The Taco House keeps the flavors -- and aura -- of 1958 alive

Categories: A Federal Case

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Mark Antonation
In A Federal Case, I'll be eating my way up Federal Boulevard -- south to north -- within Denver city limits. I'll be skipping the national chains and per-scoop Chinese joints, but otherwise I'll report from every vinyl booth, walk-up window and bar stool where food is served. Here's the report on this week's stop...

There are a few poignant signs along Federal Boulevard, leftovers from a simple and optimistic time that evoke the past more than the establishments they announce today: The geometric shapes and washed-out colors of the Irving's Used Cars sign stand watch over little more than a weed-infested parking lot just north of Eighth Avenue; the peeling Googie swoops and angles of Bungalow Liquors at Alameda today promise only a cheap suitcase of Bud or a bottle of fortified wine; the magnificent block letters set between the twin domed minarets of the Federal Theater peek timidly over the relatively new -- but still venerable -- marquee signs jutting over sidewalks that yearn for the days of packed houses spilling out into a warm Denver night. So it's not surprising that the sign over the Taco House, almost bigger than the building, is more of an icon in this town than the restaurant itself.

See also:
- 100 Favorite Dishes: Enchiladas from Taco House
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- Pho 79: How to be a cool customer

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Mark Antonation
A little worn around the edges, but still well maintained.
Despite age spots, facelifts and weathering, the building maintains a roadhouse charm and tidiness that stand in opposition to the forces of decay. I was torn between wry admiration of Taco House's defiant quaintness and a little dread at having to make a meal from items that might not be much fresher than the sign. But a visit that began with a bit of an eye roll and a sense of duty turned into something more interesting when I opened a menu proudly announcing the restaurant's 55th anniversary.

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Mark Antonation
One of the original menus. The combination dinners included candy.
Yes, I'd eaten at Taco House before, and it was even one of the restaurants that gave birth to the idea of dining at every restaurant on Federal. On a trip back from a football game at Sports Authority Field, I had announced that I wanted to try every taco joint between the stadium and home. "Tonight?" my wife had asked. Well, not all in one night, I had reasoned. But a few that night, and a few more every weekend, and soon enough we could genuinely claim to be Federal Boulevard taco experts. The idea eventually expanded beyond just tacos, but Taco House had been one of our first stops.

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A Taco House delivery truck from the late 1950s
And now, with menu in hand, I ordered just about everything listed except tacos. Owner Greg Risch -- grandson-in-law of the original owner -- and his son, manager Scott Risch, both agreed that the #4 dinner (three cheese enchiladas, a bean chip, a queso chip and a guacamole chip) topped their list of favorites, so I selected cheese enchiladas, but ordered everything else a la carte to get a broader taste of the menu. Amy chose a tamale smothered in chili verde (as spelled on the menu), and I added a beef-and-bean burrito, similarly smothered, with a side of chili con carne. Our waitress started us out with a basket of tortilla chips and housemade salsa.

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Mark Antonation
Beef and bean burrito with chili verde and a side of chili con carne.
And how is the food at Taco House? It really depends on whether you like your Mexican food seasoned with nostalgia.

Location Info

Taco House

581 S. Federal Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant


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18 comments
dragona721
dragona721

I didn't grow up here as a child but moved here from Phoenix when I was in my early 20's in 1995.I recall after a day out with our horses my friend wanted lunch she told me about the Taco House and how amazing it was,she did grow up here,so I went with her ordered some tacos and was horrified at the shredded American cheese on the taco! I had never seen that before , never went back,lol wasn't impressed

Now that I know the history of the place and how long it's been here I have more respect for it now and I might even go back just to try that new apple dessert and maybe that #4 :)

Mike Sisk
Mike Sisk

This stroll down Federal is wonderful!

steveo65
steveo65

Great article Mark. The Taco House was a place where my Dad could take us out to dinner for less than ten bucks. And as kids, we loved it. It wasn't nearly as good as the Mexican food I grew up with, but it was tasty. If I ever commit a crime I wont have to worry about fingerprints, because they were permanently altered by the scalding hot plates. I haven't been there in 20 years, but I'm contemplating a return visit. 

Deon Ruybal
Deon Ruybal

Fernando get off your high horse so u dont like it get over it u cant expect the world's finest cuisine at a place such as this I understand however you cannot equally say that you being served can products is below you or below that of a restaurant. many restaurants from Dennys all the way up into Taco Bell use everything out of a cans, or preprocessed foods with GMOs. the fact that you are belittleing a restaurant of which you don't even fully attend or grasp the understanding of the local communities feelings towards the restaurant sounds to me as if you are judging a book for too much before you read it cover, I understand it's not the world's greatest restaurant however that doesn't deter me from eating there. nor does it seem like you have to be such an inconsiderate consumer about it. if you do not like it so much go out and become a critic yourself. maybe then you'll have some standing in the publics eye of who we should listen to.

jill5009
jill5009

You really captured the feel and taste of Taco House.  Great article!

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

I've eaten many taco burgers at The Taco House, but it has been at least 30 years.  

Nando Commando
Nando Commando

No matter the talent of the writer, the breezy flow of his carefully chosen words... it can not make up for the awfulness that is TacoHouse. That place is absolutely horrible in every aspect. I actually had no idea it was so old, but I could care less. I care not for canned products being served in a diner restaurant. If this review were being honest, and not avoiding truthful insult it would read: Stay away at all costs. Even Taco Bell is better than this place. It's not Mexican, it's only claiming to be so with the cheapest of ingredients from cheap owners. There is no culinary talent being exhibited here. You will run for the border if you eat here... if by border you mean the toilet. There are plenty of plain taco shacks on Federal that far succeed this insult to Mexican, TexMex, Santa Fe, or even whatever people think DenMex is. The best real Mexican restaurant on Federal is TARASCOS. Eat there, and tell me what's wrong with your head for even considering Taco House.

kvillegas
kvillegas

Taco House has that distinctive smell that reminds me of Sundays after church but before the movie theater. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

davebarnes
davebarnes topcommenter

Very good writing.

Evocative.

flucero219
flucero219

LOL Thanks for putting my argument into such great perspective.  Any restaurant that uses as much processed and canned food as this place doesn't deserve praise from anyone.    

Yes, I've had good food that comes from a can.  No, it hasn't come from this place.  It's disgusting.  I judged the book.  I also read the contents, glossary, and index.  It baffles the mind how anyone can think that it's a good read.  

I'm not a pro critic, but I am a pillar of the community... and as that pillar it's my responsibility to deter people from making a grave mistake.  :)

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

@Fernando Lucero Funny you should mention Tarasco's. Since I'm writing about every restaurant (that's not a national chain) on Federal in geographical order, Tarasco's is on my list. Stay tuned! 

Esteban
Esteban

@Fernando Lucero Ha...You're such a douche. Taco house Rules

flucero219
flucero219

@Esteban  What exactly does it rule?  The ruin your britches category? 

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