This Taqueria el Valle should not be confused with the taco shop of the same name (el tocayo) on Zuni near 30th. This is a one-hundred percent original, Aurora-born, Zacatecan-inspired gem that you don't want to miss. The specialty here is proudly displayed on the front window in bold blue neon letters. Translated it basically means steamed tacos.
It has been at least a year since I have been here, and the first thing that I noticed was that there was more of everything. There was, for example, more stuff on the already busy walls-- primarily in the form of bikini-clad beer model posters. Going down the back hallway towards the bathroom, I noticed the pantry shelves were packed even fuller than ever before, so that claustrophobes would do better to simply just hold it in (or run over to Pho 77). I even heard the distinct peep of a song bird come from the depths of the cluttered kitchen, likely there so as to avoid any canaray-in-a-coal-mine related suffocations from the inordinate amount of pots and pans stacked high in the sink.
Other things are the same, like the bathroom: clean enough, but cluttered as always with rack on top of rack of empty 1/2 liter Coke bottles "Hecho en Mexico". Also the moderately voluptuous waitresses were there as usual leaning on the counter, though tonight they were recognizable from the rest of the Saturday night crowd by their matching outfits, and they even made eye contact when we walked in-- and brought us menus immediately, something entirely unheard of before. The menus like the service, have received an upgrade as well: laminated, poorly translated (but translated) and about eight pages longer than they used to be-- which probably explains the overflowing shelves.
Also there was someone in the corner selling CDs and DVDs as there has always been, though this time I think it was the owner, and he was offering free posters of a Mexican-looking Coors model with every CD purchase. Never have I had so much peddled to me in a taqueria in the US as I have had here. And though tempted as I often have been-- by fresh cheeses, tortillas, toys, and other unnecessary but well-priced goods--I decided to pass and get what I came here to get.
What I was here for were of course tacos al vapor. We ordered immediately, not wanting to let the server get back to her counter where she could gaze up at the TV and pretend to avoid our waving hands. We were shocked enough to have our menus in hand when we first sat down and then double-shocked that she came back a mere one or two minutes later with our drinks-- we weren't taking any chances after that.
Our tacos came out in what seemed like seconds later, but it was probably more like five or ten minutes. I have literally waited 30 minutes in this place when there were three servers and two other customers, so anything under ten minutes is approaching light speed at El Valle.
The tacos al vapor I am glad to say were exactly the same. Get ready for another of my infamous sweeping statements of a general nature: This is the best taco al vapor in Denver. It has to be. I have only tried them in three or four other places, but these tacos are perfect in every way.
For this Zacatecan specialty, the beef is steamed until it is fall-apart tender. It is also incredibly moist. For you meat-and-potato types, it is like the best pot roast you have ever had-- but better, because it's in a tortilla. The tortilla is steamed as well so that it is soft, moist and warm. The whole thing is refreshingly grease-less so that it is almost like a diet-taco, and even though they come in orders of five, I can easily eat ten if I am pretty hungry (I can always eat ten). The onions and cilantro add a cool crunch and tang to the tender beef and moist tortilla, and both the red and green squeeze-bottle salsas are excellent (though the red is preferable for its spiciness). Here is another photo, this time with salsa.
Every so often I try something else from El Valle and usually it pales in comparison to the taco al vapor. This time was no different. I tried a pair of sopes de carnitas that were entirely edible, but the fired masa shell was a little too chewy, and the carnitas were so deep-fried (or dip fried according to the menu-- which was misleading because they were obviously immersed in oil for a long, long time) that they only tasted like day-old frying oil.
I love this taqueria for many reasons: the clutter and chaos, the wall hangings, the shopping and of course the tacos al vapor. They also serve beer which is a bonus and it looks like they are open later than seven or eight which was the time they used to lock the doors. Again, don't confuse this place with its tocayo in North Denver on Zuni. I'm pretty sure they are not at all affiliated, and I though I've heard their North Denver counterpart serves a good late-night taco, you want to come here for the steamed beef of the taco al vapor when you get a chance.
Also it appears that a new soul food place has opened its doors in the same little strip mall. Now, in this isolated strip mall on Peoria and 31st there is a solid pho place, tacos al vapor and potentially some good soul food. Gotta love Aurora.