Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tacos y Salsas y Zombies: A Denver Taco Institution Opens Downtown

Saturday, October 22nd I found myself with my family and our friends on an evening stroll through the surreal and rather impressive gathering of zombies in the Denver Zombie Crawl on the 16th Street Mall. The Mall was literally packed with walking-dead look-a-likes, many head-to-toe in incredibly detailed costumes and make-up jobs. I imagine an entire evening of zombie impersonation requires one to be well-fed and more than a little drunk, and the surrounding bars and restaurants were overflowing with the undead. Hungry ourselves after our saunter, we decided to check out the newest  of the Tacos y Salsas branches (the eighth if you are counting) on Stout Street just off the Mall.

In contrast to the zombie mania just steps away, we walked into Tacos y Salsas and were greeted by a nice young lady who escorted us to a booth. But before we could sit down we were intercepted by an absolutely crazy--albeit friendly--employee who shook all of our hands and insisted that he knew me--get this-- from television. Although I can't say that this has happened ever before, I wasn't all that surprised, as I've always thought that my uncanny resemblance to the great LDP (or more likely, as I have confessed in another post, an older, creepier version of Cory Haim as Lucas) has potential to create confusion. Whatever the reason, after our initial greeting, each time he passed our table, he gave me several exaggerated winks and excited points, or winkpoints, and laughed in a half-maniacal, half-nervous manner.

I start every morning like this, too. 
Photo Source

Since Tacos y Salsas opened its downtown location earlier this year, I have been extremely happy to see what I view as a legitimate taqueria move to the Mall. Despite this, I have also been concerned that they would, for lack of a better expression, "gringo-up" the place, including the food. Our server, though he might have scared off both Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike, was case in point that Tacos y Salsas was not out to pander to what can be a mundane mix of tourists and business folk that frequent the Mall.

Guys on the back of the booth, hard at work. 

The decorations were another story. Many restaurants that market their food and services to those not accustomed to Mexican food with spice, depth or flavor often go overboard on the "Mexican" decor in order to presumably make up for their otherwise lack of Mexican-ness. In that vein, your first impression of the newest Tacos y Salsas branch might lead you to believe that they had gone this route in anticipation of a more bland clientele. But this place is beyond the typical Mexican-kitsch, and whoever was in charge of designing it went absolutely over the top. Every booth, table, chair and other adornment you can think of was a faux-ceramic creation featuring some "typical" scene from some "typical" pueblo in Mexico.

Lady on the table: elated with my salsa

If nothing else the visual impact was in itself stunning for the sheer assault of bright color, sombreros and serapes. And if that weren't enough (it was), along one wall running the entire length of the long space was a mural in the grandest of forms featuring as its centerpiece a lovely airbrushed woman under a Tacos y Salsas canopy tent.

The Tacos y Salsas Matron

If this were a conversation instead of a platform for me to endlessly rant and rave as I see fit, this would be where you, dear reader, might say something to the effect of: "Shut up and tell me about the food." Decoration and staff insanity levels can only tell one so much about a place, and what we all really want to know about the new downtown Tacos y Salsas location is: Did they change anything about their food?

I ordered pastor like I always do from Tacos y Salsas though I'm never sure why. It does come from a spit in their Federal and Colfax locations (though I didn't see one here), but it is chunky, not crisp and has a decidedly "adobada" flavor to it. Nevertheless the words just roll off my tongue when I am there (as they do in many other situations in my life, some less appropriate than others). Its taste and texture was the same as the other locations as far as I could tell which is OK, but still nothing all that special.

I also tried the barbacoa taco (beef not goat) and at first bite wished everything I ordered that night had this luscious, tender beef in, on or all over it. Although I can't compare it to the other locations (as for some reason I had never ordered this before), the barbacoa that night was phenomenal.

Although now usurped by the barbacoa, carnitas was one of my Tacos y Salsas staple meats. This night I ordered them in gordita form. It was slightly over-fried and was stuffed New Mexican-style with chopped lettuce, onions, tomatoes and a yellow-white mix of cheese. Not what I was expecting and not my favorite toppings for a gordita, but nonetheless it was good and--no surprise-- I ate it all.

By the end of our meal, the crazy man who knew me from television ended up being pretty much just another nice and mostly attentive server--that is, until it came time to pay. In classic Mexican market-stall fashion, when my friend and I started to hand him our cash to settle our $24 tab, he insisted that he didn't have change for our two twenties. In fact, when he spied the ones in my wallet (yes he was trying to look in my wallet) he asked me to hand them over. We explained that we were splitting the bill so would also have to split the change, but he just gave us a loud sigh and an exasperated look. Knowing this game all too well I shoved the two twenties into his hand, and though still annoyed, he pulled out an unwiedly wad of ones, fives and tens; and proceeded to count off our change with a look like he was doing us a favor. Ridiculous, but classic.

It is good to see from my small sampling that night that Tacos y Salsas has seemingly stayed true to the Mexican food (and its taco-stand anti-change-making roots) it is known for--even on the 16th Street Mall. It isn't the best taqueria around but it is all-round solid in its tacos and for a late-night joint downtown it simply can't be beat.


After the meal we were lured back out onto the street to parade around in the growing madness of what seemed like even more zombies, by now all the drunker and more, well, zombie-like than before. It was pleasantly chaotic. From everywhere zombies were lurching, wrestling, moaning and--much to the displeasure of several tourists I saw (but not to our children)--jumping out from behind corners and startling whoever happened to be walking by.

Tacos y Salsas on Urbanspoon


  1. Lou Diamond's Disease, in which the average person is mistaken for the La Bamba star, is an all-too real affliction for thousands of ordinary Denver citizens. But seriously, thanks for another mouth-watering post.

  2. I agree that the decor is a bit outlandish, but the tacos are always so full of meat that I have to order extra tortillas to make duplicate tacos. It's like they keep regenerating as I'm taking bites, it's the neverending taco parade.
    (And I've never had them be rude about giving me change back. Perhaps he figured a television personality such as yourself could spare a few dollars for a fucking tip.)

  3. Anonymo- Maybe I didn't make myself clear: the outlandish decor was a good thing, and I ALWAYS tip. Even this guy got one.



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