Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine: Tamales on my mind

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...

Did I just eat the best tamale of my life? The masa -- moist, fluffy and steaming -- did not conceal a meat filling, but instead hid gems of sweet corn. It wasn't slathered in a flamboyant, fiery sauce, but only a generous drizzle of Mexican crema, enough queso fresco to add a mild tang, and the barest inkling of chile verde that whispered from a sauce so light I at first mistook it for melted butter. The tantalizing touch of green and a demure heat that tingled like a first kiss had me scraping the husk for every last clinging drop of it. Simplicity. Magic. Perfection. The kitchen at Tarasco's New Latino Cuisine had once again delivered a plate of restrained and effortless beauty, this time in the form of an inglorious lump of dough wrapped in a homely dried maize leaf that Tarasco's had treated with the same affection that many upscale restaurants devote to trios of expensive proteins or exotic ingredients fawned over by the easily impressed. But this was just corn: earthy and humble masa, candy-sweet kernels, and a waft of woody, farmland perfume from the steamed wrapper.

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Mark Antonation
Brush up on your menu Spanish to understand all the signs.
Tarasco's peeks out from its corner spot like the shy girl in a homemade dress at her first dance. The signs have been added onto, painted over, and even blacked out in places (maybe to obscure any comparisons to the logo of a similarly-named Louisiana condiment). But hints of beauty are there even in the chaotic patchwork of announcements and enticements (a little knowledge of menu Spanish will pay off here): "mole de siete chiles", "los mejores perros calientes," "Westword Best posole," proclaim the jumble of posters and window paint added at various points in the restaurant's existence. It's not atypical of any number of other taco shacks around the city, but somehow there's a sense of humble pride and not merely a hawker's bravado here.

Mark Antonation
Every surface at Tarasco's is covered with Spanish aphorisms.
So of course we ordered that mole made with seven chiles and that perro caliente -- literally "hot dog" -- that declared itself "the best." Along with those, we ordered a deceptively simple plate of morisqueta: rice, beans and cotija cheese with a pink-hued sauce that, like those tamales, proved to be so much more than the sum of its parts. I added on a huarache (a thick tortilla named for its sandal shape) with fried eggs smothered in a gravy-like green chile -- the liquid yolks completely obscured but not overwhelmed by the rich and spicy sauce.

Mark Antonation
A huarache and two fried eggs lurk somewhere under that chile verde.
But I couldn't stop there. With a nearly endless list of fruit and veggie juices and smoothies to choose from, I tacked on a thick and sweet blend of papaya, strawberry and oat milk. Well past the point of discomfort and into that stage where I just wanted to be horizontal, I kept stealing bites of tender pork jacketed in a velvety layer of that complex seven-chile mole (a specialty of Michoacan), which thankfully lacked the cloying sweetness of some of the mole Poblano found in other restaurants.

Location Info

Mike Lee Restaurant

10260 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora, CO

Category: Restaurant

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Love this series. Always a great read. FYI- tamales is plural, tamal is singular.


Tarasco's is one of the best hidden gems in Denver... the green and yellow mole varieties are also superb, and the guac is the best I've had in town.


Your articles continue to impress.  I've been meaning to try Tarasco's for months now.  I may hurry on down tonight!

Mantonat topcommenter

@Dave Thanks for reading, and for paying attention! I intentionally went with tamale over tamal because tamale is and has been the accepted American English usage for many decades. I understand that to Spanish speakers, tamale sounds wrong or strange (because the e is only there in the plural form of many words that end in consonants), but back-formations are part of the evolution of language, whether in English or Spanish. In fact, the menu at Tarasco's reads "Tamales de elote (delicious corn tamale)."

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