I moved to Boulder from Idaho, a place where residents occasionally describe ketchup not just as spicy, but as “too spicy.” Though it should go without saying, that philosophy doesn’t do wonders for the local Mexican food.
So when I found myself on South Public Road in Lafayette, my eyes got a bit misty. Six Mexican restaurants and two carnicerias occupy the 12 blocks between Emma Street and Baseline Road.
Looking out at this tacotopia, I suddenly had an idea to restore balance to The Force: a taco crawl. If hashing can be a thing, despite vomit being the only reasonable response to jogging between beer-chugging stops, then why the heck not.
I started at 10:30 a.m. at Seņor Gomez, an orange two-story building at Emma Street and Public Road with an interior like the feel of a church cafeteria. Senor Gomez was sparsely decorated with a white and mint-green color scheme, and the menu included a number of American items.
Denver omelets and French toast sat next to enchiladas and green chile.
It was a bit closer to a Mexican-influenced diner than a strict Mexican joint, as Americana was a theme even in the Mexican parts of the menu. The single beef taco Seņor Gomez delivered to my table was ultra-Americanized, with a mountain of shredded green lettuce atop a hard-shell taco filled with ground beef and dotted with diced tomatoes. It was like a better version of a Taco Bell standard. Though the freshly fried hard-shell tortilla was a nice touch, the taco didn’t have much in the way of spice or zing.
I paid the $3.25 bill and was on my way. Across the street from Seņor Gomez sits a gleaming silver trailer surrounded by patio tables in the parking lot of the El Mercedo market: Taco Wagon. Its menu is printed in Spanish first, with the English translation in the second column, and features items like beef tongue and carnitas. No Denver omelets here.
The single asada taco came dressed up in onion and cilantro with a ramekin of spicy green salsa and a wedge of lime on the side. That taco alone is worth a trip to Lafayette. Cost: $1.90.
Taco Wagon took up the deli duties for El Mercedo, so I made my way up the street to Efrain’s, a midrange sit-down with high ceilings and an elk’s head covered in Christmas lights looking down on the green and white dining area. In one corner, a somewhat terrifying eight-foot Santa Claus stood guard.
A server brought me chips and a red dipping sauce that just tasted like red, then took my order.
The single chicken taco Efrain’s brought to my table was almost as big as the Santa Claus. It lounged open-faced across an entire plate, a mountain of toppings.Folding it to be mouth-sized was problematic, especially since the freshly fried tortilla and pulled chicken were extra juicy. It took some work to eat, and though it wasn’t as boldly flavored as Taco Wagon, Efrain’s taco wasn’t bad. And it was nearly a meal in itself, though for $4.60, the price of many burritos, it better be.
I was on my way by 11:15 a.m. Halfway through my taco tour, I felt my belt starting to bulge and began questioning my fool’s errand. I was almost glad when I got to Black Horse Mexican Food and found it closed. I say almost because Black Horse had a tree growing up through the floor of the dining area and out the roof and had that look of generally dubious construction that practically guarantees good tacos. But since it was closed, there wasn’t much to do but schlep onward.
The second carniceria didn’t have a deli component, so I went across the street to Santiago’s, whose signage boldly proclaimed “hottest green chile in town.” But unlike so many “coldest beer in town” claims of bar marquees everywhere, Santiago’s claim was backed up by a Best Green Chile award from Westword on the wall.
And even better, you can get a taco smothered in it for $5.
After the cashier scared me a bit, I went with the medium hot smothered beef taco and sat down to enjoy the pleasant taqueria style interior, with an order window and warm color schemes dressed up in desert and native imagery.
When my taco came, I realized that “smothered” was probably the wrong term. It was swimming. My taco was like Boulder Canyon in September, if the creek was green chile. It was delicious, though it wasn’t nearly as hot as I was led to believe, and I pledged that I’d go the full monty on my next visit. But it might be awhile. That single taco was even bigger than Efrain’s, and by the end of it, I wasn’t just full, I was brimming over.
But when I got to La Familia, the end of the line on the taco strip, its doors were closed and locked with the windows papered up, closed for good.
End time: 11:39 a.m. One hour, four tacos and $14.75 after the start of my quest, my stomach was full and my sinuses were clear. I wouldn’t say I’ve grown as a person – unless you count my belly – but it was a great way to spend lunchtime.