Whenever I go back to the Bay Area for family visits, it’s inevitable I stop by San Leandro’s Taqueria Los Pericos with one or both of my brothers. I suspect our visits are equally driven by the quality of the food as well as having us be seen in public for the purpose of establishing an alibi. Regardless, my brothers introduced me to authentic street-style tacos, and I completely understand their loyalty to this proverbial hole-in-the-wall. Cheap prices, order-at-the-counter service, a selection of vintage ’80s video games, and an expansive salsa bar are just some of the features of this fraternal hangout.
While I haven’t found a local spot that approximates Los Pericos, Tacos Don Jose on Main Street in Longmont comes tantalizingly close. Prices are extremely reasonable — tacos are a buck and a half ≠— and the sun-kissed décor, counter service and overall vibe put it in the same ballpark as its Golden State analog. On a recent lunch visit with friend Cami, we were also happily struck by the fact that many of the customers appeared to be Spanish-speaking families. Alas, there were no Galaxian video games here.
The menu is comfortingly predictable, and the choices solidify this eatery’s street cred. Beverages include bottled Mexican sodas, as well as sugary fruit-flavored fountain drinks, including an addictive pineapple refresher resembling a less frothy Orange Julius. There are $6 and $9 bowls of Caldo de Res, beef and vegetable soup, and on weekends, restorative menudo is available for the same price. Nine dollars will buy you a carnitas plate, and a tamale will set you back a mere buck. Other items include humble gorditas and more luxurious shrimp cocktails.
Feeling somewhat adventurous, Cami went for a pair of $3 sopes, a textbook street snack. Each had a remarkably thick tortilla base and tostada-like toppings, namely shredded beef, iceberg lettuce, tomato and sour cream. The meaty heat pleasantly played off the cooling qualities of the veggies and dairy. Some might find the fried cornmeal foundation too heavy, while others may find it contributes just the right amount of weight. Cami found one sope was more than enough for her and happily took the remaining one home.
I made a beeline for a platter of $1.50 tacos. These were wrapped in soft corn tortillas, garnished simply with cilantro and lime with a whole roasted chile and cooked onion on the side. The sweet and smoky pepper possessed a whisper of heat, and I was able to enjoy it without worrying about my mouth becoming a fiery inferno. While I found the tortillas a bit soggy, there were no complaints regarding the flavorful carnitas and lengua, or tongue, fillings. Inferior preparations of these are typically overcooked or oversalted. Here, each was moist and tender with perfect seasoning that allowed the meat flavors to shine through. Although Don Jose doesn’t have a salsa bar, squeeze bottles of red and green hot sauce were fine condiments.
While Tacos Don Jose may not be an exact duplicate of my family’s favored Golden State hangout, both provide decent value, quality and straightforward authentic Mexican street fare. Fans of simple but satisfying cuisine will have much reason to rejoice here, and it doesn’t hurt that two people can eat lunch here for well under $10 apiece.
Tacos Don Jose 2105 Main St., Longmont 303-702-0600