has slowly become a showcase for restaurants and other miscellany, with a paucity of actual farmers peddling their home-grown produce. At this point, it really should be considered false advertising to call it a "farmer's market" at all,  but if any good can come from having less local produce to vend, it would be at least having some prepared food worth eating. Among the new vendors this year is Pinche Tacos, one of Denver's newest food truck/cart players that have flooded the market this summer as the upscale portable food scene has taken Denver by storm.

Already steeped in what might go down as the stupidest, most trivial controversy ever, Pinche Tacos is now infamous for having to change its name after some overly-sensitive bureaucrat of the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District became alarmed because "Pinche" is a "bad word". Sure "pinche" can mean the "f-word", but taken in context is much more along the lines of "damn". In other words it is not that big of a deal. But simple logic lost again and from now on, when you see the trademark donkey-logo on 16th street mall it will be with the name, "Tacos Borrachos", or "Drunk tacos." Instead of condoning a harmless, curse word, let us instead expose the impressionable teenage mall rats to the excessive intake of alcohol. Of course, it truly doesn't matter either way, but so is the twisted logic of a bunch of functionaries that have been charged with enforcing meaningless regulations for too long.

Careful little girl! That truck sports a curse word in another language!

Pinche tacos is the most interesting of Denver's new food trucks to me, not because of the naming game, but because it is trying to replicate what is already done very well in Denver - taco trucks, or loncheras. Of course the market of Pinche Tacos is not the typical taco truck patron. No, Pinche Tacos is clearly going after the culinary curious who may be otherwise disinclined to go find a traditional taco truck.

By going after this market, location is the first key. Pinche Tacos has a trailer set up at the Cherry Creek and Stapleton farmer's markets and of course the "drunken" taco cart on 16th street mall. It also plans to set up somewhere around 19th and Market for weekend Rockies games. Maybe because of these prime locations Pinche Tacos also charges a lot pinche dinero for its tacos. Coming in at $2.50 per taco, it is far from a value, but then again, the convenience and accessibility of not needing to leave Central Denver (or the lack of adventurous spirit), has its price.

My wife and I went to Cherry Creek to sample some Pinche Tacos recently and forked over $20 for six tacos and two drinks. I don't mind the price, despite the fact that it would cost me less than half of that to get the same amount of food at a traditional taco truck. No, what is important is the taste.

Pinche Tacos prides itself on serving "Comida de la Calle", and using locally sourced ingredients including their traditional corn tortillas. It has an interesting range of options that go from the straight carnitas to the "daring" lengua (tongue) to creative breakfast tacos with innovations like green chile hollandaise.

The first taco I tried was the one with the hollandaise. It also had carnitas, eggs and a potato-onion hash. It was good, though a little plain, and would be better as a burrito. I also wish they made their salsas readily available so that one could add more salsa if needed. In other words, my taco needed salsa.

The second I tried was the "asada brava", which unlike the citrus-marinated asada, was apparently meant to be spicy ("brava" meaning "fierce" or "brave"). It was well-cooked meat with a nice, smoky tomato salsa, but it was by no means "brava". I have had fruit with more heat.

The "chipolte puerco anaranjada" taco consists of a chipotle and citrus marinated pork with avocado-tomatillo crema (the latter being prententious-talk for an avocado salsa typical of taco stands everywhere--for my recipe, click here). The pork was tender and delicious but again, even with all the different flavors, left me wanting more. More spice to be exact. Any spice.

It started getting better with the "queso a la plancha". A perfectly grilled thick slice of cotija cheese, avocado and a dollup of tasty tomatillo salsa. This was an excellent, creative and sizable taco-- though still lacking spice.

The chicken-chipotle-cream-sauce taco was another star. A mild heat came through, but what I loved was the creative use of what tasted like creamed spinach. Sprinkled with cotija cheese and covered in sour cream, this was by far the most original of the tacos.

The last I tried was the lengua. The lengua was the clear winner of all the tacos. Wonderfully tender and rich with flavor as lengua often is, the tomatillo and smoky red salsas added a complex blend of flavors and even packed a mild heat. It was a great original version of a traditional taco.

These pinches tacos (technically "pinche" should be plural) have the look and feel of a traditional street taco, and although they offer innovative options, they lack some spice and flavor to be really great. In spite of this I like what I see so far and Pinche Tacos will probably be successful. Its marketing is well researched and executed. It is amazing to me how marketing works sometimes, convincing us that we need something we don't, or in this case offering us something new that we already have. The Pinche website promises "real pinche Mexican food in Denver", something we have had for a very, very long time. The food is not un-authentic, but it is certainly dumbed down for the typical American palate. It is also expensive for what it is, though it is good enough that I would readily go back because of its prime locations where a good taco is otherwise pretty hard to find.

Pinche Tacos on Urbanspoon


  1. A friend of mine lives in LA, and said there's a "pinche tacos" by his house. Instead of a cart, it's a standalone unit. And of all things, it's in a pink building. Don't have to think too hard for that innuendo. Looks like they can get away with a little more without getting censored out there.

    Good stuff.

  2. pinche can also mean kitchen help.

  3. Nice write up M. I need to go with you on one of your ventures. Curious if you've had the arepas at the farmers markets...

  4. I don't know you and don't normally follow you, but I am from Denver and have been living in Mexico for over two years. Whoever informed you that "PINCHE" means all the stuff that you said in your post is seriously misinforming you. Being 100% fluent and a resident Ex-Pat, I can assure you beyond ANY shadow of a doubt, that Pinche (which actually, sir, it should not be plural) means F**K - the ONLY other meaning is a kitchen helper. That use was from 60+ years ago though. Pinche is considered vulgar, second-class, and tasteless when used in Mexico, and is extremely offensive to older women and clergy men. That word should not be used on the street any time in Mexico.

    Although I GET the humor, and YES, I do in fact say it all the time among friends when I am "borrocho" and want to get tacos on the street at 2am - I appluad the "bureaucrats" who stopped them from using it and I am glad we have the class and decency to avoid use of such language in a public setting.

  5. So where can I find the other taco trucks you mention?

  6. I don’t have authority on much, Anoynmo #1, but I am fluent in Spanish as well and over my lifetime have spent quite a lot of time in Mexico myself. I agree that I should have mentioned that Pinche can be taken as vulgar as fuck, but it is really not as bad as you make it sound (in Nicaragua it is the equivalent of the Mexican “codo”, or “cheap”, for example) and much depends on its context. In fact my wife-- who is Mexican—and has lived all but the last few years of her life in Mexico, disagrees even more vehemently with you. “Pinche Tacos” is playful and friendly, while “pinche pendejo te voy a romper la cara” isn’t so much.

    Also, it most certainly is “Pinches” in this context, and I imagine they chose “pinche tacos” because the website for “pinches tacos” is already taken. As you continue to study the Spanish tongue, remember that any modifying adjective becomes plural when the noun it modifies is plural—you don’t enjoy “rico tacos”, only “ricos tacos”.

    Thanks for visiting and engaging me in this lively philological debate! Here is a thread about this very same word:

  7. Anonymo #2 - you can find those taco trucks all over Federal and Alameda, as well as East Colfax. Most of the ones I have reviewed are in East Denver and Aurora. Here is the link (just scroll down past the pinche tacos post.

  8. This was a good read, I love tacos! Be sure to post a review of this restaurant at and tell us what you think!

  9. And now... drumroll please... the truck has blossomed into a restaurant on 16th/York! Have you been yet?



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