Sunday, August 15, 2010

Denver al Pastor Take 8: Tacos y Salsas, South Federal and East Colfax

The ongoing quest for Denver's finest taco al pastor continues, and brings me back to an old haunt that at the very least may be one of Denver's all-round taquerias. I was diverted on my last journey to Tacos y Salsa's on South Federal when my spontaneous nature was enticed by an alluring sign just a few blocks away. (That adventure involved tortas de tamal and is documented here.)

I've always felt a little guilty for stopping short of Tacos y Salsas on that fateful day. Tacos y Salsas, needless to say, has been there for me many times before when I needed it, yet at the slightest hope of something newer and better, I did a U-turn in the middle of Federal in plain sight of its yellow-and-red neon sign. In order to make up for my neglect of this old steady-rock-of-a-taqueria, I decided I better include the East Colfax location as well. Both locations are full of good signs of a great taco shop, and then there is this, the best sign of them all:

E. Colfax's spit is outside, S. Federal's in.

Spits of roasting marinated pork loins are of course my (blog's) reason for being. Like many of Denver's pastor spit havens, Tacos y Salsa's does not serve thinly shaved slices of perfectly charred pork directly from the spit, but rather shaves them and re-cooks them on a flat-top grill. (Did you ever wonder though why it's OK for restaurants to serve medium-rare pork chops but taquerias have to cook their thin-sliced pork twice? Can't we just sign a waiver or something?) At Tacos y Salsas they don't even mess around with slicing it off for every order; for the most part it seems as if they have a bunch of pre-shaved meat in the back and just grill it to order. Needless to say this re-cooking and pre-slicing should not be seen as a deterrent when in the US, it is only another sad, fact-of-life, illogical paradox of life in our great, but at times confused, country (think the AZ immigration bill only not really a big deal). 

What is a little disappointing about the pastor here is that the meat is not as thinly sliced as it ought to be. Nevertheless the thick chunks of pork are moist and a little bit charred. They also have a good marinade giving the meat an authentic taste. You can also get pineapple if you ask for it-- albeit canned pineapple--actually copious amounts of canned pineapple. You get the feeling that they don't like to put it on there in the first place (which is of course wrong). 

You want pineapple, punk? I got your pineapple.

In the end what makes Tacos y Salsas a great taqueria is not their pastor--though I usually do get one whenever I go--no, it is all the other tacos. And the salsa bar. And the beer (Federal location only). Here are two other tacos alongside the pastor: moist carnitas and their wonderful asada. 

Also great are the buche (stomach miscellany), the cheek and the lengua (tongue). They also make all the other standard taco shop fare rather well: sopes, tostadas, tortas, etc. Below is an enormous chicken tostada (alongside another pastor of course).

The salsa bar is always full of six great homemade salsas from a creamy red, to a chunky, smoky green, to a fiery hot red. Also there are all the other taco fixin's you could ever need. 

In the end, the South Federal location is better not only because of this fantastically tacky mural of handsome, galloping stallions painted over a backdrop of snow-covered mountains (left), but because they serve beer. They also served micheladas which I described in their basic form in an earlier post: lime juice, beer and salt. The michelada they serve at Tacos y Salsas is a giant mug of what I know as the Michelada Cubana. The best way to describe it is like a Bloody Mary mix with beer. It is hugely satisfying washing down spicy, meaty tacos on a hot summer day-- and at Tacos y Salsas, I will emphasize the hugely part. Look at this thing (below). And I don't have a small hand. It might have been a foot tall. Any of you out there suspicious of the manliness of drinking beer with ice and citrus juices should make this your first michelada. And if you still feel insecure, stand in front of the wild-horse mural when you drink it. 

Tacos y Salsas has at least one other location for you dining convenience, though one is just a little further south on Federal, so it is only partially convenient, I suppose, specifically if you lived nearby it and were too lazy to walk a few blocks up to Kentucky St. Either way, you can't go wrong if you're in Aurora on East Colfax or in Denver on South Federal-- except for the beer part. Though that being said, there is usually enough drama on that stretch of Colfax that no one would even notice if you got a can of beer down the street (in a brown bag of course), ordered your tacos to go and sat on the steps for some of the most interesting people-watching you can experience in Denver.

Tacos Y Salsas on Urbanspoon
Tacos Y Salsas on Urbanspoon


  1. So which place in Denver have you liked best so far?

    I first had tacos al pastor in Mexico in March, and loooooved them. Since I've been back, I've only had them once, at Pica's in Boulder (and I thought those were tasty, though I don't know how authentic).

  2. So far I like Taco Veloz on N Federal the best... but Acapulco on Colfax and Yosemite is mighty good. Stayed tuned for my top 10... or maybe just top 8..

    Does Pica's roast on a spit?

    1. Acapulco! good call!! Does any other place in south denver make those pancake looking things they have? Paposos?

  3. Thanks! I'll check it out.

    I don't know how Pica's makes theirs, but if I go there again, I'll ask.



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