The Taco House keeps the flavors -- and aura -- of 1958 alive
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.
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.
Mark Antonation A little worn around the edges, but still well maintained.
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.
Mark Antonation One of the original menus. The combination dinners included candy.
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.
A Taco House delivery truck from the late 1950s
And how is the food at Taco House? It really depends on whether you like your Mexican food seasoned with nostalgia.
Mark Antonation Beef and bean burrito with chili verde and a side of chili con carne.