Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
The key ingredient to a perfect street taco: simplicity. You don’t need to pile on a bunch of toppings, which ultimately end up masking the flavor of the grilled or braised meat. Taco aficionados, especially Mexico City native Hugo Santana, know that authenticity shines brighter than modern-day frills.
Sitting on Alameda Avenue, La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas, a bright orange hut with only a flailing banner featuring images of tacos for a sign, churns out some of my favorite street tacos. Plenty of other Denverites agree: It was in the top 16 of our 2022 taco March Madness bracket, and Yelp listed it as one of the top 100 taco joints in the country that same year.
Santana opened La Calle at 1565 W. Alameda Ave. in 2012, missing the taquerias on every street corner that he grew up with in Mexico City. But his Mexico City empire in Denver first started with a food truck on Federal Boulevard in 2004, where he sold tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and fresh-pressed juice.
Santana then went on to open Las Tortugas, a torta restaurant with currently six locations across the metro area. La Calle is located down the street from his first Mexican sandwich spot on Alameda Avenue to avoid having a fast food restaurant for a neighbor, according to longtime manager Eduardo Flores, who runs all of Santana’s restaurants.
I found La Calle through my sister, who lives nearby and blessed me with her go-to taco joint recommendation. It has since become my own go-to, especially when I’m craving a high-quality bite that doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. La Calle’s tacos are only $3.39, no matter which of the 17 meats you choose. Flores’ goal is to stay below the $5 mark.
“There are food trucks that sell smaller tacos than ours for $4, but I want to keep it cheap for the people, even if styrofoam has doubled its price from last year,” Flores said.
La Calle cranks out 1,500 tacos a day, according to the manager. “The flavors taste just like Mexico City,” Flores, who is also a Mexico City native, said.
You’d think the tortillas were flour for how well they stand up to handling, unlike some of the masa bases that crumble on first touch. I never thought I’d be convinced to eat cow tongue, pork stomach, fried tripe, or pig skin, but La Calle knows best.
The classics, of course, never miss. The al pastor is slow-roasted on a rotating vertical rotisserie (trompo), which you can see from the register. The tender cochinita pibil (slow-cooked, marinated pork) pairs perfectly with pickled red onion. Don’t forget to grab plenty of fresh-cut onion and cilantro, and test your spice level with the buffet of homemade salsas.
Flores’ next goal is to add beers and a patio to the bright orange taco joint. And Aurora just might be getting lucky with its own La Calle location, which Santana hopes to open next door to the local Las Tortugas restaurant in the future.
La Calle Taqueria y Carnitas, 1565 W. Alameda Ave., Denver; lacalletaqueriaycarnitas.com; Open Sun.- Fri. from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
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