If you have read this blog for some time you might remember my former Chicago roommates, Michael, for his passionate, almost physical love of fried chicken skins; and Brian, for his ridiculous obsession with all food Asian. We had a lot of memorable meals together, but one thing that stands out in particular was a taqueria not too far from our home (though we never knew exactly where) that delivered tacos al pastor at all hours of the night. There was no weather too harsh, no hour of the night too obscene and most importantly for us--though horribly unprofitable for them-- no minimum order.
It became our reason for existence. Our mantra. No night out was complete without at least one taco al pastor. Long nights of reveling ended with drunken chants for pastor as we stumbled home. It got so bad (or so good depending how you look at it) that we would summon our poor taco courier at 3am for a single taco just to help us sleep. The taco al pastor, it was strong in us.
Brian has lived in Denver for some time now though for many poor reasons I rarely see him. For some time we have tried to make plans to eat pastor together, and we finally met at a place that I have been meaning to check out for a while: Los Toritos on East Colfax.
Waiting to meet someone in a booth at the mostly-empty Los Toritos sipping a Victoria, one feels a little like he might be in a 1970s-era film waiting to meet some questionable character to plan some elaborate illegal scheme. Despite the direct sun hitting the restaurants large windows, the interior was dim, the dark blinds only partway open. What light entered was dramatic and cast long shadows across my table. The booths were tall and deep, and several faux-brick archways framed the long bar, which was mirrored and full of tequila bottles. The place was empty save for a couple in a booth near me--all I could see was a tall sombrero. I glanced out the window at the gritty corner of East Colfax and Chester only to see Brian walking by. My Hollywood heist-planning daydream was broken. Time to eat tacos and drink more beer.
Los Toritos does have pastor on a spit, like it should, but only on the weekends. During the weekday, one can indulge in two-for-one cervezas but the pastor is coming pre-chopped and is going straight to the grill. It was Friday at 5:30, a borderline time to be considered a weekend so I called ahead to confirm the spit setup. I got an affirmative, though I didn't see it when I came in the door so I asked again. I was assured that yes, at this moment they were carving al pastor meat from a spit and serving it on tacos.
Fair enough, though I did never lay my eyes on it. We ordered four tacos and set into two more Victorias. When the tacos came out I took one look and was already disappointed. The meat was in large chunks, was minimally charred, and the pineapple was canned. The salsas were average and the taco was decent for a pork taco, and much less-so for a taco claiming to be al pastor.
But people kept coming in and the menu was extensive so we decided to try something else. Brian had never had an alambre, and it isn't everyday you find one on a Mexican menu so we ordered one.
An alambre is a Mexico City tradition, made by grilling meats, onions and peppers and mixing in shredded cheese at the end. What results is a grilled, gooey pile of cheesy meat that can be eaten as such or heaped onto a tortilla. The dish that came out at Toritos was indeed a splendid mix of meat including carne asada and hot dogs, but the bright yellow cheese was not even melted in with the meat. I don't completely mind the crappy cheese-blend, but not being cooked in with the meat really shows a poor understanding of what an alambre is all about.
Needless to say it was pretty bad. I love a mixed-meat product like a hot dog to complement my single-animal meats as much as the next guy, but the hot dog ratio was high in this alambre, drowning out the other meats and dominating the dish both in flavor and texture. We polished off our Victorias and headed out the door.
On the way out I saw they were setting up for a Karoake night with an elaborate mixer and video system. I am starting to think that there is a connection between Karoake nights and poorly executed food at places like this. Spend too much time worrying about the music and the food suffers.
Brian is always up for a food adventure, and I felt a little like I let him down with Los Toritos. To make it up to him I dragged him down to Tacos Junior to have a much, much better taco al pastor. I was pleased to see the quality has remained the same here, as I consistently rank them high on my Denver taco al pastor list.
Thanks again, Tacos Junior
After that it was off to have another drink and call it a night. We reminisced quite a bit about those tacos al pastor in Chicago. We couldn't even remember if they were good or not. They were certainly good enough. And we will always share a love of the pastor that transcends never seeing each other. In fact soon after our night out, Michael called to say he was making a rare visit to Denver for a reunion of sorts. Coincidence? Doubtful. The pastor, as I said, is strong in us.