It was approaching dusk but the late afternoon light only intensified the radiance of the loud yellow paint covering Los Gallitos on West Alameda. The spit of pastor curbside was so big and lovely that when approaching from the East it was almost easier to spot (and certainly more pleasant to gaze upon) than the bright, almost glowing building itself. I pulled a sharp left and wheeled into the parking lot, eyes fixed on the wonderful stacks of pork loins shimmering in the late-day sun.
The taquero manning the spit was proud and gleaming, like any good taquero should be. And why not? Under his control was an enormous and well-manicured dark-red spit of carefully stacked-then-shaped pork loins. We approached his post before entering to snap some photos and admire the meat. He posed and smiled , probably wondering to himself why more people didn't stop by just to take his picture next to this magnificent spinning top of pork.
Also before entering we checked out the backside of the restaurant, drawn by the signs touting 99 cent tacos available from a drive-thru service window. The drive-thru taqueriais rarer than it should be in our town, and coupled with the pastor spit, needless to say my early impression of Los Gallitos was favorable. (Although the restaurant could have been burning to the ground and shooting flames while people screamed and ran in every direction and I would have still had a positive outlook as long as that lovely hunk of meat was out front.)
When we finally entered we ordered immediately from the pretty standard taqueria menu full of the usual suspects. In addition to the pastor, we also ordered between us a pair of gorditas, one with chorizo, the other with chicharron. They didn't give us a ticket to take outside, so we sat by the window and I kept alternating my gaze between the kitchen and the spit outside, waiting to see when someone was going to get my taco from the taquero who was surely making it now. I didn't want to miss a thing. And I didn't.
I am sad to say that Los Gallitos is an example of tacos al pastor in the US gone wrong. Outside is a brilliant, well-groomed and lovely (I said that already) spit of meat under the careful watch of a seaseond taquero. It looks divine as it rotates, smells perfect as it cooks and sounds like a sweet lullaby when it is sliced off (pff, pff, pff). Then the nightmare begins. Instead of being served al fresco, it is all stacked in a large container, dragged back into the kitchen and then fried in old grease until it resembles nothing more than withered, defeated, broken meat.
OK, it still looks pretty good, even if not like pastor
OK, it wasn't quite as bad as I just made it sound, but it is just so tragic that it might as well be. In the end it was a greasy taco of grilled pork and there is a certain saving grace to that fact. There was a very faint hint of sweetness but any complexity the original marinade may have had was grilled into submission on the flat-top. There were even small chunks of (canned) pineapple in there that were identifiable only by sight (and foraging) and not by taste, as they too had soaked up more grease than Squeaky-Voiced Teen after working a double shift at Krusty Burger.
It is of course another sad story that results from the hyper-hygienic health regulators that legislate raw outdoor meats and cooking. This might seem like a good thing, what protecting us from the occasional bit of raw pork flesh, but since admittedly bad things like trichinosis are virtually eradicated now in the US by hygienic pig-farming and trendy restaurants all over town serve there pork pink in the middle, it is sad that these taco places feel the need to over-cook their pastor.
The good news is everything else we had was pretty good. It wasn't the freshest, or the most original. In fact it wasn't that special in any way (expect that spit outside), but it was another decent taqueria with 99 cent tacos that would satisfy a simple taco urge. And it has a drive thru. And while I may never, ever (really, never) make use of their drive-thru service, somehow the world seems a little better just knowing it is there.
Moving on. Here is a steak taco (with cheese) had by my sister-in-law.
And a very good sope that my suegra ate:
My suegro was completely satisfied with his assortment of tacos, especially the lengua, which I did not get a picture of; but here is one of our gorditas, all sloppy and greasy in a good way:
We left Los Gallitos as an entire extended family thoroughly coated--almost visibly so-- with taco grease. But it is not this that had me disheartened, no it was what they did to those tacos al pastor. In Denver (and most of the US) where finding an outdoor taco spit rotating with pastor meat is rare (although becoming more common) there is nothing as disappointing as finding a place that messes it up so badly.
And while I have found some real gems over the years, my search to thoroughly scour the metro area for pastor continues. If you have any suggestions not on my blog please let me know. And if you are extra-bored this August, then prepare yourself for some mild amusement as my annual taco al pastor rankings are due out soon.