Santa Fe Drive Week

El Taco De Mexico has hardly changed since 1986, and no one is complaining

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Tacos at El Taco De Mexico, Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Tacos at El Taco De Mexico, Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Lunchtime at El Taco De Mexico looks about the same as we approach 2020 as it did in the late 1980s.

I wasn’t there to see it, but I have it on good authority that it’s always been packed inside the restaurant on Santa Fe Drive and Seventh Avenue. Thirty people would pack in “like sardines,” on a good day, according to Sasha Zanabria, manager and daughter of owner Maria Luisa Zanabria. The only difference back then was the venue. El Taco De Mexico was just a trailer occupying the space that’s now the restaurant’s patio.

The food remains the same, as do some of the customers and much of the staff.

“There’s a lot of love at that restaurant and I think that’s really important,” Sasha Zanabria said. “The people who have been there a really long time, they love what they do, just seeing people there year after year. We have customers coming in and they don’t even need to order. We know what they want. That smallness that we have, that’s really good. The people that go there a lot, they see it.”

El Taco De Mexico on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

El Taco De Mexico on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Maria Luisa Zanabria opened El Taco De Mexico at 714 Santa Fe Drive in 1986 when she moved to Denver from California, where she ran essentially the same restaurant. Zanabria is originally from Mexico City and so, her daughter says, “the flavor of the restaurant is Mexico City.”

Customer favorites include “anything smothered,” Sasha Zanabria says, and the chile relleno burrito. People are also pretty big on the steak tacos. Her own favorite changes — it used to be the chile relleno burrito, but for a while now she’s been on the chilaquiles.

Andrew Goldberg, who’s been going to El Taco De Mexico for close to six years, is a smothered chile relleno burrito guy — and he adds two eggs on top. There for lunch on a Friday afternoon, he was eating all that and three pastor tacos (he took some to go). He keeps coming back for the authenticity.

“Everything else in Denver is really trendy tacos and this is real Mexican food,” he said.

Andrew Goldberg eats at El Taco De Mexico, Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Andrew Goldberg eats at El Taco De Mexico, Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 3, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Randy Organ, who says he’s been eating at El Taco De Mexico a few times a month for the last three years is one of the steak fans. He comes over from Washington Park just to get the steak tacos, and for the service.

“They’re friendly, they get to know the people,” he said.

Clearing his plate on a Monday afternoon, Brian Muehl told Denverite, “I come here every other week, generally only for the special burrito. I get green chile with pork — fantastic. It’s the best burrito in town. … Basically, when I moved here five or six years ago I looked up what’s the best burrito in town. I’m a big burrito fan. And this place popped up, came and tried it, and I tried a bunch of other places, and this place beats everyone, hands down.”

Brian Muehl poses for a portrait over his cleaned plate at El Taco De Mexico on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Brian Muehl poses for a portrait over his cleaned plate at El Taco De Mexico on Santa Fe Drive, Aug. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

As the city changes around them, the Zanabrias and the rest of El Taco De Mexico’s staff remain. Some of the crew in the kitchen have been there for 20 years. They also have customers who’ve moved out of state and periodically travel back to eat there.

“Change is what it is,” Sasha Zanabria said, but they keep doing what they do and the customers keep coming back.

“Denver as a whole has always been very good with our family,” Zanabria said. “They’ve always really loved the recipes that my mom has made and we’re very grateful for that.”

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