Last weekend I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico where my little brother currently resides. He took me to a restaurant called simply El Taco. It was a dumpy little joint, occupying something that looked like a run down IHOP, and populated with funny looking picnic tables. For a dollar, you could score a taco of several different varieties, one being Cabesa. I have avoided the head taco on previous occasions, but El Taco was nice enough to translate on their sign, Cabesa being translated as Beef Cheek. While that still qualifies as head, I have heard from others about beef cheek being quite nice. So I ordered one. The folks at El Taco have boiled their tacos down to the simplest form, meat and tortilla, so what I got was some shredded beef on a corn tortilla. Jazzed up with lots of gear from the well stocked salsa bar (couple varieties of green salsa, red salsa, onions and cilantro, and some tasty baked jalapenos that set my gullet on fire for the next several hours) and the head taco was not half bad. An oily meat with more flavor than plain old beef. Head on!
I've never actually been to Acapulco. When I picture it in my head, I think of an early 80s cruise ship port that The Love Boat stopped at in seemingly every episode. A place where B-list celebrities like Dick Van Patten and Charo roamed lines of shady t-shirt hawkers and other miscellaneous travel junk shops while sporting floral prints. I just watched because I secretly had the hots for Julie the cruise director, but that's not what's important here.
You might think that the Acapulco Restaurant is completely unrelated to any tropical island towns or The Love Boat, but you'd be wrong there. It's one of those places that you could drive past 100 times and not notice. Sitting inconspicuously on an East Colfax street corner across from an auto parts store (I realize this description could be anywhere on Colfax), you can't help but feel transported to some dirty far away port town while navigating past the guy pawning off-brand hispanic music CDs in the parking lot. That feeling continues inside, with the 12" TV hanging from the ceiling spitting out fuzzy Spanish Language programs , the counter girls that are pretty rough with their english, and the menu that is fully in Spanish. The whole place seats about six people at the countertop facing Colfax, and between the people waiting to take away their food and those sitting and eating, you'll be lucky to score a chair. I've not been in there when it wasn't crowded. There's overflow seating outside, but there's not as much ambiance.
Luckily you don't have to be a Spanish major to figure out the menu. Tortas (sandwiches) and burritos are on the menu, along with the Acapulco's shout out to its Carribean roots, the cocktail de camarones (shrimp cocktail). I once ate a fish sandwich from a street vendor in Istanbul, and my bowels were in turmoil for weeks. Since then I have sworn off shellfish and/or other fish products from disreputable sources, and a shack on East Colfax falls into that category. Most anywhere on East Colfax, for that matter.
There are only two other items on the menu, and those are the only two that you need to concern yourself with: Tacos and pupusas. In fact, Tacos y Pupusas is written rather prominently on both sides of the building, and anymore that's what I call the place. The tacos come in four varieties, azada, carnitas, lengua, and cabeza. Along with the shrimp cocktail, I also tend to steer clear of the organ meats, so the tongue (lengua) and head (cabeza) tacos are out. The azada and carnitas tacos, however, are bundles of joy. They are stuffed full of meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato, and come with limes, radishes, and a cup of spicy green sauce on the side. Simple and wholesome, like a good taco should be. Pupusas are equally brilliant. A pupusa is basically a flat quesadilla/pancake made of corn meal, stuffed with things like beans and cheese, and grilled up hot. They come with red sauce and a ziplock bag full of some shredded roughage reminiscent of cole slaw, only not sloppy creamy and it has some zip to it.
The last time I was in The Acapulco, the ladies in the kitchen were all wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase 'Got Pupusa?'. If you haven't, you need to. The only thing that would make The Acapulco better would be if Charo was in the back grilling up your pupusas herself. The Acapulco is located on the corner of Yosemite and East Colfax, and is open until who knows when, as the hours aren't posted. I drove by at 11 pm the other night, and it was still cranking out food. You can score a taco for $1.75, and a Pupusa for $2.75.
I decided long ago that the monotony of my daily routines weren't going to cut it long term. Sure, I still float through with some routine (wake up, shower, shave, clothes, hair, dog, food, boy), but I try to bust out whenever possible. Shake things up a bit. I'm not talking about anything transcendental, or finding Jesus or any nonsense like that, just exploring my surroundings a little bit and jumping out of the comfort of the routine. That's where dives come in. Denver is full of them. Places you can go that get your senses humming and make you feel maybe a little uncomfortable. There's that bar that serves a mean pizza and sits across from the holding facility for the county jail. There's that restaurant where you can order up a Head taco, if you can scrape together a little Spanish. When you see these places, you usually find yourself thinking, 'Who goes there?'. I do.